Spy In Rome (1968)

I watched two films this weekend with plots completely lacking in any sense or logic. One of them was a mainstream film (Akeli Mat Jaiyo) starring Meena Kumari and Rajendra Kumar and I am not going to write about it because, frankly, it was dull and stupid and Dusted Off has already said all that needs to be said about it. The other was Spy In Rome; and despite its very thin shoestring budget, nothing of which was spent on a writer, it managed to keep me pretty entertained. It firmly occupies a seat at that rotating bar where people with seemingly no aptitude for filmmaking—and no money for it either—down a lot of imagination-fueling substances and then stagger off to make their dream projects.

This dream project (belonging to BK Adarsh, father of critic Taran Adarsh) propels itself along enthusiastically from the get-go. Despite the lack of subtitles, I never really felt like I missed much—details certainly were muddled (like where on earth they were all supposed to BE) but there was plenty of stuff going on, much of it driven by what the director wanted to shoot pictures of rather than the other (more usual) way around of putting the story first.

As the credits roll, scientist Dr. Sharma (Brahm Bhardwaj) takes a wizened pair of octogenarians and turns them into young and beautiful twenty-somethings by wrapping them like mummies and shining a torch on them.

Naturally this rejuvenation “formoola” quickly becomes the toast of the international press. The news reaches the ears of Dr. Chang (KN Singh), a madman in Roma with a lair full of flashing lights and minions in plastic candy-colored radiation suits that are purely decorative in nature as far as I can see.

These minions are known only by number (“55!” “Miss 297!”) and are shown manning a switchboard, doing paperwork, hanging at the watercooler, etc.—just the usual office work, until they are killed in response to some perceived transgression by the volatile Dr. Chang and the light behind their number on a giant board is extinguished.

This film surprised me a bit with its violence: women and men alike are roughly manhandled throughout, and the hero is as guilty of it as the villains. He is Rajesh, Agent XX7 (Dev Kumar). Dev Kumar bizarrely (to me) started his career as a hero in various B-movies (the other I’ve seen like this is Ek Khiladi Bawan Pattey, which made even less sense than this, maybe because of the lack of subtitles and maybe not). He is so obviously more suited to villain roles, in which he did later specialize: there is something so exoskeletal about him, all bone and hard planes. I’ve said this before here, but I can only ever think of Ted Cassidy—Lurch—from the Addams Family when I look at him.

Rajesh is brought into the picture when Dr. Sharma is brutally beaten (seriously!) and kidnapped by one of Chang’s associates in India (Khursheed, who wields a candy-striped cane that shoots killer lasers, and wears a hat which later explodes).

Agent XX7 is handed a large plastic bag containing lots of handy gadgets, including (but not limited to):

  • a set of coat buttons that are really DDT bombs
  • a red plastic transmitter ring the size of his hand
  • a shoe containing a razor blade that he later uses to cut a car in half (yes! really!!)
  • a perfume atomizer that sprays blue ink, rendering its target mute
  • something resembling a fishing reel that paralyzes anyone it is aimed at
  • a briefcase that clamps itself down like teeth on the hands of anyone who opens it
  • and so on.

As Rajesh tries to figure out where Dr. Sharma has disappeared to, and who is responsible, Sharma reaches Dr. Chang’s lair in Rome. Chang tries first to woo him into cooperating by seating Sharma on a bench equipped with chutes at each end that awkwardly support a pair of scantily clad firangis (they don’t slide down so much as they are forced to propel themselves, since whatever cheap material was used to make them isn’t really that slippery).

Once there, they do their best to seduce him; this makes him palpably miserable and makes me guffaw.

Poor dismayed Sharma is forced to watch some stolen (and very choppily edited) footage of a long-ago Ice Capades show (which I’ve seen before in Shikari, I think). None of this effort pays off for Chang (or the firangis), as Sharma still refuses to give up his formoola. Clearly, even more drastic measures are necessary.

Back in India, Rajesh has tracked down Dr. Sharma’s daughter Kamini (Jaymala) in a hospital, where she throws things at the nurses. Jaymala reminds me strongly of a buxomy over-blown fifties Hollywood film star a la Jayne Mansfield or similar, which I mean as a great compliment, by the way.

He is instantly smitten by her (Dev Kumar stretches that bony face into a rictus-smile) and they flirt. This is also where I begin to pretty much lose the plot and no longer have any ability to recognize the geographic parameters of all the action. Someone (a good guy I think) is replaced by a man wearing a dime-store Halloween mask:

This cleverly disguised fellow kidnaps Kamini from the hospital and takes her to Rome, according to what I understand Agent XX7 to say, and Rajesh is given permission to go after her by his boss. He decides to take reinforcements with him in the shape of fellow Agent 005 (Rajendranath). I am always happy to see Rajendranath!

In “Rome” (which still looks suspiciously like India) Rajesh is met by one of Chang’s henchpeople. He figures this out pretty quickly and tortures information out of her by rolling up the car window on her neck.

The person who had originally taken Kamini from the hospital is now accompanying her through some Mughal Roman ruins when he himself is set upon by a Chang strongman, who wears a collar that renders him invincible. I am pretty sure now that this is a guy I’ve been trying to identify for a long long time, Hercules.

He is certainly brawny enough! And to me he looks the same (albeit a bit younger) as this guy from Amar Akbar Anthony, who I have long suspected was Hercules (he does not play Zebisko in that as is sometimes misreported). This makes me very happy, it does! *Snoopy Dance*

Anyway, Kamini is rescued from Hercules by the arrival of Rajesh and we are treated to the first of only three songs (remaining, anyway) in the film and FINALLY some footage of the actual Rome (plus, Venice and eventually Switzerland masquerading as Rome). More than the scenic beauty of Europe though, Jaymala’s very shiny wig entrances me. It doesn’t even TRY to match her actual hair underneath.

Lots of WTF-ery now ensues, most of which I can’t and don’t need to keep track of. Chang continues to oppress his henchpeople, particularly the females (I love the conscious irony of the wall painting behind this poor girl).

I also sincerely hope that no pigeons were harmed in the making of this film, especially when I see what Jaymala has on her head in the very next scene. Hmmm.

We are also rather shockingly led to understand that Kamini and Rajesh have become lovers! Verrrry racy indeed. Madhumati shows up around this point to complicate matters and give us a cabaret number as well.

And a guy in a levitating fez tries to lure Kamini away later with a hypnotic blowtorch! Love. All of these (and more!) loony developments are accompanied by background music pilfered from Bond films and other sixties-a-go-go soundtracks.

Of course all of it is merely leading us to the final showdown in Dr. Chang’s dangerously flimsy lair, where Dr. Sharma—by now relieved of his gori companions but handcuffed to a slowly rotating velvety loveseat—continues to defy his captors.

Chang’s most nefarious device is saved for the unfortunate Kamini. I wish I had the skills to extract a short bit of video and put it somewhere, but hopefully these screencaps will suffice: she is tied over a cut-out square in the floor that bumps up and down, up and down, gently but unevenly (as my sister—who has joined me by now—points out, it looks like two guys are probably standing underneath who can’t *quite* coordinate their up-and-down pushing). It is sublimely Python-esque and makes us howl.

Can Rajesh save her with the help of Agent 005 (he finds a clothing rack with spare radiation suits: oh India! You may have no budget but you always have a well-stitched contrast lining!).

Whatever it is that made the people involved in this persist despite their obvious limitations, I can only say hooray. Indeed, it is exactly that can-do attitude propping them up that makes these types of movies so irresistible to me! And a very big thank you to spy aficionado John Drake for sharing this particular charmer with me. (Plus, if you feel you still need more Spy In Rome, read Todd’s as always wonderful review here!)

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57 Comments to “Spy In Rome (1968)”

  1. Ah, my favorite of all the nonsensical, no-budget Indian spy movies, loathesome, woman battering hero and all. I completely forgot that XX7 is given his assorted gadgets inside a Hefty bag. Genius. Also, I got the impression when I watched it that that was a lady-making machine that Sharma was set down in front of, and that the ladies on the slides were just the latest batch. Also also, I seem to remember a scene where Jaymala was tortured by havigng a string tied around her midsection. Am I just imagining that?

    • No, although I think it was supposed to be a wire, LOL! But did look very like a string. There was a lot of unintentionally benign torture in this. It was very violent at times though! Although it didn’t bother me that much since it was more “equal opportunity” violence than you normally see (ie, gender-bias-free mayhem).

  2. this is so utterly delightful! i love you for this review, I do! Finding mad, b movies is just so fulfilling :) I like Jayamala, Dev K and KN all; and cant find anything wrong with it at all. Would love to see all the tortured firangis and pigeons too. If camp should be done, it should be done as madly as it is here!

  3. Speechless. Must see! Did that henchperson get attacked in the face by a pigeon? Wonderful!

  4. Great! Where do you find this stuff? My favourite part is that it belongs to Taran Adarsh’s father. Ultimate irony, that. Would love to ask him for a review.

  5. Belated happy birthday memsaab! I feel that your review is much more interesting and entertaining than the movie itself! Jaymala looks good indeed. Hindi movies those days did copy a lot of hair and dress styles from Hollywood – hence Jaymala reminding u of holly heroines is plausible. There used to be a South Indian actress called Jaymala. I wonder if this the same Jaymala or if this one was a hindi movie heroine only. If the latter is true then it is surprising that we haven’t heard of her other movies.

    • Thank you :) I don’t know if she is the same Jaymala, I don’t know anything about South Indian actresses really. But she is lovely! Beautiful dimples, and just a great style.

  6. I posted a comment just now but it disappeared! Belated happy birthday memsaab.

  7. Thanks for review what a pair Memsaab 4ft Jayamala and tall 7ft Dev Kumar.I enjoyed this movie.Love title song.All Jayamala’s starring movies are rare gems.watch her Fashionable wife and now Balak is out on vcd I just got that in my shipment.

  8. Looks like this movie was spin-off of ‘Aankhen’ that also released in 1968 or possibly ‘Farz’ released a year earlier.

    Dev Kumar’s debut movie is possibly ‘Ghar Ka Chiraag’ (1967) which I now think also stars Dharmendra and Waheeda Rehman.

  9. Nice review regarding a movie whose name I heard for the first time. Making the new generation aware of such forgotten movies is a big job, no doubt. And admirale too. Hearty compliments.

    Jitendra

  10. Today I add another item to my list of things to do when I’m a millionaire: start a network that airs movies programmed by you and Todd.

    • I’m in!!!! And am v.v. honored indeed to be lumped in with Todd on anything :)

      • Awww. Likewise, Memsaab. (And BTW, belated happy birthday. I am a cad.)

        Amrita, we need to get working on you making that first million pronto. I will forward you a list of crazy, get-rich-quick schemes, along with my resume, shortly.

        Finally. as a fan of Jaymala, I can’t sign off without also recommending her in Putlibai, in which she plays a one-armed lady bandit, and in Love and Murder. Both wonderful.

        • I need more of Jaymala. Loved her. She is really gorgeous in that full-blown perfumey rose kind of way, plus she kicked serious ass in that swimming pool scene! :)

          • Hey memsaab, now it rings a bell
            Jayamala is BK Adarsh’s wife.

            I think this is the same guy
            who made a movie called “Gupt Gyan”
            which got a lot of press for its so called
            sex education – dunno – never saw that
            movie but remember the press it
            generated!

          • I had a feeling there must be something personal there between Jaymala and Adarsh, since she stars in several of his films :)

          • This Jaymala is different from the south Indian (Kannada) actress of the same name. (The Kannada actress Jaimala came on the scene much much later in the 1990s). In real life this Jayamala was Mrs B.K.Adarsh (as has already been pointed out) and hence Taran Adarsh’s mother. Also, the weekly trade paper which Taran writes for (Trade Guide) was started by his father way back in the 1950s. It was not the first trade paper but definitely the first most successful. BK Adarsh’s real name is Nahata. He adopted the pen name of Adarsh because of the kindness shown to him by the owner of Adarsh Dughdalaya (translates into something Ideal Milk Centre) when he first came to Mumbai in search of a livelihood. Adarsh’s younger brother Ramraj Nahata first worked with him in Trade Guide and then started his own paper Film Information. In that sense the two “trade pandits” Taran Adarsh and Komal Nahata are first cousins. I still remember we journalists in the 1970s and 1980s would often wonder how the two brothers “controlled” the trade reviews of the entire film industry.

  11. The review is so funny. It really makes me want to see the movie.

  12. Love the review! :-)
    ROFL all the way.
    And your screenshots are a laugh too.
    The one with Jaymala with that wig is just hilarious!

    You’ve got to admire these B-movie producers and directors. They give us so much entertainment in manners that they most certainly did not intend.

    Looks like this made up for Akeli Mat Jaiyo. :-)

    • I do so love these movie producers/directors (usually they are one and the same with these, and it’s true of this one too :)

      It was an excellent antidote to Akeli Mat Jaiyo—I didn’t hate that one either, but it was awfully dumb and much much more boring than this one.

      And HAPPY BIRTHDAY my dear friend (and fellow October Scorpio!) :)

  13. Waah waah. It is a wonderfully funny review. As has been mentioned by others here and by me in the past, reading this review is more fun than watching the movie. But perhaps it would be fun watching the movie with likeminded friends as you prescribe.

    Jaymala is funny (unintentally of course) in most Hindi movies. For instance, I recently watched her in a preachy song in “Fashinable Wife” where she exhorts Bhartiya Naris to wake up and make timely intervention to ensure that the the degradation of culture and civilization is not allowed to take place in India.

    • Watching the film is pretty fun, Atul! :) And it’s good to have several pairs of eyes, because it’s easy to miss little WTF details, there are so many of them.

      Oh dear, hopefully the rest of Fashionable Wife is not that awful :(

  14. A lot of hair on those old folks before the transformation… I guess a trip to Roma would have tripled the budgets..

  15. Wasn’t there another spy movie which you reviewed with dev kumar?
    Wonderful how they get new clothes along with their youth!

    Great scenes, like the convenient to hand out the gadgets in a handy plastic bag, rather than in a proper briefcase. Most probably the budget didn’t allow it!

    Loved this review!!
    ROTFL

  16. I Jaymala…and she is the spitting image of Hollywood actress Yvonne DeCarlo!

    Memsaab, I will be most curious to see what you think of FASHIONABLE WIFE…it is…well…you’ve seen what B.K. Adarsh can do.

    PS: I have seen GUPT GYAN…very interesting film, not particularly good, but interesting. I must now check out more of Adarsh’s work…and I see that I do need to finally finish the other half of SPY IN ROME.

    oh…glad you have identified Hercules…I have a pressbook for a Bollywood sword and sandal film from the early 60s in which he actually plays the lead…man I would love to find that film! Normally poor Hercules is, like, 65th in the credits of most of his films.

    • She IS Yvonne De Carlo!!

      I started Fashionable Wife once but didn’t get very far before I was interrupted, and never felt compelled to go back. What is the film starring Hercules?! We must find it!!! He is quite handsome and very very very beefy (I think he probably went to fat quite fast which probably didn’t help him). And yes, I am so happy to have a face to put with his name now, it was driving me crazy.

  17. Was Jaymala married to BK Adarsh? or am I making a mistake?

  18. Rejuvenation “formoolas”!
    Velvety love seats!
    Hypnotic Blowtorch-wielding, fez-wearing Svengalis!

    …THIS is why I read your brilliant reviews!!
    And you did this film proudly as always.

    Thanks for the thanks, memsaab!

    Carry on!

    John

  19. Rejuvenation formoolas! Velvety love seats!
    Hypnotic blowtorch-wielding, fez-wearing Svengalis!!

    …THIS is why I return time and again to your brilliant reviews!
    And, as always, you made this enjoyable (regardless of whether it deserved it or not). XX7 would be proud.

    Cheers,

    John

  20. This was so enjoyable! I am aware of one more film of this looney genre, that had a working title of ‘Tarzan 303′. Not sure whether it ever got a decent release or got buried in some time capsule. I have memories watching some of the shoots for that as a very young child. it seemed too crazy to me even then. Would to know if anyone has any inkling to this one.

  21. MBarnum I am so exited to hear that you have a poster of it! My connection is through my uncle K N Singh, who was also a part of it. They were shooting on location in Dehradun, my home town in the foot hills of Himalayas. If my childhood memory serves me right they shot some of it in our living room! There was also a shot of a fight on top of an elephant with a lot of hair pulling (not in our living room). Would love to see the art if at all possible!

  22. you are right Taran Adarsh is the son of Jaymala,yesterday actress started with mythological,Daku movies and later on switched on to adult movies most of which are directed by her husband B.K.Adarsh.
    Herculas ended his role as henchman of villain in most of the films of seventies particularly in all movies made by Manmohan Desai.His notable charecter was father of Dharmendra(Lohar)in film-Dharam Veer.
    Can any one tell me where he is now/

  23. I am reading your blogs for last few years. And I just love them since I too share same passion about old hindi movies old HFM. I would like to request you to add one more info (if you can) in this blog i.e. to mention whether the film was Hit/Flop, Silver Jubilee/Golden & in which theatre, which city? It would be treat!

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