Zindagi Aur Maut (1965)

This gleefully patriotic and decidedly low-budget spy movie is the brainchild of the legendary (to some of us anyway) fedora-loving actor-director-producer Nisar Ahmad Ansari, and it is also Faryal’s debut film. It stars other Ansari favorites Bela Bose, Nilofar, Pradeep Kumar, Johnny Walker and a host of lurking henchpeople. I watched it without the benefit of subtitles and therefore missed any subtleties there may have been, but all anyone really needs to know is that India’s “top two Security Agents” are chasing bad guys who want to get their hands on a microphillum giving away military installations, bridge locations, and “all hamara important documents.” Plus, Ted Lyons & His Cubs back up gorgeous Bela, and it contains one of my very favorite Edwina songs: and all the music is fabulous really, from Chitalkar Ramchandra.

Like all Ansari movies and others of its ilk, this is like watching enthusiastic hormonally-charged teenaged boys playing cops and robbers, and I mean that only in a good way. Rife with silly and largely pointless disguises, beeping gadgets, guns, coded musical messages, and pretty dancing girls, it is oodles of loony fun.

Said Agents Ashok (Pradeep Kumar) and Mirza (Anwar Hussain) are assigned to stop the gang and retrieve the terribly information-laden microfilm. This gang has already killed Agent OS127; and their Chief (NA Ansari) owns a hotel with a nightclub (yay!) and a gazillion brightly flashing alarms to notify his numerous and familiar (Rajan Kapoor, Ratan Gaurang, eg) henchmen of his oncoming presence. He is ruthless with traitors (“Mister M khatm ho gaya!”) which sadly for me include dancer Lily (Bela Bose).

During her awesome dance with Ted Lyons & His Cubs (Ted on drums!) she sticks a large obvious note on Ashok’s wrist which seems guaranteed to be easily read by Chief (she even positions it so he doesn’t have to decipher it upside down), scanning the crowd with his binoculars—and is. He slips a poison gas capsule into a bouquet of flowers he gives her after the performance, and Ashok finds her dead in her car when it pulls up at their meeting place. There is no word on how her driver escapes the gas, to my knowledge, although I must admit I am distracted as Chief explains the gas capsule functionality by the thing I spot on his desk. I am pretty sure I need one too.

I would put my own face on it, and swing myself from the yardarm during those long excruciating conference calls at work. It would make me laugh and laugh.

I digress. Like all respectable evildoers, Chief has a cheerfully plump and loyal moll named Mona (Nilofar). His henchmen are masters of disguise, as the police discover after they find poor dead OS127’s body and raid his pockets for the photograph, along with a diary explaining how and where the microphillum will be passed on: in a place called Jahanabad, with a dance troupe and gypsy involved.

Outside of his lair milieu, Chief is also known as respectable businessman Mr. Roy, and he is a friend of Ashok and his family. Mirza and Ashok show up while Roy is visiting his Maa (Chandrima Bhaduri) and much is made of how like a brother-son Mirza is to Ashok’s sister Nirmala (Nasreen) and Maa. There may be some discussion of Nirmala getting married too; I find it all vaguely confusing and not that interesting.

In Jahanabad, Mona runs the Venus Dancing Troupe, which is a front for henchmen Swamiji (Uma Dutt) and his sitar and suave Mr. Kishore (MA Lateef). They send messages to Roy via the sitar (or sarod or whatever)—five minutes or so of plucking strings conveys the succinct message “All is well”; and Chief responds with a violin solo. It is sheer genius. Also, Kishore looks like a maniacal elf with those headphones on.

The gypsy in question is Johnny Walker and he seems to have an unreciprocated thing for Mona. I never do figure out what his story is; he is firmly on the side of Ashok and Mirza by the end, anyway, but let’s just say that it’s good to see him, and he gets a nice song with Nilofar and a little romantic moment with three donkeys. Bas.

Our heroine now appears in the form of Geeta (Faryal), a member of the Venus Dancing Troupe. She is scurrying along looking frightened, and takes a bicycle which Mirza mistakes as his own. Ashok gives chase, and although it turns out that it is in fact her bicycle, he is thoroughly smitten by her. They are interrupted by Mr. Kishore, who pulls up and escorts a rather unwilling Geeta into his car. There is some consternation on everyone’s part, but I have no idea why or what it is about. I’m just happy to see one of my favorite songs, with Faryal and Edwina and her friends.

Geeta and Ashok proceed to fall in love, and Geeta skulks around Venus Dancing Troupe HQ eavesdropping and spying on Ashok’s behalf. A suspicious Mr. Roy/Chief ingratiates himself with Ashok, thus getting the inside scoop on the investigation, enabling him to keep one step ahead of them.

The microfilm seller shows up and demands five times his original asking price, prompting Chief to shoot him dead. Thankfully the seller has the microfilm on him (he did not think that one through), and Geeta watches as Swamiji hides it in a harmonium. She is caught when she steals it by Swamiji but manages to escape after some harrowing moments, although not without losing the microfilm back to him. Ashok decides that they might as well take a little vacation and in a very sweet scene asks her to marry him and come to Delhi to meet his mother. She demurs—being a mere dancer while he is such an important man—and he laughs at her. “That old thinking?!” he says. I cheer for yet another progressive “B-movie” win.

Microfilm search put aside for now, Ashok and Geeta board a train for Delhi to meet Maa and Nirmala.

But Chief has not forgotten that Ashok is a police officer on his heels, and he instructs his henchmen to blow up the train as it crosses a high bridge over a mighty river. The humanity!

Will Ashok survive the crash? Purely hypothetically, if he does, will a broken arm apparently make it hard for him to walk? And will hypothetical memory loss make him also practically catatonic? Will Geeta survive the crash? Will the microphillum make its way into enemy hands? Will Ashok ever figure out that Mr. Roy is also his evil nemesis?

Will Hindustan survive the leaking of “all hamara important documents”?!

If those questions aren’t burning enough reason to watch this, then your soul might be dead. To recap:

Musical instrument via flashing-beeping radio communications, and Johnny Walker in a gypsy outfit complete with giant doorknocker earrings:

Fabulous songs and dancing:

At one point smuggled diamonds are introduced to the plot courtesy of this old crone and her bewigged son, but I never do figure out why. Still, it’s a great hiding place and the old crone herself is pretty kickass.

Someone ought to start collecting screencaps like this one and the one at left below (furniture clashes with wallpaper clashes with outfits). I am pretty sure based on exhibit B (right, below) that I am not qualified to point fingers at anyone, although I probably would have been very qualified to be a 1960s set designer.

And let’s not forget the best Villain Desk Accessory ever. I have a new quest!

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18 Comments to “Zindagi Aur Maut (1965)”

  1. I love Faryal of the delicate cheekbones. Here she gets to sing the romantic “Dil laga kar ham yeh samjhe”. The rest of the movie sounds like fun too. I am quite in love with Pradeep Kumar now that I have seen him star in fabulous movies like Wahan Ke Log, Do Ustad etc.

    I have to see the Edwina song once more :)

    • She is a pretty bad actress, although to be fair it’s her first film! :) That Edwina song is a total earworm for me, I can’t stop watching it.

      And so agree with you about Pradeep. I used to wonder how he ever made it as a hero, but boy do I love him for doing movies like these. They suit him :)

  2. Great Greta just Great! You never cease to amaze Me! I do Love Faryal too & Her Good Looks!

  3. She is lovely and so are you!!!!

  4. She looks vaguely like Audrey Hepburn in these caps. Looks like lots of fun! Thanks for all you do on this blog; it’s so much fun to read!

  5. Btw Faryal lives in Israel after she got married to her boy friend, this movie and any N A movie/s, seen ‘em ten times since kiddie days, cheers :)

  6. It was good reading about this movie. Memsaab reviews movies wonderfully much better than the present crop of Bollywood reviewers in India. But for some words like catatonic, we have to look at the dictionary. I had read an interview of Faryal where she said that she did not know why Vijay Anand cast her as the dancer in Jewel Thief [1967]. After seeing the snaps, it is clear now. No wonder Faryal, until she quit Bollywood in 1979, never made it as an actress. Faryal then moved onto ME with her boy friend.

    It is worth reading her frank and forthright interview that she gave sometime in 1973 where she has exposed how insecure actresses like Tagore ensured that the character actors never got their due. Isn’t this injustice ? Even a veteran actor like Premanth abused her it appears. So, sad that none of the 100 film awards organised every year in India even bother to acknowledge the contribution of character artistes in Bollywood.

    Wonder, why Memsaab never mentions about the lilting number – Dil Lagakar Hum Yeh Samjhe – that is as fresh in 2012 as it was in 1965.

    May be she did not make it big, but as an air-hostess turned dancer-actress Faryal will find a mention in Bollywood history for sure. You know,to make it big in Bollywood, you have to compromise much more than your self respect and it is clear Faryal maintained her identity.

    Never heard of Niloufer or Nasreen the other actresses.

    • Looking things up in the dictionary is good :D It will expand your vocabulary! And that song is very nice too—all the songs in this are. My preference is for dance numbers over love songs usually though :) I love Nilofar, she was in a lot of this type of movie but I too am not that familiar with Nasreen.

  7. Pradeep Kumar works as a hero when he is not being tragic. And him clutching at Anwar Hussain’s hand at sighting Faryal in a demure white dress, is hilarious, as is Anwar’s moving his hand off.

    Edwina of course, is hard to miss with her height and long hair.

    I like the ‘set’ in your room. And the villain desk accessory, is definitely worth a quest.

    • I love that hand-holding bit. The two of them were great together in this, they seemed like they were having a good time. I’m already on the search for a hangman desk accessory! I really want THAT one though :D

  8. A SAD NEWS

    A.K.HANGAL,the great character artist passed away today morning,in Mumbai.

    -AD

    • A long innings, superb performer all around, he will be missed but not forgotten for sure, may his soul RIP and condos to his family

    • RIP Hangal Saab.
      One of my first comments on this blog was about him, I had said he seems to have been mentioned less here barring his famous roles in Deewaar and Sholay. One of his other strong roles I liked was in Rajesh Khanna starrer Avatar.

  9. A unique role by Hangal Saheb was in Shaukeen, with the other g8’s Dadamoni Ashokda and Utpalda, with Basuda as the Director, can not recall how many times I have seen this movie :)

    and perhaps a food for thought
    qte
    Hangal dies at 98, bigwigs skip funeral
    TIMES NEWS NETWORK

    Mumbai: Not a single big name from the film industry turned up for the cremation of veteran character actor A K Hangal on Sunday. The 98-year-old, a veteran of over 225 films, passed away early in the morning at
    Asha Parekh hospital in Vile Parle following a brief illness aggravated by a fracture of his thigh bone.
    Only character actors like Rakesh Bedi and Raza Murad and friends like Ila Arun were present for the last rites. But that didn’t really matter to a man who had dedicated his life to theatre, cinema and social issues.

    unqte

    The scene was totally different when Kaka died so… what conclusion can one draw ???? Hangal Saheb had a real long innings with films and theatre !

  10. Hallo memsaab – this is a bit late but I am glad to see you are still watching the occassional spy film! Hope to see more reviews in the future.
    John Drake

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