Puraskar (1970)

Of the seven deadly sins, Gluttony is probably the one to which I am most susceptible (although Sloth is a pretty darn close second). And so, after the delights of Spy In Rome, I found myself signing up for more B-movie punishment—or pleasure!—in the form of Puraskar. I did not expect anything very different from others of its genre, but I was in for a big surprise.

Puraskar may well be the Holy Grail of Indian spy films, a dizzying kaleidoscope of insane costumes, melodrama, blinking Christmas tree lights, and enough characters and plot for three ordinary films. This crazy epic contains every story cliche known to man and then some (this I know even without subtitles), and the scenery of Kashmir—those beautiful mountains and lakes—is chewed up and spit out with a vengeance I have rarely witnessed. Plus we are treated to two fabtastic RD Burman cabaret numbers courtesy of Helen and Faryal (who also have substantial roles).

This brings me to the cast—oh Bhagwan, the cast. Along with Helen and Faryal it includes yesteryear lovelies Nigar Sultana and Paro, Joy Mukherjee, Abhi Bhattacharya, Farida Jalal, Bipin Gupta in a double role, IS Johar and a host of heavies (Hercules, Samson, Mohammedali, Rajan Haksar, Samson, and on and on). The henchman acting credits took up two full screens! Plus, a squirming yowling Siamese cat is periodically slung into scenes in an attempt I think to show it as some sort of Superkitty (except that sometimes you can see the arm of the spot boy tasked with chucking it into the frame). Here are but two examples:

It makes me squirm too in sympathy for the poor thing.

Warning: there are possible spoilers in this post, although it’s nearly impossible to actually spoil something as predictable as a spy movie.

We open with a woman fleeing a house and getting into a car whose brakes have been tampered with, resulting in a spectacular explosion as she careens off a rocky cliff. Her name is Sheela, and her husband Srinath (Abhi Bhattacharya) is consoled by his mother (Nigar Sultana) and brother Rakesh (Joy Mukherjee), who just happens to be a CID agent. He informs his brother and mother that Sheela’s death was no accident, but murder.

Rakesh and his partner Ramesh (IS Johar) are assigned to the case (possible conflict of interest notwithstanding) by the head of CID (Hiralal). He informs them that Sheela was a friend of Renu, the daughter of a certain Professor Das (Bipin Gupta), who we now learn has just invented a remote-controlled weapon powered by sound waves. Das is a kindly man and a patriot; he proudly announces his new invention as a significant boon for India’s defense.

The press conference is watched by a mysterious man seen only in silhouette—he wears a hat and carries a cat, and his lair is decorated with strings of lights, at least half of which appear to have burned out.

I never do figure out what he is called, but it’s my (no doubt inaccurate) impression that someone calls him Red and since it’s as good a name as any I will too. He naturally calls his various henchpeople by number and now instructs Number Char, Raghu (Rajan Haksar), to bring Professor Das and his sound wave machine formoola to him.

This plotting is duly overheard by Rakesh via his decoder:

and carried out in one of those loony staples of Hindi cinema (of all grades), the “Pretend it’s dark outside even though it is clearly broad daylight and we will intersperse scenes shot at night only as and when we can” action scene (which I have privately dubbed the Day-Night Continuity Issue, or DNCI for short).

This is how it goes: the professor’s daughter Renu (Sapna)—dressed in a little pink nightie—brings him a glass of milk. She admonishes him not to stay up too late and they bid each other a cheerful “good night!”. Outside, villains draw up in their car and are signalled by a man with a torch whose light can barely be seen in the glare of the sun. They break in and kidnap Das. Rakesh arrives too late and runs into Renu who, awakened by the scuffle, mistakes him for one of the villains. Pushing her to the floor, he takes off in hot pursuit of the actual villains (stepping over the poor unconscious watchman who is left abandoned at the gate). As he drives it is suddenly dark out, then light again, then dark, and so on until it seems that they have all been driving for a week.

Rakesh is finally thwarted by Number Saat, Anita (Faryal), who blocks his pursuit. News of the successful kidnapping is conveyed to someone called Boss (maybe Ram Kumar? who is also the director) by Rita (Helen) as his cat struggles mightily to free itself from under his arm. Rita and Boss (and the cat) have been lurking from the very beginning—they seem to be everywhere, observing everything, in that omniscient way of poor scripting. They are not alone in this quality here by any means either.

I speculate that his red gloves are more to save Boss from feline injury than to convey his villainous tendencies.

It’s also hard for me to believe that less than ten minutes have passed since the start of this movie. Nine minutes and forty-two seconds, to be precise. I’ll tell you right now that it took me three exhausting sittings and some judicious fast-forwarding to get through the whole thing at all, although I was determined.

Anyway, Professor Das—now in the hands of the mysterious silhouetted figure who may or may not be Boss but who I am still calling Red—refuses to cooperate. Das is shocked to see his long-lost twin Dinanath (also Bipin Gupta). They were separated in childhood, and Dinanath is much less patriotic than his brother.

Red sends him off to take Professor Das’s place at home with Renu, who is quickly suspicious when he acts nothing like Das. Shenanigans involving disguises and romance ensue, as Rakesh and Ramesh try to figure out who/where the real Das is and compete for Renu’s heart. It’s overdone (ha ha ha! what isn’t, in this movie?) and doesn’t much interest me, but there is always plenty to look at—and *want*—like this blue couch.

Another plot thread is introduced too, involving Number Saat Anita and another of Red’s henchmen named Kumar. Kumar is a fair-faced young lad (anybody know who the actor is? The acting credits show an “Introducing Mahendra”—maybe this is him?). Kumar is in love with Reshma (Farida Jalal) who turns out to be Anita’s sister. She is pleased to discover that Anita is a cabaret dancer (“Achcha?” she says, approvingly) but horrified to hear that she is also a traitor! Nahiiin!

This familial tangle plus the romantic and espionage antics of our hero(es) keep everyone busy for a long time. The formoola is stolen (or not), songs are sung, more disguises are needlessly donned, fake guns are fired, dummies are thrown off high-rise rooftops, thugs attack and then scatter, until at last we are rewarded for our patience by this blessed event:

Truly Faryal is someone I am always happy to see onscreen. Where are you now, Faryal? Feel the love!

I am thrilled to see Oscar dancing with her too, and *totally heart* the Silver Cone Bra, although it is sadly not used to kill anybody.

Other people keep randomly popping in and out of the story too, like Anita and Reshma’s mother Parvati (Paro), who is extremely unhappy about something and clutches her saree pallu as she weeps dramatically.

Rakesh’s brother Srinath shows up now and again, ostensibly seeking his biwi’s murderer but mostly occupying himself at nightclubs; and Rita and Boss continue to skulk but never actually DO anything (except throw the cat at things), although Helen gets a song eventually too thank goodness, because it is spectacular.

And finally, finally the entire ensemble—Red, Boss, Rita, Anita, Reshma, their mother, Kumar, Srinath, Rakesh, their mother, Renu, Ramesh, and all the henchmen plus Professor Das and Dinanath—come together in lovely scenic Kashmir for the long and grand finale. I know this much: if this place survived all the rona-dhona which is now played out among its hills and valleys, no amount of political conflict will ever be able to tear it apart.

And doesn’t Helen look so adorable as a Kashmiri belle?

Anita and Reshma, it turns out, are Dinanath’s daughters and Parvati his estranged wife. Kumar works for Red because Red has imprisoned his nanhi bahen and is threatening her with an x-ray scanner (she lets out that incessant and monotonous child-actor-crying sound that makes me want to drop something heavy on her myself, although I am not positive that she is even “acting”).

There are lots more flashing lights and a surprise or two (which I won’t spoil) in store, and as many boats, helicopters and explosions as the tiny budget (or the stolen stock-footage closet) would allow. It is a film that doesn’t so much emulate the Bond franchise but contains its own specifically Indian values. It is not about gadgets and gorgeous girls (well, a little) but about patriotism, family, and good old-fashioned trauma-drama-o-rama.

All the same, by the end I am sated. No more spying, bad disguises, awkward heroes, plump heroines or Siamese cats, bas!

For now.

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57 Comments to “Puraskar (1970)”

  1. omg we have common screencaps- prob cos some of those pix are impossible not to cap! Also, that guy is Mahendra- seems to me he spends the entire time he has on screen aping Shashi’s moves :D Helen was amazing though- she should have been the female lead, me thinks.

    • I really had to rein myself in on screencaps…basically the whole film is one endless bombardment of the eyes. I knew I had read about this somewhere but could not remember where—it was your review :D So thank you for putting it on my radar, even if it doesn’t exist without subtitles ;-)

      Did Mahendra or Sapna ever do any other films? They were kind of forgettable (and was it just me or did Sapna’s appearance change drastically while this was being made, she gained a large amount of weight or something)…

      • Sapna didn’t make any other movies- I was very curious about that so I did search :) Ive a feeling she was the producer/director’s girlfriend or such, and they just HAD to give her the part. She looked so bad throughout i thought! And esp when Helen and Faryal and Farida were ALL looking so amazing, the contrast was esp painful :/

        • Those three definitely did outshine her (and they got more screen time too!!! I LOL’d at your “maybe the producers realized they had made a mistake in casting Sapna”) :)

          She had her moments, but to me it just looked like her weight fluctuated up and down and up again. Was fun to see Joy M romancing Helen though!

          • If Helen was lead, Joy and the crew’s careers may have gotten a shot in the arm. Woe!

          • BTW, do u watch SNL these days? Their “laser cats” segment makes more sense wrt this movie :D

          • I wonder if the SNL people watch Indian B-movies. They really should. I don’t watch it any more, now I am too old to stay up that late, plus I am a child of the original season and those first ten years or so and it doesn’t quite match up…but hopefully no cats are harmed, either there or here (I did fret about it quite a bit though. Poor little kitty looked quite unhappy!)…

      • The “Mahendra” in the film is none other than Mahendra Bohra, son of the film’s director Ram Kumar and a scion of the noted film family Bohra Brothers. Ram Kumar’s elder brother Shree Ram Bohra was a noted industry leader in the 1970s and 1980s. He produced several B-grade films including one film called Al Hilal in 1958 — a Muslim social not available today — which had the qawwali Humein to look liya husn waalon ne which became a huge hit and is even today considered among the top qawwalis in Hindi films. Back to Mahendra. He did not act in any more films but became a producer. Incidentally his son Karan (aka Karan Veer Bohra) is a top television star whose role in Kasauti Zindagi Ki became very popular. Mahendra has now retired from active films and lives in Santa Cruz in Mumbai.

  2. I have to admit to a one of the seven sins – envy. Envy that you get to see so many Bollywood flix… :)

    Or maybe it’s jealousy. I’m not going to worry to much about the difference now – it’s late and Helen’s dancing…

    • I don’t know that envying someone’s OCD is a sin so much as a mistake :) But if you have almost 3 hours to waste and you want to make them seem more like 6, this is the film for you!

  3. Hahaha, what awesome description. Such movies really bring the best out of you. Almost the entire review is quote worthy, just like almost the entire movie is screen cap worthy. DNCI, Silver Cone Bra sadly not used to kill someone, cat holding baddy with red gloves, blue couch, X ray scanner- the movie is choke full of so many pieces of furniture, equipments and other such appliances, is it not ! And trust you to manage to be able to notice them all. This review is a laugh riot indeed.

    • I just report what I see Atul :) and with this one, I didn’t include nearly everything!!! It truly is chock full of WTF. Plus I don’t think there was a single plot device from a single movie ever made that wasn’t represented in this film.

  4. @Memsaab. Nice review. This gluttony for spy films seems to me like the craving for street food we all have once in a while. We know it is greasy and too salty at times. But we accept it as it comes. And there is only so much we can take. :)

  5. I think I know who RED is. Something similar went on in Black Cat, where the identity of the villain was not a mystery after the first ten minutes.

  6. Greta – Any reason why you have not shown us Joy M’s face in any of the screenshots? :-)

  7. Nice review. Spy movies or detective movies had their own audience in the times of the fifties, sixties and early seventies. It’s not a bad idea to watch any such movie on VCD/DVD once in a blue moon.

    Jitendra

  8. O Memsaab, you are priceless. This one is obviously a turkey, but a couple of interesting spy films you may want to check out are Aankhen (Dharmendra, Mala Sinha, Mehmood) and Humsaya (Joy M, Mala Sinha and Sharmila Tagore.) Both interestingly with great songs

    • I wouldn’t call it a turkey. It is certainly not a GOOD film, but it is far more entertaining than Aankhen or Hum Saaya were for me anyway :) (I have reviewed Ankhen here I believe)…and I liked the songs in this one too, although I didn’t talk about them much.

      Joy Mukherjee’s dancing in this needs to be seen to be believed though :D

  9. Awesome. You have unending patience for such stuff Memsaab.

    I have never seen Joy Mukherjee past his early 60s movies, wonder how he looked like in the 70s. Helen in the Kashmiri outfit is looking amazing. My first thought after seeing that screenshot was of Sharmila in Kashmir Ki Kali.

    The decoder is awesome. Reminds me of my old history books that carried pictures of ancient harappan symbols. It looks like it could surely decode those :)

    Im glad Oscar did not pierce his eyes on the Bra. He seems quite close :)

    • He looks just the same here as he did ten years earlier, I think. He was fine in this, he’s not really the most compelling hero ever, but that is actually a benefit here where there is so much else to gaze at.

      I too am glad that Oscar survived the Silver Cone Bra.

    • Ankit, I too was going to say something about Harappan script in that machine!

      Do I spy an Isamu Noguchi table in one of those shots? Lord I hope so! I also LOVE the black and white striped paneled dress in the picture with Paro. FABULOUS find, Memsaab and Swheta!

      • The furniture…my god the furniture. FAB.

        I don’t know about Harappan script :) but I do know that the decoder was hilarious. I think it is a random combination of symbols, and I am sure Harappan script should not be discounted.

  10. Could it be said, of most Bollywood films, that they are so bad they are good? I only really have a handful of requirements for a Bolly flick: great songs, unrestrained colour palettes, Helen, Mumtaz, Sridevi and that’s about it. I don’t really mind how ludicrous the plot is – in fact the sillier the better. As long as the narrative isn’t offensive I will quite happily make myself a cup of tea and sit for three hours glued (well, almost) to the screen. It’s pure escapism in these troubled times.

    At the end of the day I go to Tarkovsky for Tarkovsky – I go to Bollywood for Bollywood.

    That’s my two pence, anyway :)

    • I suppose it depends on how you define Bollywood…if you use the term for this specific type of Hindi film then you might be right; but there is plenty of Hindi cinema which is just plain GOOD, as well as plenty of it which is just plain BAD :)

  11. I vaguely remember this film releasing sometime in the late sixties and was a flop, but I did not know Bipin Gupta had a double role in this film that is interesting.Usually double roles are reserved for the lead players.

    • It is an unholy mess of a movie, makes Surakksha or Wardat look dull and tame by comparison.

      But it is lots of fun to watch with a FF button for judicious use. I love Bipin Gupta :)

  12. One thing that puzzles me: why was it called Puraskar (which means ‘award’ or ‘prize’)? Because it should’ve got some sort of prize for lunacy? Because they didn’t think it was going to win a Filmfare Award, so what the heck, might as well put an award into the name…?! ;-)

    • Hmmm…beats me, unless the soundwave blasting-killing machine was the prize (the main point of the film being Red and company trying to get their hands on it and everyone else trying to prevent it) :)

      BTW there really needs to be a new Filmfare Award category for these things!

  13. just saw the wonderful song picturised on Helen.
    And then ‘Goodmorning father!’
    If the film is only half so good clothed as the father at the swimming club, this must be the best drink-along movie!

    • He’s a fake priest :) There are plenty of those in this.

      That clip has the second Helen song too, with Joy, where she sports an assortment of cool outfits.

      As I said: this one is the Holy Grail. Will definitely be watching it again, hopefully with company and even more cocktails next time!

  14. If you want to see a movie where a conical bra is used to kill someone, check out this Turkish version of Flash Gordon:

    http://tarstarkas.net/2010/10/baytekin-fezada-carpisanlar/

    As an added bonus, the bra is worn by a dude.

    Great review. As you touch upon, the thing that makes these Indian spy movies from the 1960s stand out as something unique from all of the other imitations of the James Bond movies being made around the world at the time is the way that they incorporate values (community, family, interconnection, faith) that are antithetical to those of the Bond movies, while at the same time imitating a lot of their surface trappings.

    • OMG, his is a Lego Bra! And it’s so…nipple-y.

      Plus, excellent point! These movies have nothing in common with the western “Bond” aesthetic spiritually (are you even allowed to use the word Bond and “spiritual” in the same sentence?) but take the fun stuff from them and wrap it around much more conservative traditions.

  15. trauma-drama-o-rama! I love that Greta!

    And I desire that blue couch, as well. I wonder if any of that wonder funky, atomic like furniture still inhabits any homes in Mumbai? Do they have “retro” stores in India? If so, I must visit one.

  16. >finally the entire ensemble—Red, Boss, Rita, Anita, Reshma, their mother, Kumar, Srinath, Rakesh, their mother, Renu, Ramesh, and all the henchman plus Professor Das and Dinanath—

    Hahahahahaha! For these lines I’m glad the film was made :-D

  17. On something of a spy jag, eh memsaab?
    Another brilliant review ~ and please do come back to the spy buffet table – soon!

    • Yes I am—THANKS TO YOU! I think I forgot to mention in the post that this particular goody came to me courtesy of you as well, and I thank you very much for it now :)

  18. OK, I think we should just meet very soon, cut our wrists and rub our blood together or some such thing, because this is totally insane. I’ve been meaning to post a review on ‘Prem Pujari’ all of last week, finally managed to do it today, and then come here to find you blogging about spy movies. :)

    It’s funny how key characters/victims always seem to have a double in Hindi spy films.

    And as for the DNCI, I can’t help feeling that it’s more evident in DVDs than I seem to remember in films. I spoke to Teja about it and I think what happens that some scenes which are shot day for night, are then not graded properly in the tele-cine, where the DVD guy probably just does a uniform transfer of the print.

    • Some directors/cinematographers seem to try and mitigate the obviousness of it, but others (as here) do not…in any case, I find it completely awesome and am not complaining in the least.

      In some strange way, I feel like we as an audience are being given some credit for being able to fill in the gaps or gloss over the technical limitations as it were—we understand that it’s supposed to be night from the cues, and that is enough :)

      I have not seen Prem Pujari yet, MUST. *off to read your review*

  19. I do have audio track of this film, but I can`t get theses type of films to watch,(i.e., lesser known hindi films )(which are my favourites)in our town, which is not a hindi speaking belt,You are making my dreams (really I always dream about hindi movies)come true. I am seeing my all my (unrealised )dreams realising through your eyes(Hindi translation:”Main apne sapne aapke aakhon ke dwara sakaar hote dekh raha hoon”)haaa.haaaa.So Hindi filmy na….I have written this much,only reading the name of the film, without reading your review(in a state of joy)thank you very very much, “tum jeeyo hazaaron saal, ke din ho pachaas hazaar-english translation”Long live memsaab,god bless you with a l……ong span of healthy and pleasureful life”, Am I right in my translation?, that you have to tell me)

    lot`s of love, and regards
    prakash

  20. I want to recommend the following Joy mukherjee films,to you, which I haven`t seen, but the theme and atmosphere of these films, it seems probably more or less the same as “Puraskar”,

    a)Kahin aar kahin paar(1971)(with helen,vimi,sheikh mukthar)
    b)Aag aur daag(1970)(with helen,i.s.johar,shetty,zeb rehman)
    c)*Ehsaan(1970)(with helen)
    d)Inspector(1970)(with sheikh mukthar,helen,alka,kiran kumar)
    e)Moojrim(1970)(with dev kumar,jayashree.t..ramesh deo,kumud chugani)

    Prakash

  21. This film is available at induna.com which ships all over India (and the world) :)

    I have not seen the films you list except Ehsaan with Helen, I don’t think the others are available with subtitles (although that is becoming less and less of an issue obviously—comprehension is so overrated!)…but I will look for them :) I really love Zeb Rehman, wish she were in more films.

  22. Nearly a week since you posted a new review. Looks like a record of sorts ! :-)

  23. I think that Mahendra is Mahendra Sandhu of Agent Vinod and Khoon Khoon fame. Gotta check out Inspector with Joy Mukherjee. It is quite odd and definitely 1970 is JM’s last chance at catching some magic, but obviously went nowhere.

    • Oh, good call—I think you might be right. I am used to seeing the later Agent Vinod version with sideburns etc. but this Mahendra does look very like a young and fresh-faced version of that one :) Cool! If I can find Inspector I will most def. watch it :))

  24. dekh to kyaa hai aaj kee mahafil Asha
    ye nasheelee ye naasheelee meree aankhein Asha
    nazar mein bijalee badan mein shole Mahendra K
    nateejaa hamaaree muhobaat kaa kyaa hai Asha, Mukesh
    ae meree jaan chaand saa goraa Asha, Mukesh

    are all these songs there in the film memsaab????
    iam yet to see the film..if its bad wont waste time..
    but RD Burman’s music rocks

    this is a rare film being talked about
    i recommend u also see another poancham gem but a box office flop parchaiyan with vinod khanna — song was sason me kabhi

  25. I heard the song “Nateeja hamaari muhabbat kja kyaa hai” just now, and I found it a stunning song. This song will remain with me for some time, I feel.

  26. Memsaab, this is my first comment but I have enjoyed many of your reviews & they are just fab! Hat off to you, take a bow….your sense of humour is impeccable! I have always loved reading the reviews, thanks a ton! Umesh

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