How could something that begins with this screen possibly be bad? Dharmendra as James Bond Agent 116! A great many more title screens follow, with more good news: Padma Khanna, a very young Rekha, Prem Chopra in a blond wig and pink rimless glasses—ooh! my man Ranjeet!—Jayshree T, Rajendranath, Agha, KN Singh…the list goes on. I settle happily in my chair, looking forward to some stylish and loony shenanigans. But I’m in for a little surprise.
The first half of the film has a much grimmer aspect than expected, with a stern message about the perils of the city for young women looking for a better way of life. We are treated to (realistic) scenes of life for the underprivileged—a drunken father beats his wife as his children look on; a girl looks longingly into a shop window at a sari that she can’t afford. In a stroke of genius casting, too, Ranjeet is the man taking advantage of these girls and their dreams. Despite his sartorial handicap (early 70s, not his fault):
he is charming and smooth-talking (yes I know I’m biased, but trust me—he is). The script is well-written and logical at first too (except for a strange foray into Death By Face Cream) and quite straightforward about the painful consequences of being sucked in by promises that are too good to be true.
Then about halfway through, the story begins to unravel into crazyland. It’s not majestically crazy, though, but a more simple kind of nutty—and yes, the fact that I even make that distinction scares me a little. What I mean, though, is that it doesn’t devolve into such madness that it seems like a different film altogether—the segue is more subtle than that, and the overall effect is kind of wonderful. We get to move from depressing but entertaining film to just plain entertaining, without feeling jarred. Let’s take a look, shall we?
In Bombay, young women from lower and middle class families are disappearing in droves and the police are unable to help their distraught families. We get a glimpse into the nefarious goings-on when we meet pretty Nanda (Padma Khanna). A simple girl in a sari, she catches the eye of bad guy Pedro (Ranjeet) one day, and is soon transformed.
Promising her an exciting life of luxury and travel, he romances her, gets her hooked on drugs, and then forces her into a life of dancing and prostitution to support her habit. He also poses as some sort of employment or travel broker, and lures groups of young women into signing on with him for “work” in Paris, London, Rome. The police are alerted about one of these groups and pursue the boat in which they are taken away—but find nobody except the crew there when they board it.
The police informant is a dancer named Nagina (Jayshree T), and she is murdered when Pedro discovers her duplicity—with her own jar of poisoned face cream.
The Indian secret service is called in to help the police, and Agent 116—Gopal (Dharmendra)—is given the case. He goes diving in the area where the boat was searched, and makes a grisly discovery.
The girls on the boat had been jettisoned from it and drowned. Pretty gruesome stuff so far! Gopal gets some information from a bereaved father about one of his daughter’s friends: Nanda. Gopal goes in search of Nanda, and his efforts come to the notice of another young girl also looking for Nanda—her sister, Sudha (Rekha).
(I had to include this screenshot just for the irony: she is reading “Adam & Eve” magazine with Amitabh on the cover.)
They track Nanda down at the same time—her working name is Maria (no Hindu names for such characterless girls!). Gopal poses as one of her customers, and notices Nanda’s distress at seeing Sudha in the restaurant where they meet, although she denies knowing her. When Nanda takes him back to her place, he confronts her about her obvious needle tracks. Pretty racy for 1973!
Before he can get any information out of her, a couple of goondas and a woman (Indira Bansal) we’ve seen with Pedro arrive; the woman takes Nanda away as Gopal fights off the goons (pretty easily) (he IS Agent 116 after all).
With Nanda missing again, Gopal goes to see the editor of a college newspaper (Aag) which has been publishing reports about the disappearing girls. The editor takes Gopal to meet the reporter who has been writing the stories, just as the reporter takes a fatal plunge.
Will this carnage never end? Gopal spots the assailants as they saunter casually out of the building a few minutes later, and follows them to Pedro’s luxurious hangout. He beats up five or six of Pedro’s henchman effortlessly, and confronts Pedro himself.
He gets nothing out of Pedro, however, and is forced to escape by fooling them all into thinking that the building is surrounded by police (it’s pretty funny). Police Inspector Deshpande (Satyendra Kapoor) and his havaldar Pandurang (Agha) have also discovered Pedro’s identity and want to arrest him, but Gopal points out that they have no proof of anything. He also doesn’t think that the buck stops with Pedro and his men, and he wants to catch the big fish. Or rat, as the case might be.
His plan now is to wait for Pedro and the gang’s next move, but in the meantime he’s got company. Sudha comes to meet him and begs him to help her find her sister. He refuses—but Nanda calls him (Pedro’s next move) and begs him to meet her; she wants to tell him everything, she says. Sudha listens in on another extension.
Gopal suspects a trap, but of course Sudha goes there anyway in a cab, and faints when her driver is shot and killed. Once Gopal has dispensed with his would-be assassins he calls the police and asks Deshpande to find a safe place to stash Sudha.
Deshpande’s idea of a safe place?
I’m thrilled to see Rajendranath, who plays…Rajendranath—an antiques dealer. An extremely cute drunken song for Rekha follows too.
Gopal and the police put a story in the newspapers about a car accident and three victims. Pedro sends one of his men to check on the bodies, and the guy recognizes his colleagues and also the body of Gopal.
But of course Agent 116 isn’t dead.
He now hatches a plan with Sudha: she will pose as an innocent girl and sign up with Pedro’s next batch. Gopal will be able to track her and hear her conversations thanks to a transmitter hidden inside a ring that he gives her. What can possibly go wrong? Oh yes—they also fall in love in about two seconds, although it doesn’t seem terribly central to the plot.
Above all, I totally *love* Rekha’s daisy earrings and Spare Hair!
Sudha and the other girls are taken by boat to an island underground fortress policed by stern women in Nazi-like uniforms. The girls are forced to strip and don little baby-doll nighties, and the chief warden steals Sudha’s transmitter ring. Sudha leads an attempt to escape, which is quickly thwarted.
Without the ring, can Gopal find Sudha in the underground maze? Can he even get past the numerous armed guards stationed around the perimeter of the island? Where is Nanda? Is there any hope that she won’t have to die at the end? What happens to all these girls? And who is the big Boss? Well—on that last, I can’t help but give you a glimpse of what waits.
Shakti Maan (Prem Chopra) has one of the most strangely benign and hilarious lairs I’ve come across yet. He sprawls on a blue velvet sofa surrounded by dogs in the middle of a very large room with a shiny floor.
This floor is kept shiny thanks to the torpid efforts of about four or five nightie-clad prisoners.
He entertains himself by throwing these apparently starving girls cookies now and then, rousing the dogs’ interest and freaking out the girls.
It’s…nutty, as I said at the beginning. And schizophrenic: the serious beginning really becomes purely silly by the end—but *maybe* it managed to scare a few naive young ladies out of throwing in their lot with unsavoury characters. We can only hope. And in any case, it’s good fun. If nothing else, there’s lots of *pretty* to look at!