Just when I fear that I may have seen all the crazy Indian spy films that there are to see, another one appears. This one is not quite as loony as my beloved Spy In Rome or Puraskar, but that is probably because it also had a larger budget and A-list stars (Waheeda Rehman and Rajendra Kumar). Still and all it is satisfyingly filled with many of the same tropes: an enemy country never called by its actual name, but whose denizens all have names like Comrades Ping and Chang and Shin Cho. They are led by an angry man we only ever see in silhouette until the end, who kills his loyal henchmen at the slightest provocation with weapons like machine guns mounted on turrets (and marvelous dying theatrics on the part of those men, although there is a sad lack of blood and gore). AND IT HAS SUBTITLES, hooray!
Plus, all the usual suspects—Madan Puri, Rajan Haksar, Ratan Gaurang—are present, sporting Fu Manchu moustaches and squinty eyes. Seriously satisfying.
General Ko Lum (our man in silhouette) who rules over our Hindustan’s Unnamed Enemy Country is incensed by a single Indian man who constantly foils his plans for World Domination and eludes all efforts at capture. This talented secret agent is Jay (Rajendra Kumar); we meet him at the Sun ‘N’ Sand hotel, surrounded not by a bevy of beauties but a crowd of children—an interesting twist on the usual “ladies’ man” James Bond types.
As he sings with them, Shashikala in a blonde wig and blue contact lenses surreptitiously snaps photographs of him.
Her name is Suzie (naturally!) and she is not happy when Jay—assisted by his sidekick Amir (Mehmood)—destroys the film in her camera. Although this film is fairly well plotted, there are some little holes in it, one of which is how Suzie has figured out Jay’s identity when the whole Unnamed Enemy Country Army couldn’t. Okay, maybe that isn’t so little, more like a gaping wound. Never mind. Suzie places a call from one of those large radio devices so beloved in these films to tell her compadres Chang (Madan Puri) and Leng Ji (Agha) that she knows who the spy they are hunting is.
Things I love about all this: the flashing little Buddha which notifies Chang and Leng about their incoming message; Chang and Leng themselves; the little kids in uniform manning the console of flashing lights; the pointless wall clocks and dials decorating the walls; the rotating wall which admits Chang and Leng into the inner sanctum (and which, I might add, they use freely in front of everybody thus rendering it rather pointless too); Shashikala’s flashing “blue” eyes; and my favorite barrel-chested thespian Shyam Kumar as Comrade Ping, the General’s right-hand man.
The General orders Chang and Leng to go to Hong Kong and kidnap a famous Indian dancer named Meena Thakur (Waheeda Rehman) and her mother Sharda (Achla Sachdev) who will act as bait for Jay, forcing him to return and hopefully this time be captured. Why he doesn’t send people to help Suzie simply capture Jay is not clear; perhaps he is running out of men due to his penchant for killing them.
This leads us into a spectacularly mounted dance featuring Waheeda and Madhumati. The costumes and set are phenomenal: I love the clouds, the rain, the peacock tails, the little Dr. Seuss trees. You have to see it!
I should say at this point that one of the best things about this film are the Shankar-Jaikishan songs. They are lovely, especially the plentiful and beautifully staged dance numbers which include one of my favorite Helen (and Mehmood) songs “Badkamma Badkamma”.
The two women are duly abducted and imprisoned in the General’s dungeon, where pressure is put upon them to say they have defected to the Unnamed Enemy Country of their own volition. Sharda refuses indignantly and poor Meena is forced to choose between cooperating or watching her mother get gleefully electrocuted by Ratan Gaurang. Nahiiiiiin!
She naturally chooses cooperation and their “defection” is duly announced to the world. Back home in India, Mr. Thakur (Manmohan Krishna) tells the press that his wife and daughter would never voluntarily leave India, especially not for that Unnamed Enemy Country (or as the subtitles put it “a regime that denounces human rights”). Jay assures him that he will bring Meena and Sharda home, and Mr. Thakur gives him a locket so that Meena and Sharda will know he’s the real thing.
To throw the persistent Suzie off Jay’s trail, Jay and Amir resort to a trick they’ve used before: the old Mission Impossible undetectable face mask.
With Suzie believing that Amir is Jay, Jay himself sneaks out of India.
I am pretty excited because I think I’ve pinned down what the inside of the Sun ‘N’ Sand hotel looks like, and it’s that lobby with cubbyholes behind the reception desk and the blue steps that I see everywhere!
I’m also highly amused because Suzie skulks about with a man in sunglasses and their code names are “Mr. Dark Glasses” and “Golden Hair”—in English, at that, so I know it’s not creative subtitling. How I love the subtle nuances of Indian spy movies!
This ruse also gives Mehmood plenty of time to clown around with Shashikala, and it’s very entertaining. Sometimes Mehmood is too much, but in this he is pretty funny. There’s one scene where he dances with Shashikala that makes me laugh and laugh. I keep going back to it. It’s definitely a film (and cast) that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and that’s one of its strong points.
Meanwhile, Jay has made his way by airplane and then slow boat to the Unnamed Enemy Country. Aboard the ship taking him there are two of his co-agents, the ship captain (Kamal Kapoor) and Salma (Helen), who calls him “bhaiyya”. She will be Jay’s backup in enemy territory posing as a cabaret dancer at the Hotel Moon Flower where he is staying.
Jay himself is posing as a Hong Kong businessman named Shin Raz. He also has a secret cave equipped with its own share of flashing red lights and pointless dials, and stocked with disguises and wigs. He also takes to wearing blue contact lenses although it’s never clear to me why it matters whether Suzie or Jay have blue eyes or brown. Maybe it was around this time that colored contact lenses found their way to India (Yakeen springs to mind also, although at least there they made some sense). Khair.
At the Hotel Moon Flower, Salma checks in and Jay discovers that General Ko Lum dislikes having people look at his face, and by dislikes I mean he has Comrade Ping shoot anyone who dares. The General’s palace and the dance setting at the Lotus Club where Meena is now performing (her mother remains in the dungeon as incentive for Meena to maintain her silence) give us a few more spectacular clues as to our whereabouts.
Jay sets out to introduce himself to Meena, who is herself now assigned a babysitter in the form of Chun Quin Lee (Shammi) by Chang and Leng. I am thrilled to see Shammi. Maybe it’s the name? But I always find her funny, and she is hilarious as the dour perpetually-knitting chaperone.
As Jay and Meena fall in love, he begins to work out a plan to whisk Meena and her mother out from under Chang and Leng’s noses. Chang is suspicious of Shin Raz despite the constant reports from Suzie that Jay is still in India—Amir is keeping her busy both impersonating Jay and as himself posing as a smitten hotel waiter.
Knowing that Chang is suspicious, Jay decides that it’s time for Amir to let Suzie know that “Jay” has left the country, and for Amir to come to the Unnamed Enemy Country too. He has still not told Meena his true identity, knowing that Sharda is being held and that Meena can’t be expected not to betray him if her mother is threatened.
Can Jay get poor Sharda out of the dungeon, and spirit her and Meena out from under the General’s watchful regime—especially since his every move is watched by Chang, and Meena’s by Comrade Chun Quin Lee? Will Meena betray him, not knowing that he’s the Indian spy? Will Suzie recognize “Shin Raz” as the true Jay when she arrives? Will Salma and Amir be any help at all?
I must say that I really enjoyed this film although the ending dragged on a bit longer than maybe was needed. But it’s intricately plotted with only a few missteps, and the wonderful supporting cast is having lots of fun. It’s stylish to look at, and full of fun songs and the Rajendra Kumar-Waheeda pairing is pleasant as usual. I recommend this one, especially if you need subtitles—thank you Ultra!