I watched two films this weekend with plots completely lacking in any sense or logic. One of them was a mainstream film (Akeli Mat Jaiyo) starring Meena Kumari and Rajendra Kumar and I am not going to write about it because, frankly, it was dull and stupid and Dusted Off has already said all that needs to be said about it. The other was Spy In Rome; and despite its very thin shoestring budget, nothing of which was spent on a writer, it managed to keep me pretty entertained. It firmly occupies a seat at that rotating bar where people with seemingly no aptitude for filmmaking—and no money for it either—down a lot of imagination-fueling substances and then stagger off to make their dream projects.
This dream project (belonging to BK Adarsh, father of critic Taran Adarsh) propels itself along enthusiastically from the get-go. Despite the lack of subtitles, I never really felt like I missed much—details certainly were muddled (like where on earth they were all supposed to BE) but there was plenty of stuff going on, much of it driven by what the director wanted to shoot pictures of rather than the other (more usual) way around of putting the story first.
As the credits roll, scientist Dr. Sharma (Brahm Bhardwaj) takes a wizened pair of octogenarians and turns them into young and beautiful twenty-somethings by wrapping them like mummies and shining a torch on them.
Naturally this rejuvenation “formoola” quickly becomes the toast of the international press. The news reaches the ears of Dr. Chang (KN Singh), a madman in Roma with a lair full of flashing lights and minions in plastic candy-colored radiation suits that are purely decorative in nature as far as I can see.
These minions are known only by number (“55!” “Miss 297!”) and are shown manning a switchboard, doing paperwork, hanging at the watercooler, etc.—just the usual office work, until they are killed in response to some perceived transgression by the volatile Dr. Chang and the light behind their number on a giant board is extinguished.
This film surprised me a bit with its violence: women and men alike are roughly manhandled throughout, and the hero is as guilty of it as the villains. He is Rajesh, Agent XX7 (Dev Kumar). Dev Kumar bizarrely (to me) started his career as a hero in various B-movies (the other I’ve seen like this is Ek Khiladi Bawan Pattey, which made even less sense than this, maybe because of the lack of subtitles and maybe not). He is so obviously more suited to villain roles, in which he did later specialize: there is something so exoskeletal about him, all bone and hard planes. I’ve said this before here, but I can only ever think of Ted Cassidy—Lurch—from the Addams Family when I look at him.
Rajesh is brought into the picture when Dr. Sharma is brutally beaten (seriously!) and kidnapped by one of Chang’s associates in India (Khursheed, who wields a candy-striped cane that shoots killer lasers, and wears a hat which later explodes).
Agent XX7 is handed a large plastic bag containing lots of handy gadgets, including (but not limited to):
- a set of coat buttons that are really DDT bombs
- a red plastic transmitter ring the size of his hand
- a shoe containing a razor blade that he later uses to cut a car in half (yes! really!!)
- a perfume atomizer that sprays blue ink, rendering its target mute
- something resembling a fishing reel that paralyzes anyone it is aimed at
- a briefcase that clamps itself down like teeth on the hands of anyone who opens it
- and so on.
As Rajesh tries to figure out where Dr. Sharma has disappeared to, and who is responsible, Sharma reaches Dr. Chang’s lair in Rome. Chang tries first to woo him into cooperating by seating Sharma on a bench equipped with chutes at each end that awkwardly support a pair of scantily clad firangis (they don’t slide down so much as they are forced to propel themselves, since whatever cheap material was used to make them isn’t really that slippery).
Once there, they do their best to seduce him; this makes him palpably miserable and makes me guffaw.
Poor dismayed Sharma is forced to watch some stolen (and very choppily edited) footage of a long-ago Ice Capades show (which I’ve seen before in Shikari, I think). None of this effort pays off for Chang (or the firangis), as Sharma still refuses to give up his formoola. Clearly, even more drastic measures are necessary.
Back in India, Rajesh has tracked down Dr. Sharma’s daughter Kamini (Jaymala) in a hospital, where she throws things at the nurses. Jaymala reminds me strongly of a buxomy over-blown fifties Hollywood film star a la Jayne Mansfield or similar, which I mean as a great compliment, by the way.
He is instantly smitten by her (Dev Kumar stretches that bony face into a rictus-smile) and they flirt. This is also where I begin to pretty much lose the plot and no longer have any ability to recognize the geographic parameters of all the action. Someone (a good guy I think) is replaced by a man wearing a dime-store Halloween mask:
This cleverly disguised fellow kidnaps Kamini from the hospital and takes her to Rome, according to what I understand Agent XX7 to say, and Rajesh is given permission to go after her by his boss. He decides to take reinforcements with him in the shape of fellow Agent 005 (Rajendranath). I am always happy to see Rajendranath!
In “Rome” (which still looks suspiciously like India) Rajesh is met by one of Chang’s henchpeople. He figures this out pretty quickly and tortures information out of her by rolling up the car window on her neck.
The person who had originally taken Kamini from the hospital is now accompanying her through some Mughal Roman ruins when he himself is set upon by a Chang strongman, who wears a collar that renders him invincible. I am pretty sure now that this is a guy I’ve been trying to identify for a long long time, Hercules.
He is certainly brawny enough! And to me he looks the same (albeit a bit younger) as this guy from Amar Akbar Anthony, who I have long suspected was Hercules (he does not play Zebisko in that as is sometimes misreported). This makes me very happy, it does! *Snoopy Dance*
Anyway, Kamini is rescued from Hercules by the arrival of Rajesh and we are treated to the first of only three songs (remaining, anyway) in the film and FINALLY some footage of the actual Rome (plus, Venice and eventually Switzerland masquerading as Rome). More than the scenic beauty of Europe though, Jaymala’s very shiny wig entrances me. It doesn’t even TRY to match her actual hair underneath.
Lots of WTF-ery now ensues, most of which I can’t and don’t need to keep track of. Chang continues to oppress his henchpeople, particularly the females (I love the conscious irony of the wall painting behind this poor girl).
I also sincerely hope that no pigeons were harmed in the making of this film, especially when I see what Jaymala has on her head in the very next scene. Hmmm.
We are also rather shockingly led to understand that Kamini and Rajesh have become lovers! Verrrry racy indeed. Madhumati shows up around this point to complicate matters and give us a cabaret number as well.
And a guy in a levitating fez tries to lure Kamini away later with a hypnotic blowtorch! Love. All of these (and more!) loony developments are accompanied by background music pilfered from Bond films and other sixties-a-go-go soundtracks.
Of course all of it is merely leading us to the final showdown in Dr. Chang’s dangerously flimsy lair, where Dr. Sharma—by now relieved of his gori companions but handcuffed to a slowly rotating velvety loveseat—continues to defy his captors.
Chang’s most nefarious device is saved for the unfortunate Kamini. I wish I had the skills to extract a short bit of video and put it somewhere, but hopefully these screencaps will suffice: she is tied over a cut-out square in the floor that bumps up and down, up and down, gently but unevenly (as my sister—who has joined me by now—points out, it looks like two guys are probably standing underneath who can’t *quite* coordinate their up-and-down pushing). It is sublimely Python-esque and makes us howl.
Can Rajesh save her with the help of Agent 005 (he finds a clothing rack with spare radiation suits: oh India! You may have no budget but you always have a well-stitched contrast lining!).
Whatever it is that made the people involved in this persist despite their obvious limitations, I can only say hooray. Indeed, it is exactly that can-do attitude propping them up that makes these types of movies so irresistible to me! And a very big thank you to spy aficionado John Drake for sharing this particular charmer with me. (Plus, if you feel you still need more Spy In Rome, read Todd’s as always wonderful review here!)