This film is exactly why I feel blessed to have discovered Hindi cinema. As Beth said in her review of it this summer, I live in fear of running out of movies like this. Elaan is more fun than anyone ought to be allowed to have, and if it had subtitles my head would probably explode (but please, somebody, subtitle it anyway). The lunatic story (featuring a ring of invisibility that only works when you put it in your mouth) is presented with great relish and plenty of style, and manages to stay on track and is nicely paced. Even the flaws only add to its charms. And all this is embellished with the finest fashions and set decoration the Seventies had to offer!
Plus, the cinematography is simply superb, by K. Ramanlal, who also directed. Shots are set up with interesting angles and composition, and textures, colors, and lighting are used beautifully. I seriously ooh-ed and aah-ed my way through it and could happily screencap every frame (and practically have, I should warn you).
Naresh (Vinod Mehra) is a young freelance photographer-journalist. He meets Mala (Rekha) one day on the beach and instantly irritates her by taking her photo without permission (I don’t blame her). But after he saves her life (a runaway horse as the credits roll) she warms up to him; her father Mr. Mehta (Brahm Bhardwaj)—the editor of a major newspaper—hires him, and sweet sweet romance blossoms with a picnic song in which the two of them push each other around and wrestle like teenagers.
Mala’s father now asks Naresh to take on a dangerous assignment: he is sent to investigate rumors of nefarious activities (possibly ghosts, at which he scoffs) with the help of Shyam (Rajendranath). Unfortunately they are not very good at skulking, and are almost instantly taken into custody by Boss (an unusually loquacious Shetty) and his henchmen (who wear various types of headgear a la the Village People). Naresh is tortured by being tied to a pole with a pair of leather belts which then spins him around faster and faster as a henchman ratchets up the control dial. Besides making Naresh too dizzy to speak, it seems pointless because Naresh doesn’t really know anything yet. Later we also discover that Boss has possession of a pair of electrified pincers which will EFF YOU UP—not sure why he doesn’t use them here!
Torture over for now, Naresh and Shyam are entertained by Lilly (Helen) in a fantastically tricked-out nightclub-slash-cave, populated generously with bored (or stoned, or both) gora tourists. She arrives costumed as a matador brandishing a cape at a man in a papier-mache cow head (I was the head of a cow once in a school play, and it is not easy let me tell you):
Then she transforms into some sort of Swiss Miss milkmaid type, with a math equation (8+8+2=18) embroidered on her skirt.
I guess Boss is trying the bad cop-good cop approach with this little party, but it gets him nowhere with Naresh and Shyam, mostly because they still don’t know anything.
Left to sleep off the after-effects of this whopping good time, Naresh—who had cleverly only pretended to drink—goes snooping and spots some very busy workers trundling crates bound for Singapore and Australia around in a basement. Sadly, he is caught almost immediately again and thrown into a cell with the unfriendly (but v.v. handsome) Ram Singh (Vinod Khanna) and a woebegone, ancient scientist (Ratan Gaurang).
After Naresh stops Ram Singh from beating the old man up, the scientist confides to Naresh how bad Ram Singh is (kaminey!) and decides that he can trust this new cellmate.
He gouges his upper leg open using what looks like only his fingernails in order to retrieve a ring that he must have earlier gouged his leg open to hide it in. I’m not even sure that’s a sentence and I don’t care. Just…YIKES. He makes gruesome groaning sounds all the while which fail to wake Ram Singh, luckily, but which make my skin crawl.
He gives the ring to Naresh with instructions which I don’t understand (except the word “atomic”) just as guards come into the cell to take Naresh away—to be executed. Naresh puts the ring in his mouth and disappears just as they are about to fire on him and I am thrilled to pieces.
Why would you make a RING and then not have it work when you put it on your FINGER? Maybe to prevent sizing issues? Oh I love it. LOVE.
Anyway, he rescues Shyam, and the two of them escape (hilariously) on a motorcycle.
Back in Bombay, we meet Mr. Verma (Madan Puri). He runs a counterfeiting empire, and is more than willing to kill anyone who questions him. He is in cahoots with Boss and his right-hand woman (Sabeena), and also employs an unusually enthusiastic gori.
At Mala and her father’s house, two men break and enter. They threaten Mehta and demand that he call them if Naresh and Shyam show up at his home, and he refuses. When he picks up the phone to call the police, they kill him. Naresh (now visible again) and Shyam read the news and quickly return to Bombay and a bereft Mala.
As it turns out, Mala is not only sad but also a spy (code name: Mary). She, Shyam and Naresh are reunited at the CID station where the Chief (Iftekhar) tells them a bunch of stuff and then sends Mala off to meet Verma and infiltrate his gang. She gives him some money and lets him inspect her with a magnifying glass (why? I do not know) which seems to ingratiate her with him. She is invited to stay, and skulks around the halls until Verma presses the magic button which opens the door to his lair.
I am happy to see that his perky blonde assistant still loves her work.
Mala slips in behind Verma and eavesdrops as he talks with Boss and Sabeena; then Ram Singh arrives and talks some more. I have no idea what’s going on and it doesn’t matter. Ram Singh and Lilly have a romantic thing going, although it isn’t clear to me what their relationship is to Verma and Boss, or for that matter what the deal is between Verma and Boss. Everyone is after the “atomic ring” and of course they know by now that Naresh has it. Verma has also enlisted the help of a Professor (Jankidas) whom I assume is some sort of scientist too.
All I know is that there is a lot of communicating back and forth, and the bad guys always have something hanging out of their mouths.
In addition to not working on a finger, the Atomic Ring doesn’t work if you have clothes on. This means that everytime someone gets close to nabbing Naresh he has to take off every stitch that he’s wearing before he disappears, with the result that before reappearing he always has to find a new set of clothes. It’s not always very convenient. Plus if you have to have the ring in your mouth to stay invisible doesn’t it mean you wouldn’t be able to talk or you might swallow it? This is a point which seems to escape everyone, but never mind. Naresh disguises himself in order to help Mala, not that she needs it, and at one point there is a gratuitous wrestling match during which the Professor makes weird faces and hand gestures at Hercules for reasons unknown to me (it seems he is trying to fix the match I have no idea why).
But I never get bored. Ever. There is always something interesting, strange, beautiful or otherwise entertaining to look at.
I’ll leave it to you to guess how everything turns out (or better yet watch it). There is nothing I didn’t love about this film: the chemistry between Rekha and Vinod Mehra (rumored to have gotten married around this time) and between Vinod Khanna and Helen; the very humorous little touches throughout (especially the scene where Verma thinks he finally has the ring in his possession—I laughed out loud, literally); the story, combining sweet romance with spying, drama, suspense and just *enough* gore; the special effects; and the songs by Shankar Jaikishan—my only quibble being Sharda, whom generally I like, but who wasn’t in good voice here singing for Helen.
Beyond everything, though, the camera work left me drooling. According to imdb, K. Ramanlal seems to have worked pretty steadily as a secondary camera operator but this is the only film where he was the principal cinematographer and director.
This astonishes me—it is so well made, this movie, and so stunning visually that if imdb is correct the industry and we fans were cheated of a great talent!
I’ve probably provided enough screencaps already, but honestly I wanted to capture just about every frame.
Mr. Ramanlal did have help too:
Bless them. Bless them all.
Especially the editor responsible for transitions: