True confession: I really can’t sit still through an entire Hindi movie without getting up to fidget. I wake up Gemma and irritate pet her, check my email, pour another glass of wine. The films are just so long and my attention span so short. But during this one I didn’t want to MOVE—I was positively riveted to my chair. There is no romance, no hero-heroine (and only three songs, each one a gem): it is an ensemble film, and what an ensemble it is! The finest character-actor-villains of the time play cohorts in crime who are joined by thief Vinod Khanna when one of them betrays the others. It is stylish and suspenseful entertainment at its best.
We start off brilliantly enough with Ajit playing a Maharaja who has come to Bombay to sell off some land, for which he has gotten forty lakhs.
His estate manager (Jankidas) stashes the money in a giant safe which is protected by an electric grid and other elaborate safety measures—a pretty definite sign of thievery to come!
Sure enough, a man named BK (Pran) gets a phone call with information about the huge amount of money now sitting in the palace. The opening credits roll (and rock—I love the title music, very Ennio Morricone) as BK drives through the city collecting his gang with a signal.
I squeal with joy as each face is revealed and clap my hands in anticipation.
That evening they all gather at BK’s house: Sampat (Anwar Hussain), John (Ram Mohan), Babu (Ranjeet), Mohan (Manmohan), Professor (Iftekhar), Kanhaiya (Madan Puri). They have spent weeks working out an elaborate, precisely-timed plan for getting into the heavily guarded palace and away with the forty lakhs of rupees. All goes according to plan until the very end, when a guard manages to pull the alarm. BK leaves the palace with the bag of money, but is shot by the police as they arrive. He hands the money over to Kanhaiya and tells him to run with it.
They make a plan to meet at BK’s house at 10 am the next day, and Kanhaiya flees in a laundry van with the money. The rest of them pile into another car and drive away pursued by the police; after a thrilling chase they escape.
Professor patches up BK’s wound, and they all begin gathering the next morning. At last everyone is there—except Kanhaiya and the money. When the others want to hunt Kanhaiya down at home, BK stops them.
Plus, he points out, it’s not really safe for them to be out—the papers are full of the news of the robbery, and the police are searching everywhere. They settle in to wait with increasing anxiety (this decor not being particularly soothing, either).
As day turns into night, BK finally gives up on his friend and they go in search of their missing cohort. Kanhaiya’s home is empty, and he has clearly left in a hurry. But someone else is there: a man named Raja (Vinod Khanna) who introduces himself as another thief like them. He had assumed on reading about the robbery that Kanhaiya would know something about it, and now he offers them his help in finding Kanhaiya in return for Kanhaiya’s share of the loot.
BK and his men are not too pleased at this interference, but Raja escapes after distracting them (“Look, police!”).
The next day Sampat comes up with a clue which may help them track Kanhaiya down: a woman has been seen visiting him lately, and it’s all good news for me too.
This leads to one of the most spectacularly staged cabaret dances I have ever seen—and that is saying something! I am thrilled to see my favorite male dancer-choreographer Oscar front and center with Padma Khanna. Thank you to Tom for uploading it so I could share it here (and welcome back to Youtube, may you be reinstated forever):
Wah! Wah! I want the jewelled peacock carafe and goblet, the chandeliers, and to be one of the gori extras. Alas! I was born too late (and in the wrong place).
After the show, the gang go backstage and begin pressuring the dancer in her makeup room. She manages to escape down a staircase into the parking garage underneath, where she is caught by none other than Raja. He now blackmails BK and his men into accepting him as a partner in return for getting information out of her and they agree, reluctantly. Raja beats the news that Kanhaiya had gone to Madras under an assumed name out of her, and then he kills her as Babu and John look on.
The men—now including Raja—begin their search for Kanhaiya in Madras, and we get a mujra (“Humne Doodha Tujhe Kahan Kahan”) picturized on a variety of dancers in different parts of India as they travel far and wide.
Oh Ranjeet, how you rock that pink-purple ruffled shirt!
Raja finally finds a dancer who knows Kanhaiya; she directs him to a basement warehouse and a guy named Akhtar. There he is set upon by men whom Kanhaiya has paid to kill BK and the gang, but he beats them all up single-handedly and gets the information BK has been looking for.
Off they all go to snowy Himachal Pradesh, and Raja—who seems to have taken control over the whole expedition—loses his way in a storm while scouting around for the village. He ends up at a lonely hotel in the middle of nowhere and finds shelter there. He is made welcome by a girl named Reshma (Yogeeta Bali), whose father owns the hotel. The other occupants include Reshma’s little brother (Master Raju) and two travellers, Mr. Mathur (Satyendra Kapoor) and his wife (Varsha) (their taxi has broken down), plus their taxi driver and a servant named Ramu (Ratan Gaurang).
When the hotel owner comes in finally, having repaired the taxi, Raja is startled to discover that Reshma’s father is none other than Kanhaiya.
As soon as the snow stops falling he takes his leave, although everyone urges him to stay since the roads are all still closed. Reshma sees him out, and he asks her some questions about the layout of the land and buildings.
He makes his way back to a cave where BK and the others are waiting, holed up against the cold. They are elated to hear that Raja has found Kanhaiya. They now make their way (on mules, accompanied by more fabulous Ennio Morricone-style background music) to the isolated hotel and wait for nightfall to make their move. Wily Kanhaiya has set his servant Ramu to guard the outbuildings, and he manages to shoot Sampat in the leg, wounding him badly, before he is killed by return fire.
Interestingly, none of this wakes up anyone in the main hotel building. Leaving Sampat in the shed, the others make their way inside and split up to capture the sleeping residents. When everyone is gathered in the main living room (and Sampat brought in), BK and his angry companions threaten Kanhaiya’s little boy to make him talk.
Will Kanhaiya lead them to the money? Can the volatile gang members control the hostages, and each other? What about Sampat’s severe injury? What is Raja’s game, really? Will he share the money with the others or does he have his own agenda?
I highly recommend this film. It is very well-made and such a joy to watch as these often overlooked actors take full advantage of a great script and the chance to be center stage. Vinod’s Raja is the main character and he is great in this; but the others match him scene for scene in screen presence and talent, especially Pran. This would have been a fun set to be on. I love the music too—three songs, and wonderful background music, which I hope is available somewhere on vinyl or cd. I will leave you with this one, a fitting tribute to the awesomeness of my favorite baddies!