What’s not to love about a film which opens with animated credits like these? Very little! Especially when the credits probably cost more to produce than the entire rest of the film. This is a full-on Mod Seventies Cheesefest. I love cheese, and I love this film. It is loony entertainment at its best: a comedy-horror-mystery-romance dressed up in bellbottoms and vivid polyester, set to lively pop music by Shankar Jaikishan, and populated by a large cast of character actors, comedians and dancers.
Pran has a double role as a misogynistic ex-Army Colonel and as one of the Colonel’s charges Raghu, a campy effeminate type who nonetheless finds romance with one of the girls (when he isn’t busy combing his long hair). The girls are students of botany professor Laxmi (Sonia Sahni), a man-hating martinet, and her assistant Sister Sophia (Meena Roy). As with most Hindi horror genre films, there is a decidedly Christian bent (handy for grave-robbing situations). It was also filmed on location in a place I have visited, the Periyar Reserve in Thekkady, Kerala—very pretty and fun for me to see again.
The girls arrive with Professor Laxmi and Sophia and are settled into a guest house by Totaram (Paintal). Laxmi asks Totaram if there are any men around the place.
She is pleased only for a moment; but her students are thrilled when they hear a man’s voice shouting “Left Right Left Right!” and look out the window to see a group of young men in lockstep—discipline which comes to an abrupt end when they catch sight of the girls.
Their elders are much less happy at this intrusion on their respective group solitude and are soon arguing with each other and trying to keep the boys and girls separate.
I think Sonia Sahni and Pran hugely enjoyed themselves in this movie. Professor Laxmi and Sister Sophia quickly decide that they will have to move out of the guest house since the boys won’t budge, and to that end they ask local police officer Ratanlal (Krishan Dhawan) if he can advise.
The Thakur’s manager is not as certain that he will welcome guests; he tells the ladies that since the death of his elder brother the junior Thakur has been talking of selling up and moving. But Omkar Singh (UpendraTrivedi? Arvind Trivedi?), when he arrives, recognizes Sophia as the daughter of his late brother’s manager and agrees to let them move in.
On the way back to the guest house Sophia explains that her father committed suicide two years previously. She is unhappy at the prospect of staying at the Thakur’s house, and the boatman who is rowing them across the lake (Chandrashekhar) warns them against it too.
Now we discover that Sophia’s father, Thomas (Balraj Sahni), is very much alive and being kept prisoner in the Thakur’s dungeon (some might call it a cellar, but I prefer the drama of dungeon).
An old temple has been excavated in the area, and the senior Thakur had planned to restore the gold idols and other goodies found there to the local villagers. His brother Omkar then murdered him so that he could loot the old temple, but Thomas had already succeeded in hiding the treasure. No prizes for guessing that poor Sophia is going to be used now as bait to get Thomas to talk!
The villagers have petitioned the local jurisdiction to retain their right to the temple and its treasures, and the case is being decided in court based on Ratanlal’s recommendations.
Back at the guest house, the boys are trying to woo the girls into staying put with a lively song and dance. Luckily for them Sophia and Professor Laxmi have decided not to take advantage of the Thakur’s hospitality. Although Laxmi and the Colonel continue to keep disapproving eyes peeled, pairs begin to form: Rajesh (Kiran Kumar) and Leela (Reena Roy), Baldev (Narendranath) and Saroj (Jayshree T), and Raghu and Lata (Meena T).
The boys also have a run-in with some tribals who attack them, and a tribal woman is shot by a mysterious assailent behind a tree when they ask her why. Her water pot shatters and a stolen idol falls out. The dead woman turns out to have been one of the Thakur’s maids and an Inspector (Bharat Kapoor) pays a visit to the Thakur, who feigns ignorance.
The students’ involvement continues when they realize that the villagers are in danger of losing their claim on the temple property because of police corruption: Ratanlal is firmly in the Thakur’s pocket. They track him down at the Thakur’s place, being entertained by Padma Khanna (yay!):
and ask him very politely to please do the right thing by the villagers.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love the Raghu character. Pran minces around in these eye-searing outfits, having a blast.
And at long last, the Professor and the Colonel fall in love as we knew they eventually would, when Laxmi jumps into his arms because of a snake scare. This is celebrated with a cracktastic song:
and a little smidge of feminism:
Can it get any better than this??
It can and it does.
As the fight over rights to the temple treasures escalates, people begin dying at the hands of a mysterious bhoot. Can our gang of boys and girls figure out who and what is behind it all? Will they still have time to dance around a bonfire? (Yes, thank God: my favorite song from the film is “Ae Bagh Ki Kaliyon”.) Will Sophia be reunited with her father? Will the temple treasure be restored to its rightful owners, the public?
I seriously can’t think of a better comparison for this film than Scooby Doo and Friends, except without…well, Scooby Doo. (And I mean the 70s TV show, not the film.) It’s zany and cute and engaging; if you are a Pran fan especially you should not miss it. And look up the songs even if you don’t see the film: they are FAB.