Why yes, Dharamji, I will. I don’t even care what you want me to do.
I don’t know what it is about him, but for me watching a Dharmendra starrer is like getting a big warm hug. He is just so…comforting and solid, somehow (it’s no wonder he’s my fake-pretend bodyguard). So on a recent snowy night, missing my Dad and needing a sustaining presence, I rewatched Yakeen, one of my early favorite forays into 1960s Hindi cinema. It must be universally acknowledged that two Dharmendras are always better than one, even if one of them has blue eyes and orange hair.
A quick Google search has turned up few reviews of this fine film from director Brij, a shocking state of affairs. Spies, counter-spies, exotic subterranean locations, a Hitler-like villain, the unusually loquacious Shetty, gorgeously modern Sharmila, great music from Shankar and Jaikishan, and—not least—a spectacular Helen dance make this one a classic from the get-go!
How fantastic is it that without even seeing his face, we know in a single shot that there is trouble ahead and from whom it will come.
Admittedly, my knowledge of world cinema is miniscule and restricted only to the Holly and Bolly Woods, but Shetty should be proud that so much is conveyed by such a fleeting look at him. Surely it is a rarity in movie history that one dented but shiny bald pate could itself alone—for decades!—instil dread in film-going audiences.
He is spying on one Rajesh Verma (Dharmendra), a scientist working for Dr. Sharma (Brahm Bhardwaj, upon whose research the entire future of Hindustan depends (we know this mostly by inference, and we never actually find out what his research is). Rajesh himself is a fairly disgruntled employee at this point; he seems never to get a holiday, and it is wearing down his relationship with the lovely Rita (Sharmila Tagore) who never sees him. After an accident at the lab in which he suffers minor injuries, Rajesh convinces his doctor to prescribe mandatory rest and escapes from Dr. Sharma’s control to make amends with Rita. Her price for forgiveness this time is steep!
Despite his Greek God good looks, Dharmendra is just so excellent at being humble: his Rajesh asking for Rita’s hand is very cute, his nervousness believable and funny. The chemistry between these two in this film is wonderful, one of my favorite Sharmila roles for sure. I am not always a huge fan of hers (I find her a bit cold sometimes) but Dharmendra’s considerable warmth spills over onto her, and Rita is a fantastically modern character: she wears little short shorts when she goes running! She HAS SEX with Rajesh before marriage! (It isn’t Hypothermia Rape either: so refreshing!)
Their “song” is the lovely and justly famous “Gar Tum Bhoola Na Doge” and their chemistry together is heart-meltingly sweet.
I don’t even mind that their romancing takes up a good part of the first hour of the film, with no spy hi-jinks to be seen anywhere! But eventually, Rajesh is called away from his beloved by the demanding Dr. Sharma—except that he denies having called Rajesh at all and is surprised to see him.
[On a side note, one of my favorite car songs of all time is “Baharon Ki Baraat,” beautifully picturized on Rajesh in his sporty little red roadster driving along a road flanked by what we in Africa called flame trees, or flamboyants (not sure what they are called in India) with his dreams for the future peering at him from his rear view mirrors. It’s lovely!]
Anyway, surprised or not, Dr. Sharma abruptly orders Rajesh to postpone his wedding for the sake of work; angry, Rajesh tells him that he would rather quit and storms out. Later that evening, Sharma calls him back to his office; Rajesh arrives to find a mysterious man (Shetty) exiting—and a dead Sharma inside!
He calls the police, but receives another strange visitor that evening in the form of Mr. Roy (David)—who attempts to blackmail Rajesh by playing a recording of his quarrel with Sharma earlier that day.
Oh, those halcyon days, when that was a tiny recorder! What does Mr. Roy want in return for his silence? Dr. Sharma’s research, of course! Principled Rajesh refuses to cooperate and Mr. Roy vanishes as mysteriously as he came. Most of the stuff that happens in this movie is needlessly complicated, a hallmark of Brij’s direction, of course, not that I am complaining.
Rajesh is arrested shortly thereafter and the news splashed in the papers. But Mr. Roy shows up again in the jail, accompanied by two men named DeMello (Anwar Hussain) and Shrivistava (?). He tells Rajesh that his visit was a test of Rajesh’s loyalty, and that they need him to get to the bottom of Sharma’s murder—committed by some enemy of India. They have devised yet another needlessly complicated plan to free Rajesh from imprisonment, in order that he carry this task out undercover.
And sure enough, Rajesh is kidnapped—and Shrivastava murdered—by Shetty, who takes Rajesh to Mozambique (“Portugeese Africa”). Mozambique is apparently a land of neon signs and thriving nightclubs, which is not at all how I remember it but never mind. I am a little surprised at this unusual enemy state setting, but unsurprised when most of the main villain’s henchmen turn out to look suspiciously CHINESE. The main villain—Shetty’s boss—is the General and played (as I had been reminded by people recently, another excellent reason to rewatch this) by that same actor whose identity eludes me, but who is a familiar face from many many films.
These are the names listed in the credits to choose from, if anyone is struck by inspiration (some of them I can eliminate, knowing who they are already, but there are still several left—although of course, there is no guarantee that his name is even there despite his large role).
Rajesh is amazed and confused when Boss orders another man brought in—a man who looks almost identical to Rajesh, named Garson (only pronounced by Boss as Garçon: “Waiter!”).
They are somewhat hilariously examined by a doctor; his expert medical opinion is that Garson’s hair and eye colors CAN indeed be changed to match Rajesh’s. Why Boss needed a doctor for this analysis (and to carry out the dye job and shampoo!) is beyond me, but never mind. Rajesh generously points out a flaw: Garson’s voice is nothing like his, so they also give Garson a neck scar and instruct him to pretend that he is now mute when he takes over Rajesh’s life (which is of course, the main aim of all this).
Equipped with brown contact lenses, Garson is shipped off to India with his orders to steal Sharma’s research and blow up his lab. In India, Roy, DeMello, and the late Shrivastava’s former assistant who has now taken over his job, have been frantic over Rajesh’s disappearance, as has Rita of course. They are all relieved when “Rajesh” washes up on a Bombay beach and welcome him back enthusiastically as the real Rajesh languishes in the General’s cold stone dungeon.
Only Rajesh’s faithful dog seems to know the difference, and Garson kills him.
But can he continue to fool everyone, even Rita (who shockingly confesses to him that she is pregnant!)? Will he succeed in his mission to destroy India’s hopes of a brighter future? Who is the traitor inside Roy’s Criminal Investigation department?
I need that VAT 69 candle!
As with all Brij films, there are gaping plot holes and a frantic pace. But unlike some, Brij manages to maintain control of this one for the most part, and it’s a fun and suspenseful entertainer. Dharmendra and Sharmila make a wonderful lead pair (or threesome, depending on how you look at it), and a nice assortment of character actors offer their able support. Dharmendra is often accused of not being a very good actor, unfairly in my opinion. I think this double role is a great example of how he is more than capable of giving a subtle performance. He lends Garson a ruthless and aloof quality that makes him truly menacing and a far cry from the happy-go-lucky Rajesh he has replaced.
He’s no cartoon villain, though: his contact lenses hurt his eyes, and he feels a pang of conscience when it comes to poor Rita.
Plus, Helen in an assortment of sparkly outfits and our friend Ted Lyons’ other band The Monkees backing her up (“Bach Ke Kahan Jaoge):
The General and his Chinese henchmen enjoy a tawdry striptease courtesy of this voluptuous lady:
And, proving that Portugeese Africa was indeed hopping with talent (and sailors!), a belly-dancer entertains a motley crew of its denizens in an underground nightclub.
The music (no lyrics) is fantastic for both of these, too. I can’t imagine that anyone here hasn’t seen this film already, but if you haven’t it is well worth sitting through this early Indian spy film (despite the murky picture). I like it much better than its predecessors Ankhen and Kismat.