Most of the Bollywood spy films that I have looked at have ripped a page from the James Bond hand-book. Some have been quite blatant, in their appropriation of the formula and have recreated Bondian set-pieces almost scene for scene. Others have just taken the globetrotting spy formula and transposed it to India, adding a healthy dose of family drama to the mix. But Yakeen is a little bit different, but not so very surprising. It borrows from the Hitchcock school of spy films – those that feature an innocent character, who is not a spy, accidentally getting dragged into a world of espionage. Arguably, it was a style of film that was started with The 39 Steps, and continued through various films such as Saboteur, The Man Who Knew Too Much (56) till ultimately North By North West (Topaz and Torn Curtain are a different style). Following on, Hitchcock’s template was utilised by Stanely Donen who made Charade and Arabesque, and it is these two films that most directly have influenced Yakeen – right down to the theme music which bears more than a passing resemblance to Henry Mancini’s theme for Charade.
As the story opens, we are introduced to Rajesh (Dharmendra), who works as a scientist in a top-secret military facility in India. The location is never really specified, but I would suggest it’s near Bangalore. Rajesh works tirelessy for his hard-nosed boss, Dr. Sharma. So much so, that his girlfriend Rita (Sharmila Tagore) has grown tired of waiting to see him.
Out of desperation, Rajesh fakes at accident at the facility so he can have some time off to go and see Rita. Initially she is not thrilled to see him as he has let her down time and time again. But gradually he wears her defences down and she agrees to marry him.
But before Rajesh can get married, he needs the permission of Dr. Sharma. Sharma refuses to allow Rajesh to marry at this time. Their top-secret work is at a critical stage and Sharma needs Rajesh’s complete attention. Rajesh doesn’t take the refusal well, and threatens to ‘destroy’ anybody who stands between Rita and his happiness.
Later that evening, Rajesh is called back to Dr. Sharma’s office, but upon arrival finds Sharma dead, with a bullet hole in his forehead. Rajesh does the right thing and contacts the authorities, and is asked to give a statement.
After he returns home, he is confronted in his lounge-room by Mr Roy, the Chief of the Investigation Department, who has a tape recording of the confrontation that Rajesh and Sharma had earlier in the day. Rajesh’s assertion that he would ‘destroy’ anybody who stopped him from marrying Rita, now puts him at the top of the suspects list. Rajesh is arrested.
At the police station, Rajesh is lead to a room where once again he to be interrogated by Mr. Roy, but this time Roy has two other officials, D’mello and Sriwastava, on hand to hear Rajesh’s testimony. The interrogation isn’t as tough as Rajesh expected. Mr. Roy plays the rest of the tape recording from Sharma’s office which indicated that a third party that was after the facilities top secret formula, was responsible for Sharma’s death. Rajesh is in the clear. Well almost. The security chiefs have a favour to ask Rajesh. They want him to work undercover with them to draw out the real killers.
The plan is simple – they want Rajesh to go through with the criminal prosecution as if he is guilty. The they would arrange for him to escape from custody. Eventually the killers would contact Rajesh – because he knows about the secret formula – and he would be recruited by the bad guys. Rajesh reluctantly agrees, although there is one catch to the arrangement. He is not allowed to tell anyone, including Rita, that he is working for the Security chiefs.
The plan goes smoothly until Rajesh’s manufactured escape from custody. The bad guys must have an inside man, because as soon as Rajesh escapes from the transport van, he is captured by the bad guys. He is rendered unconscious and flown to Mozambique in Portugeese [SIC] Africa. At the villain’s lair, Rajesh meets Garson, who is a dead ringer for Rajesh (also played by Dharmendra). Well almost a dead ringer. Garson has red hair, blue eyes and a moustache, but apart from that, he could be a dead ringer for Rajesh. The villains, dye Garson’s hair, shave off his moustache and use contact lens to change the colour of his eyes. The last problem they have though is Garson’s voice, which doesn’t sound like Rajesh’s. They overcome this problem by scarring Garson’s neck. As he returns to India in Rajesh’s stead, it will be deduced that he was captured and tortured and can no longer speak.
And so it goes. Garson is sent back to India to blow-up the top-secret facility, posing as Rajesh. And in the meantime, Rajesh must escape from his captors in Africa and make his way back to India in time to save the military facility and, of course Rita, who can tell that Rajesh is not the same anymore. And as I intimated earlier, there is an inside man throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings as well.
As with many Bollywood spy films, Yakeen spends a great deal of the first half building up the family drama, which drags the story out a bit. But the second half flies along with a pretty tight little spy story, with some groovy incidental music and a show-stopping number by Helen in the ‘Club Ago Ago’ nightclub. It amused me to see that the swinging backing band during this scene was billed as ‘The Monkees’.
After a slow start, Yakeen is an incredibly entertaining espionage adventure, and as someone who is still a novice at watching Bollywood films, I found it a refreshing change form the usual spy hijinx and tropes that I am used to seeing. (Meaning that there may be quite a few Hitchcock inspired Bollywood films out there, but I haven’t discovered them yet).
A big thanks to K.V.Ramesh who steered me towards this title.