Elaan (1971)

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:

Wheeeeeee!

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36 Comments to “Elaan (1971)”

  1. I agree. Sharda’s voice in that Helen song was really awful. The extras sitting there look really annoyed

  2. Memsaab, LOL. Where do you unearth these films? I *have* to see this. I absolutely adore Rekha and will sit through anything to see her. :) I like that part about not being able to wear clothes to avail of the power of the ring – I wonder whose over-ripe imagination thought that one up!

  3. Like Anu, I *have* to see this movie. Not that I like early Rekha much, but Vinod Khanna – oooh.

    Seriously, though, I’ve been giving that ring some thought. Do you think it works only when it’s in somebody’s mouth because then it’ll remain hidden (if the body around it vanishes, see… if it’s on a finger, maybe the ring’s whacko technology won’t hide it effectively enough. And maybe the technology extends only to human flesh, not clothing – so, getting in the raw is essential to getting invisible.

    Did they pop it into their mouths right after gouging it out of that guy’s leg? All bloody and yucky and all that?

    • Rekha is SO CUTE in this—she has her own identity, and her romance with Vinod M. is so sweet. Vinod Khanna is HOT, Helen is her usual gorgeous self…there is really nothing not to love.

      As for the ring, I am really glad that the people who had to strip in order to use it were all MEN!!!!! I assume that Vinod M cleaned the ring off before putting it in his mouth, but who knows? :D

  4. Name of character artiste who appears in 44th screencap alongwith rekha and vinod mehra is SANJANA(the lady who holds pink piece of cloth in her hand):If at all you have not included her screen cap in your artiste gallery, You can add her photo. She is there in Yaadon ki Baraat(caretaker of 3 children), Zanjeer(lip syncs song for Deewaane hain deewaanon ko), Carvaan(one of the main dancers along with aruna irani and SHEFFALI in “dilbhar dil se pyaare”song)

  5. Ha ha…loved the post.
    Even as a young boy, I remember hearing about this movie – as one of those “invisible man’ movies. I’d always wanted to see it but got to see it only in Jan this year. Absolutely LOVED it! And I knew you would too – it has all those elements that make us love that period’s Bollywood, doesn’t it?. :-)

    Now that you mention it, I remember the scene where Madan Puri THINKS he has the ring. Hilarious!

    The song “ang se ang laga le” (Rekha and an invisible Vinod in the bedroom) was pretty popular in its time. I remember doing the write-up for this song on Atul’s blog earlier this year. :-)

    Thanks, as always, memsaab, for another lovely post. The moment I finished seeing this movie I wanted you to see it – I knew you’d love it AND I knew you’d review it AND I knew I’d love the review. :-)

    • Madan Puri can be quite funny when he wants to be :) He was great in this. Everyone was great in this, I just loved it start to finish. The songs may even be my LEAST favorite thing about it, but I liked them too so…

      Craaaacktastic.

  6. Now that I have learnt not to be too logical or critical while watching Hindi movies, I am sure I will enjoy this movie. Being able to become invisible is a fond fantasy with everyone and the movie could have exploited this fact to the hilt. But it is obvious that the movie failed to make it big unlike say “Mr India”.

    Though I am prepared to suspend logic, but still I cannot help wondering why the scientists who invented the invisibility ring did not use it himself to escape from his captors. And I have the same doubt as dustedoff whether Vinod Mehra ensured that he cleaned the ring before putting it in his mouth. One needed to strip before one could become invisible. That opened up immense potential for attracting male viewers to the movie hall in case females too were shown using the ring to become invisible. I hope some future movie maker will start on this project.

    Like this invisibility sans clothes issue, I also wonder about the matter of a human female turning into “naagin” and vice versa. The human female is fully clothed but when she gets transformed into a “naagin”, she is without those clothes. So what happens to those clothes. And when she turns back into the human form, she is one again back into the human form with the same clothes. I hope such continuity issues will be addressed in future movies.

    • The scientist could not have escaped with Ram Singh in the cell with him, Ram Singh was trying to find the ring that he had hidden IN HIS LEG…plus he was so decrepit he wouldn’t have got far!

      And if your biggest concern about women turning into snakes is where their clothes go…well :D

  7. I remember this movie. I fell headlong in love with Vinod Khanna. He is in jail, lounging on some straw, looking unkempt, in his first scene in the movie. He spits out a bit of straw before he speaks, and I swear my heart went dhak dhak dhak. The movie was really entertaining, I dont remember the details (except the Vinod Khanna bit) having seen it in 1971. The ang se ang laga le song was really hot.. phew.. that I remember too. I like Rekha’s outfits and the ding dong earrings. Lovely.

    • I do not blame you a bit!!!!! Although I did giggle a little bit because at one point it looked like he was having difficulty dealing with the straw hanging out of his mouth :D But yes, so hot.

  8. @Memsaab – I saw this movie not too long ago and reading your review only increased my enjoyment quotient :) If one were to ignore a few minor issues this movie is great time pass. Both the Vinods and Rekha seem fresh and raw here which adds to the charm.

  9. Great to read your review of this film – loved the espionage-theme of the film.
    Cheers for the holidays Memsaab!
    John

  10. Another Vinod Khanna-movie from 1971 where he played the lead role.

    I think his transition from villain to hero was pretty smooth, considering he played negative roles the same year in “Mera Gaon Mera Desh”, “Rakhwala”, “Ek Haseena Do Deewane” and “Jaane Anjane”. Two other movies where he played the lead role in 1971 were “Hum Tum Aur Woh” and “Mere Apne”. He had a positive role as a supporting actor in “Preetham”.

    I believe he never used make-up in his young days and yet looked so dashing on screen. Pity he chose to give it all up so early and go to Osho Rajneesh’s ashram…..

  11. Vaguely remember some of the songs – the song recordings here were definitely not on par with other hits of the day… I suspect the problem was a bad recording studio – some other music directors (e.g. C Ramachandra) also had songs with such awful recording. It definitely had a bad effect on their careers (as well as the singers – Rafi/Suman) – but the fact that these music directors allowed such a final product to go out clearly shows they were going downhill and did not have it in them to insist on better recording setups.

    Rekha looks good – so long as she does not make her eyes go chinky. (Did some plastic surgery correct that :)?) The chemistry between Vinod Mehra and her is clearly apparent – I would she say was more bubbly with him than with anybody else. With HIM of course it was on another level….:-)

    Pity you had to slog through this without subtitles – caught a bit of it on Ultra Youtube. Not earth shattering but good time pass.

  12. Correction the female singer here would be Sharda …. poor thing she sounds like something that WOULD probably be found singing in bars or ‘functions’ in those days …. in that way her voice is apt for Helen’s song :D though definitely sitting well on our ears.

  13. OOOF….typos…(‘someone’ not ‘something’ that would be found singing in bars; and … Sharda’s voice ….definitely NOT sitting well on our ears :D)

  14. My late father would not spare me five bucks to go and see an emerging sex-bomb Rekha when we were in Bangalore then and I was in my early teens. So, I missed this “masterpiece.” He was put-off by the huge cutouts of Rekha popping out of main crossings. But Dad did not mind my going to watch her subsequent film Rampur Ka Laxman She was much ‘sedate’ in it.

  15. > 8+8+2=18
    In Hindi it would read something like this “aaT aur aaT aur dho aTTaarah!”, which is like scat lyrics for Hindi, in the same rich tradition as
    10 + 10 + 10 = taN taNaa taN.. :)

    Perhaps that was the intent, I am not sure.

  16. I remember watching this on TV as a young kid and being very confused as to what the title Elaan (declaration) had to do with the whole movie, and how an atomic ring in the mouth could lead to invisibility and not cancer.

  17. omg!omg!omg!i saw this film once as a child in mid 90′s on a pvt indian channel called atn and enjoyed it very much, and then conveniently forgot the name of it and hence could never track it down.the closest i came to was elaan-e-jung, but that’s totally a different film altogether.thank you thank you so much for this post!i’m going to re-watch it on youtube right away! i have to borrow your patented expression here and go “wheeeeeeeeee”
    loads of thanks and and an advance happy new year
    Priyanka.

  18. I remember reading about this movie in a film magazine back in the 80s. The song ‘Janab-E-Man Salam Hai’ was shot in Paris and the movie crew especially Helen faced racial insults there because she was mistaken for a gypsy

  19. Élaan was a must see for any Rekha and Vinod fan but I never understood how someone like Vinod Mehra made it as a star. His presence ruined the movie for me even as a child. Rekha was very sexy and the movie is worth watching for sense alone!

  20. Very Interesting film with a good screenplay and dilogue .Vinod Khanna and Mehra and Rekha lend star value to the film. Mr. India which starred Anil kapoor lifted its story idea from Elaan.

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