Ah, what a film this is. If you have a hankering for something that careens wildly along, going from completely loony, to sweetly touching, to dumb and illogical, and back to loony again, look no further. I wouldn’t call it technically a good film, but it is highly entertaining. And I loved it! With features like Excellent Use of Helen, a zealous and melodramatic murderer named Snaky, a disfiguring cake, useful little white mice, lost and found family members, fantabulous songs (Azad in blackface!), plus Memsaab favorites Ashok Kumar and Rehman as friends-turned-bitter-foes, how could I not?
I have been longing to see this with subtitles, but didn’t think it was available except on an unsubtitled (and unplayable after ten minutes) VCD. Many thanks to Tom D (the most banned-from-YouTube-person-on-earth) (my opinion only, not backed up by anything resembling actual facts) (but still: I think it’s because he does what Indian DVD manufacturers can’t be bothered to do, which is to clean up the picture and sound quality, remove their intrusive and gaudy logos, and add subtitles, thereby making them look bad—as they deserve to—so they complain and he gets suspended, over and over again). Anyway, thank you my friend! for supplying me with this particular ginormous rock of crack.
It begins promisingly with one of those hilarious disclaimers that I so love in Hindi films:
I settle happily in my chair to see how the filmmaker (in this case, RK Nayyar, husband of heroine Sadhana) has managed to trash a department store’s reputation. It’s rather easily accomplished, as it turns out, by casting Jeevan as Bankelal, the greedy and ruthless store manager, and Rehman as Sohanlal, the greedy and ruthless owner. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First we meet Heeralal (Ashok Kumar) at the Bombay airport as he comes in through customs. I realize quickly that if nothing else, plot developments will not be subtle.
Heeralal flees from the police in a stolen car, abandoning it finally near a chawl and flinging the packet of Picture Postcards of Rangoon at the feet of a girl who lives there named Rita (Sadhana). He asks her to keep them for him from the police—he’ll return for them—and she does so, covering for him when the police arrive.
I’m not sure I would do such a thing for a stranger running from the police, but maybe in 1969 India I would have. Actually, given how incompetent the police turn out to be in this film, I am positive I would have. So never mind.
Rita lives with her ailing mother (Leela Chitnis). Judging from her cough, Maa has tuberculosis, but they can’t afford medications; Rita has been unable to find work despite her hard-earned education. Her father disappeared when she was young, and her mother sacrificed everything to give Rita a chance at a better life. Good news finally arrives in the form of a letter scheduling an interview for Rita at the Sona Department store.
She begins working for Sohanlal, an arrogant and very rich man who refuses to give her a salary advance of 400 Rupees for treating her sick mother, although he is happy to give his adored but wastrel son Rajpal (Sanjay Khan) 12,000 Rs to pay his evening’s gambling debts.
Rita’s secretarial job, she soon discovers, includes things besides “typing.” She is sent off to entertain one of the store’s wealthiest clients, Murlidhar (Asit Sen). She slaps him when he makes indecent advances, and is called onto the carpet the next day by Sohanlal. One of the unsubtle themes of this movie is the overweening arrogance of the wealthy, who answer to nobody, and the plight of the poor who, despite their nobility of character, are downtrodden.
Sohanlal fires her, but she tells him that she’ll complain to the employee union (HOORAY for you, Rita!) and he backs down. Enraged by her insolence and gumption, though, he later tells Bankelal to get rid of her by any means possible. Bankelal frames her for the theft of an expensive necklace, and she is sent to prison for a year. On the day of her release, she is told that her mother is gravely ill and rushes from the jail as Heeralal makes his appearance again.
He follows her to her home, where she arrives to find that her mother has just died. After the cremation, she goes to a nearby temple and renounces her faith in God, and vows to take revenge on Sohanlal for his evil deeds. Heeralal approaches her, and tells her that Sohanlal is his mortal enemy as well. He asks her to join forces with him, reminding her that she has his packet of Picture Postcards of Rangoon.
This packet contains the funding for his revenge: smuggled diamonds. Rita’s plan was to simply kill Sohanlal and then be hanged for his murder, but luckily for our story, Heeralal has a much more convoluted one.
I almost faint with glee at this point. This is approaching Apradh in its cracktastic-ness: no higher compliment can be paid to it than that. Rita and Heeralal build the Casino Egyptiana in order to attract the wealthy, debauched and idle rich—including the likes of Bankelal, Murlidhar, and Sohanlal’s doted-upon son, Rajpal. To that end, they have also hired an enthusiastic emcee (Jankidas), and a magician named Sheikh Pasha (Bhagwan):
and Rebecca (HELEN), who performs a sizzlingly erotic and politically incorrect cabaret number with Azad (Zimbo!) in blackface and a golden cage:
“Aa Jaane Jaan” is of course one of Helen’s best-known songs, but I had never seen it like this. In Merchant-Ivory’s “Helen Queen of the Nautch Girls” documentary it’s in black and white; on my VCD of the film it’s inaccessible due to the disc crapping out way before this point; and whenever I’ve seen it on YouTube it’s been very fuzzy. Believe you me, it needs to be seen in color, on at least a large TV screen, with the picture quality sharpened up by Tom. Words fail me.
The casino is also blessed with interesting 1960s decor and a band of gori waitresses dressed in gold lame minidresses and pillbox hats. It’s not long before Rebecca has ensnared Murlidhar in her own little web (this is a side revenge benefit for Rita), enabling her and Rita later to relieve him of a large portion of his fortune.
Three years pass, during which Heeralal grooms Rita in the fine arts of sophistication and seduction. When she is finally ready, he sends her off to Kashmir in pursuit of Rajpal, who spends his vacation there every year. In no time flat she has caught his attention and he’s fallen hopelessly in love with her. Heeralal’s master plan to have Rita marry Rajpal and then ruin Sohanlal’s precious family honor is working!
A couple of pretty songs later, we are all back in Bombay, where Sohanlal throws a party to celebrate his beloved son’s engagement. Only Bankelal is unhappy, since he had wanted Rajpal to marry his own daughter Indu (Anju Mahendru). When Sohanlal meets her, he fails to recognize wealthy, gorgeous Rita as his wronged secretary—but Banke finally does.
When Rita sees him whispering to Sohanlal, she leaves the party with Rajpal in anxious pursuit. She persuades him to marry her that night, before his father can tell him who she really is.
Mission accomplished! Well, sort of. Rajpal is heartbroken to discover that Rita has married him to avenge herself on his father, and not because she loves him. This sends him into a downward spiral of drinking himself into oblivion while Rita succeeds in embarrassing Sohanlal in front of his friends and business colleagues, first by pretending to be drunk (although of course she isn’t really, because she’s a good and noble person), and then by announcing that she’s a convicted felon, thereby cementing her position as the worst bahu EVER with delicious irony.
There are several more great songs—the first by the above-mentioned “drunk” Rita, another by a genuinely drunk Rajpal (this one really a poignant beauty—“Jo Unki Tamanna”), and one more crazy Helen dance. It hasn’t gotten much press, probably due to it not being “Aa Jaane Jaan,” but it’s still a doozy (“Mehfil Soyi”).
I have to admit though, that my favorite part of the end of this film is the completely crazy villain hired by Banke to make Rita less pretty, rendering her therefore unlovable to Rajpal, which will rescue his friend Sohanlal from his distress. Yup. That’s the logic. This villain (named Snaky!) is played by one of the loony-tune villains from Apradh (yes, again!), and he is just as creepily hilarious here as he was there. I think the actor may be Sidhu (or Siddhu), but if anyone can verify that I’d be grateful (Update: verified! Thank you!). His weapon of choice in the quest to disfigure poor Rita: cake.
Cake revenge!!!! Only in Bollywood, my friends. Only in Bollywood. There is a balloon hidden inside, and the frosting is apparently made of acid or something. When Rita cuts into it:
He threatens Rebecca, who has overheard him, and ties up her beloved Pyarelal (Rajendranath—who isn’t in the film that much, but is still better than no Rajendranath) to keep them from warning Rita.
Snaky has a finely tuned sense of melodrama. Will his diabolical plan succeed? (Hint: useful little white mice!)
Can Rajpal’s love save Rita from the endless dismal cycle of vengeance?
Ooooh! That is so refreshingly…logical! Will the people he loves ever come to their senses? Why is Sohanlal’s former friend Heeralal determined to destroy him? And what did happen to Rita’s vanished father all those years ago? (Ahem.)
There are some problems with this movie (she says with a straight face, which should maybe worry her a little). Apparently the only print of it left in the world has been subjected to immersion in salty water, set on fire, eaten by a dog, run over with a truck, and Lord knows what else. It is missing entire scenes and what’s left is very choppy, including the songs. Large scratches and blotches mar its surface (even before the Cake appears), and it is in sad, sad shape. I can’t compare the quality to my VCD, since that doesn’t play beyond the first ten minutes (did I say that already?) but I doubt that it’s much better. Also, I haven’t seen much of Sanjay Khan till now, and don’t really think I’ll rush out for more. He is not a patch on big brother Feroz. Although he did okay in the big sad puppy-dog-eyes department, he was pretty wooden overall.
Still, I managed to thoroughly enjoy Intaquam. As I knew I would, really.