First, let me give you a brief history of the Memsaab’s relationship with this movie: “Ooh! Piece of candy! Ooh! Piece of candy! Ooh! Piece of candy!” I own about five copies of it—it has always struck me as a movie I really HAVE to see, but somehow I always manage to forget that I already have it, and I’ve seen it too. I start watching my new copy, and I’m all like: “Oh, this film again.” And I shelve it right next to all my other Ankhen dvds. This is my typically verbose way of saying that it is neither a cracktastically great film nor a terrible film, but one that seems like it ought to be one or the other. Instead it is a competently made spy film with fantastic songs (Ravi) and some eye-popping fashions but little else apparently for my memory cells at least to latch onto.
Even Dharmendra is faintly boring (possibly because he has no chemistry with Mala Sinha). My favorite person in this is Lalita Pawar as Madame-Fake Auntyji, but she doesn’t really have much to do until two-thirds of the way through. It is somehow lacking the gleeful “I have no budget but that won’t stop me!” ambition which characterizes other films of the genre. Perhaps having actual funds (Ramanand Sagar made it) precludes the crazy jugaad that ensures a high level of entertainment no matter how bad the end result.
In any case, I have seen it quite a few times now and am hoping that by writing it up I will now remember that fact.
Certainly it is worth watching: the songs alone make it so, but it also has lovely locations in Beirut, Kerala and Japan, and it’s well done; the plot hangs together (mostly) and the cast is solid if not scintillating.
I love the title screen: it is so layered.
Major Sahab (Nazir Hussein) is a former fighter under Subhash Chandra Bose, a fact which makes him very proud indeed. He and some of his old soldier friends have formed a civilian (ie non-governmental) group to protect apna desh from traitors who want to destroy her by inciting communal unrest with the aid of smuggled bombs and guns.
The Major’s son Sunil (Dharmendra) is part of this group as are the two sons of one of the Major’s closest friends. Unbeknownst to everyone, one of these sons, Akram, has been seduced by the love of a girl named Lily (Daisy Irani), into betraying them.
Love him, Lily! Love him!
Lily is part of a gang led by Doctor X (Jeevan), Captain (Madan Puri) and Madame (Lalita Pawar) whose political agenda remains somewhat mysterious to me. They are in cahoots with other external (to India) agencies of evil, and they maintain an elaborate underground labyrinth rigged with explosives as security against being caught. I can already visualize the movie’s ending!
Akram is smitten enough with Lily to betray even his own brother, Salim, who is undercover on a boat carrying smuggled arms into an Indian harbor. After Salim is murdered and Major Sahab’s group thwarted in its recovery of said arms (thanks to this inventive scheme by Doctor X):
the Major sends Sunil to Beirut, from where he suspects the arms shipments are being sent. He informs Sunil that there are reinforcements waiting there in the form of Meenakshi Mehta (Mala Sinha) and another old soldier’s son, Nadeem (Sujit Kumar, who sadly passed away recently). Sunil—as we have seen through flashback—is already acquainted with Meenakshi after she basically stalked him in Japan, where he had gone for training.
She is half-Indian, half-Japanese and wholly determined to make Sunil HERS. He is not as creeped out by this as he might be (she informs him that she took a job at the post office in order to read his mail!) and she does sing him a lovely lovely song (“Milti Hai Zindagi Mein”), but he is reluctant to get involved romantically with anyone because his life’s work is so fraught with danger.
Still, he looks pleased at the prospect of seeing Meenakshi again even after he finds out that she’s been spying for his dad for a long time (of course she is also the offspring of one of the Major’s old compadres).
In Beirut, Meenakshi’s cohorts include Madhumati, Mehmood and Dhumal but not Nadeem: he is acquainted with Meenakshi, but is unaware of her links to Major Sahab’s organization. She and Madhu are working as dancers in a club owned by Mr. Syed (Sajjan), also known as Boss, whom they suspect of nefarious activities.
A fabulous song and dance ensues, with Meenakshi using her microphone to snap photos of the crowd, which includes a gori extra playing a French spy who is murdered by Syed at the end of the cabaret. It is probably the BEST EXTRA role EVER. I would be a French-spy-murder-victim in a heartbeat if someone asked me!
Seriously, I could handle that. Anyway, Meenakshi and company receive word from the Major that Sunil is on his way and it’s Meenakshi’s turn to be pleased at the impending reunion. Sunil is met at the airport by Nadeem, whom we know has been keeping cosy company with the Boss and has bugged Sunil’s hotel room. Sunil, being Dharmendra and therefore the Most Awesome Spy Ever, soon finds the listening devices after checking in; then he notices that he is being trailed wherever he goes by none other than Ram Tipnis (aka Papa Ajoba, makeup man extraordinaire).
Sunil manages to lose him by buying the fez off his waiter in a coffee shop and turning his beige jacket inside out, but he is troubled by the fact that the enemy clearly knew he was coming.
He meets Meenakshi (there is *almost* some romantic tension!) along with Mehmood, and asks them if Nadeem is completely trustworthy. Both assure him that he is, using one of my favorite Hinglish idioms.
More intrigue ensues, with poor Ram Tipnis continuing to be fooled by Sunil’s bad disguises, plus another femme fatale is introduced in the form of Algerian Princess Zenab (Zeb Rehman). Sunil continues to keep an eye on the suave Nadeem, especially after he discovers that Nadeem hangs out with Syed and the Princess (he hilariously uses a magnifying glass to peer at a large photograph).
He and Meenakshi follow Nadeem and some other guys with machine guns to a ruined fort in the harbor. There, they discover that the real Nadeem has been held captive there while his lookalike has been hand in glove with the enemy. They rescue him and I am pleased to see Meenakshi wielding her machine gun with aplomb in white high heels and tight red trousers. They further blow up the ammunitions cache inside the ancient historic monument so that Syed and company will think that the real Nadeem has died in an accidental blast.
Sunil, still being Dharmendra and thus the Best Spy Ever, remains a bit suspicious and hatches a plot to capture the other Nadeem. I will leave that for you to watch but it results in this:
They replace the fake Nadeem (now under arrest) with the real one in Syed’s gang. Sunil decides that he too will go into the lion’s den (almost literally: Syed’s code name is African Tiger) (Doctor X’s is Napoleon) and he shows Nadeem and Meenakshi a tracking device on which a needle will point to him as long as he is in a five mile range.
This strikes me as completely impractical since no doubt the needle:
will be pointing at lots of things within that five mile radius. But I simply love Sunil’s confidence when Nadeem frets that the transmitter he has to carry will be found if Sunil is captured:
Meanwhile, in India things aren’t going so well for Doctor X and his gang. In the wake of Salim’s murder, the Major is not sharing his secrets with the larger group, so Akram’s information has dried up.
Sunil’s sister Sunanda (Kum Kum) is living at the Major’s house with her son Babloo while her husband is abroad. Doctor X kidnaps little Babloo from his birthday party (the humanity!). With her son held captive, Sunanda is forced to introduce Madame into the Major’s household as her husband’s mausi (on the pretext that she has come to comfort the family in the wake of Babloo’s disappearance). Madame has soon tapped into the Major’s own secret radio communications.
Doctor X and thus of course Syed are now privy to every plan that Sunil and Meenakshi devise, and Sunil is captured after he receives a microfilm with a map of Doctor X’s lair in India from Princess Zenab, who has fallen so in love with him (he IS Dharmendra) that she betrays Syed.
Will the Major discover the spy he is now harboring in the very bosom of his family? Can Meenakshi and Nadeem and their friends rescue Sunil? Will that poor needle be able to locate him? Will Babloo survive his harrowing imprisonment?
Looking back at this post and screencaps, I have to wonder myself why this film hasn’t imprinted itself on my brain by now. It’s a fun film without doubt, and I really have no criticism of it at all. Dharmendra is his usual suave, handsome self. Even Mehmood and Dhumal are fairly restrained and entertaining, and there’s a tiger and Hiralal as a Sheikh! Mala is lovely and doesn’t overact either, and although she and Dharmendra are lukewarm together romance is not the focus of this movie. And the songs are wonderful wonderful wonderful.
So why hasn’t it been memorable for me? I have no real answers for that, except…maybe…my daily masala requirements are out of control.
I might need help.