Atul and I have bonded over (among many things) our love for the music of the more “obscure” (unfortunately) so-called B- and C-grade Hindi films. Not only do these movies often have lovely songs by lesser-known composers (e.g. Ganesh, GS Kohli), but they very often have straightforward and fun stories too, and they give one an opportunity to see well-known actors as they were starting out (e.g. Feroz Khan, Sanjeev Kumar). B-movie directors often had the good sense to give ladies like Helen lots to do, as well. One of my favorites of these guys is Aspi Irani (usually credited as Aspi). He made the delicious Daku with Shammi, and the equally delightful Shabnam, so when Atul recommended Smuggler and kindly offered to send it to me, I jumped on it.
It stars a young and very handsome Sanjeev Kumar opposite the lovely Kumkum, and alongside Sheikh Mukhtar. Sheikh Mukhtar lives in my mind as a beefy, wooden, Arnold Schwarzenegger-Dara Singh love child. I can forgive him everything though, because he is in such fun films.
In this, he plays honest and upright Inspector Rajan on the trail of a gang smuggling “jaali notes”—counterfeited money. We know they are dangerous because the shadowy Boss kills an underperforming underling near the very beginning.
Rajan lives happily with his wife Rekha (Purnima) and son, and his younger brother Mohan (Sanjeev Kumar) who is wooing Bela (Kumkum) against her uncle’s wishes. On his son’s birthday, a large bribe (presumably real) is sent in a box to Rajan with a note from the gang. He does the right thing and turns it in to his superiors.
We meet con-artist Banarsilal (Mukri) who smashes bottles of fake whiskey against opening car doors and then weeps inconsolably until the car’s owner gives him 10 Rs for another bottle of “English” whiskey. In the evening, he becomes acquainted with Mohan and Bela at a nightclub where he is now posing as a wealthy businessman from London.
A gang moll delivering a briefcase full of money mistakes Banarsilal for the intended recipient and gives him the money, much to his surprise (and joy). When the real gang members realize what’s happened, they quickly spot him (they’d be really stupid if they couldn’t).
Cue a lovely Helen song complete with fabulousness in the form of a dancing sax player who looks very much like Oscar, and probably IS.
Of course nothing and no-one is as fabulous as Helen herself though.
The gang waits until she’s finished with her song (thank goodness!) and then they plunge the club into darkness and try to retrieve the case full of money from Banarsilal. Mohan and Bela, thinking that the money belongs to him, help him fight them off—and then Mohan takes him home to meet big brother Rajan so he can file a police complaint against his attackers. When Banarsilal discovers whose home he’s in, it’s too late!—Rajan recognizes him and confiscates the case, and Banarsilal confesses the truth to Mohan and Rajan.
He then agrees to use his con-man skills for the greater good, and discovers where the fake currency is manufactured.
Somewhere in here Mohan and Bela get a very lovely duet, which sort of interrupts the action awkwardly (could be an editing problem on Moserbaer’s side), but it is such a nice song by Ganesh that I have to put it here (I can’t find it elsewhere on the interwebs):
Isn’t it pretty?
We also find out that Rajan and Rekha have money problems, and there’s an argument with Mohan about something (I’m thinking he maybe tells them he wants to quit school and help out, and they refuse to let him, but I could be way off-base on that one).
In any case, Rajan is given the task of stopping the Venus Soap Factory truck at a checkpoint. When he stops the truck to inspect the goods, the goonda accompanying the driver sticks a gun in his ribs. He tells Rajan that he can let them go through and he’ll get a lakh reward, or he can die on the spot.
Rajan waves the truck through, but is seen doing this by some of his fellow officers, who report him to the Commissioner. He is suspended from the police force and sent home, where a box containing one lakh rupees is waiting for him. Mohan catches him stuffing the money into a cupboard and tries to convince him to take it to the police, but before Rajan can do anything the police arrive—and they arrest him.
It doesn’t take long for him to escape, and he goes to the Venus Soap Factory for some reason which I am not quite sure of—either to ask them for a job, or to exact some sort of revenge, maybe?—but a couple of havaldars arrive and he flees. That evening Mohan comes home clearly disturbed about his brother’s fate, and Sanjeev Kumar wrings every bit of emotion out of his little speech. I have no idea what he says, but he *acts* his heart out.
The rest of the film basically shows Rajan joining the gang (where he is called “Number 31!”), and Mohan and Banarsilal (now fast friends) trying to outwit the gang (presumably to save Rajan from himself). There is another lively song or two (including a mujra by Madhumati) and plenty of disguises, shadowy skulking, and dishoom-dishoom before our story ends.
Smuggler is good fun if you don’t mind one actor who doesn’t act and another who completely overacts sharing screen space. The songs are lovely, and so is Kumkum—I wish she’d had more screen time, but she was pretty fierce when she did.
And how I would love to see that wallpaper in color!
Edited to add: Atul has uploaded all the songs in his dailymotion account—or you can wait for him to post them on his blog!