There are only two things which give me *good* nostalgia for the 70s: ABBA music and Hindi movies. I spent the latter half of that decade wearing hideously patterned Qiana shirts, sporting feathered hair and fighting the tendency of my stomach to overhang hip-hugger bellbottoms, all the while living in rural Indiana and wishing I were dead, so that is actually saying something.
I suppose if I had cable television and thus access to reruns of the original “Starsky & Hutch” television shows that might do it too, but I don’t. I love Laxmikant Pyarelal’s music in this film, though, especially the opening title and background music (although the songs are fab too). It’s funkadelic 1970s, all the way, and reminds me of the opening themes to those 1970s cop shows.
Check it out!
Additionally, this film offers Rajesh Khanna in multiple avatars matching wits with gorgeous Zeenat Aman plus a host of my favorite villains, all doing their best with a completely wacked-out script—it’s a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon, my friends, especially when you lack cable television.
Nattily-attired bad guys have been assembled for a meeting. Their mysterious host: an infamous gangster called “Scorpion” who has looted and murdered his way across India.
He is enlisting their help to pull off an 80-lakh bank robbery, and assigns each of them a task. It falls to Pratap (Ravindra Kapoor) to deliver the money to Scorpion’s man (Yusuf Khan) at the end of the heist. (It’s ridiculously easy to rob and kill the poor Southern Bank truck driver and his guards so I won’t dwell on it in any detail). Pratap is in love with Lily (Padma Khanna) and so plans to use the cash to set up a new life for them outside of India. Sadly for him, Lily is sleeping with Ranjit too and betrays him (note the requisite villain fish tank above the bed!).
Naturally the rest of the gang and Scorpion feel cheated, and Pratap is shot down at the airport when he tries to make a run for it. As he lies dying in a policeman’s arms, he gasps out that the money from the robbery is with his daughter Rita, and the code is 77203—the rest is drowned out by a plane taking off. The police and the gang are soon on Rita’s trail: she’s in Kashmir.
In Kashmir, Rita (Zeenat Aman) is a ski champion (although in the skiing shots she looks suspiciously like a stunt man). She has several fans cheering her on in remarkably unenthusiastic strangely-accented monotones.
A warning sign on the slopes is chopped down by an unseen person, and Rita skis blithely on into danger. She’s rescued by a local ski guide, who shows up again minutes later as a carriage driver.
When she asks him who he really is, he responds with a song: “Main Chhaila Babu” (translated as “Cool Guy” in the subtitles). It’s so fun, a horse-carriage ride through deep snow. The chemistry between Zeenat and Rajesh that I noticed in Ajanabee is fizzing away here too! And despite his very very bad hair (who was responsible for RK’s hair in the mid-late 70s? They should be shot!) he is very charming.
When he drops her off at her hostel, a CBI Inspector (Om Shivpuri) is waiting for her. He tells her about her father’s murder and asks her about the money. She’s distraught but knows nothing, and he asks her to return to Bombay to help the CBI in their investigation. At the airport observing her arrival are the gang and—Chhaila Babu, wearing a medal around his neck.
Cut to a night-time police chase, with a thief—Chhaila Babu again!—escaping into Rita’s stupendously decorated pad.
A yellow shag-carpeted ledge, the perfect hiding place! After the police leave empty-handed, he watches Rita change clothes (“Baap re!”); then Macmohan and his sidekick break in. They want the money, and they think Rita knows where it is.
Naturally, Chhaila Babu steps in to save her. I will say that his action skills are not even close to his romantic skills, but Rita helps him out by kicking some ass. Macmohan sees his Scorpion medal, and both men flee. Chhaila Babu tenderly administers to Rita’s wounds and kisses her; it’s to-die-for romantic despite his Prince Valiant hair.
He tells her that he loves her and wants to marry her, and if she hands over the robbery money he’ll take it to the police for her—otherwise he’s afraid she’ll be killed for it. Suspicious, Rita sees a diamond necklace hanging out of one of his pockets, and tells him furiously to get out. He tells her that society has made him a thief; that it robbed him of his family and left him with nothing to live for except vengeance, but she’s unsympathetic. After he leaves, though, she cries.
He’s not giving up and the next day he shows up again, this time as a taxi driver. He tells her that her words the night before have changed him.
She melts, of course! So do I. Later, he tells her about his past: that he lost his father and mother, and all he has left is his harmonica which his mother had inscribed with “Chhaila Babu”—her nickname for him when he was little. This morphs into a song, where we see flashbacks from his childhood combined with an old woman begging and looking for her son—his mother (Achala Sachdev) is still alive, and still looking for him!
Mera chhaila babu, mera dil! The humanity! I love this plot twist. She runs into Chhaila Babu and Rita shortly afterwards, and they discuss her lost son and his lost Ma, but fail to make the connection. Meanwhile, the police and the CBI Inspector are pretty sure that Chhaila Babu is Scorpion, but they need evidence.
The CBI Inspector decides to rope in Rita to help them get evidence. To that end, he takes her to a nightclub where she sees Chhaila Babu flirting with Lily, and then playing the drums when she dances to a great tune called “Kal Raat.” It’s a crazy number—worthy of Helen at her finest—Padma does it justice too.
The club happens to belong to Ranjit, and Macmohan is there too; he recognizes Chhaila Babu as Scorpion. As he tells Ranjit who Chhaila Babu really is, someone throws a knife into his chest and he’s killed.
Rita, now jealous, decides to help the CBI to catch Scorpion. What will happen? Will the gang catch him first? Who is Chhaila Babu? Is he really Scorpion? Can Rita betray him? Will he ever find his Ma? Does he really love Rita or is he just using her? And where is the 80 lakhs rupees from the Southern Bank robbery?
Watch Chhaila Babu to find out, and for the sizzling chemistry between Rajesh and Zeenat, the fabulous music, the mod 70s ambiance and the crazed script. It’s not great art—but it’s solid entertainment.