This is from Melbourne’s The Bombay Royale. This tune is so infectious, it will get stuck in your head for days.
Maybe you’re old school, and love the swelling, bombastic scores of Max Steiner and Wolfgang Maria Korngold – or perhaps you’re a rocker and have King Creole or The Girl Can’t Help It constantly on your turntable. Maybe you love the swinging sixties spy vibe, and have John Barry, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro loaded into you iPod. Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Bruno Nicolai, and Mario Nascimbene have legions of fans with their sophisticated Euro sounds – are you one of them? Does John Williams theme from Jaws still send shivers up your spine?
With a bit of help from a few friends, over the next week or so, I am going to be looking at movie soundtracks – from spy films and beyond. I am going to drag out some of that old vinyl and shine a light on a few of my favourites – and hopefully serve up a few aural gems that you’ve never heard before.
Today I am joined by Todd Stadtman from Die Danger Die Die Kill, who shares his five favourite soundtracks below.
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Casino Royale (1967), Burt Bacharach. Burt Bacharach’s score is the glue that holds the otherwise chaotic Casino Royale together, the one consistent character in a movie absent a traditional lead. It’s also essential Bacharach, at once sophisticated and playful, and almost proudly cheesy. Oh, and catchy as hell; there are certain scenes that’ve stuck with me stubbornly over the years due only to the music that accompanied them. Besides, how can a soundtrack with Dusty Springfield’s version of “The Look of Love” as its centerpiece not rate inclusion here?
You Only Live Twice, by John Barry. All of Barry’s 007 scores are close to my heart, but I think that YOLT is by far his most challenging. Spurred by the genre bending present within the film itself, he addressed YOLT’s sci-fi aspects with an even denser than usual pallet of queasily dissonant strings, while at the same time adding an element of Asian exoticism to his usual foundation of brassy suspense riffs. The result is one of the most mysterious, intoxicating and compulsively listenable out of all his imminently listenable Bond scores, not to mention one that would provide an irresistible source of samples for trip hop producers come the 90s. On top of that, you have Nancy Sinatra’s theme, which is, to my mind (sorry, Shirley) the runaway best of the bunch.
Asoka, by Anu Malik. Asoka is by far the most frequently played out of all the Bollywood soundtracks I own, which is saying an awful lot. Anu Malik’s songs somehow manage to capture the grandeur and gravitas of the historical epic which contains them while at the same time maintaining an infectious pop sensibility. Many of the hypnotic compositions also conjure an air of magic and destiny, making for tunes that are somehow at once hummable, haunting and head bopping.
Vertigo, by Bernhard Hermann. I worried that including Vertigo would be something of a cliché, but, if I’m being honest, it has to be here. As much as the contrarian in me resists admitting it, this officially sanctioned “greatest movie of all time” is among my very favorites, an affection that carries over to its also deservedly admired soundtrack. Living up to the film’s title, these are swirling, brain-fogging compositions that lend to mania, madness and obsession a purple, seductive beauty
Danger: Diabolik, by Ennio Morricone. This may not be everyone’s Morricone soundtrack of choice. But enamored as I am of the swinging 60s, Mod/pop art aesthetics that Danger: Diabolik exemplifies, there’s no choice to be made. To my mind, no film crystallizes that aesthetic — redolent of comic books, bubblegum, pop music, popped pills, and pulp thrills – better, and Morricone supplies the perfect accompaniment — from hammered harpsichords, to twanging baritone guitars, to “I can hear the colors” psychedelic flourishes. At the same time, Danger: Diabolik is one of cinema’s coolest love stories, something that Morricone nails with the woozy, liquid chord changes and anxious modulations of “Deep Deep Down”, masterfully capturing the essence of Diabolik and Eva’s mad, doomed, but overall groovy romance within a flawlessly crafted pop gem.
Honorable mention: Raumpatrouille Orion, by Peter Thomas. I know that the subject here is feature film soundtracks, which throws the score for this German sci-fi TV series out of contention. But I nonetheless want to honor it for being the ideal musical accompaniment to the type of roguish, cocktail-fueled space sex tourism that I thought was my birthright as a child of the 60s. I also wanted to give a shout out to Thomas, who contributed so much that was slinky, stylish and swinging to the sound of European genre movies during the decade — not the least being his themes for assorted Edgar Wallace Krimis and the Eurospy adventures of Jerry Cotton.
Todd Stadtman thought that Die Danger Die Die Kill! would be a good name for a blog and now he’s stuck with it. He’s been writing about international cult and genre cinema there since 2008, in addition to being a regular contributor to Teleport City. Soon you will be able to thrill to his contributions to the World Directory of Cinema’s Turkey edition.
If like me, you’re taking your first tentative steps into an understanding and appreciation of Bollywood film then I guess looking at the films of superstar Amitabh Bachchan is a good place to start. The film opens with a colourful animated title sequence, very much in The Pink Panther style – that is, cartoon characters with bombs. In fact the film starts off very much like a comedy. Two men, Sunil (Sashi Kapoor) and Vijay (Armibabh Bachchan) are in prison (a classic comedy setting). Whenever they see each other, they threaten each other with all forms of physical violence. As they are separated by bars, of course, they cannot enact upon their threats. A young boy, also serving hard time, asks an old man, ‘Why do they go at it like dogs?’ The old man explains that destiny has a hand in it – whenever either of the two go thieving (or whatever nefarious activity they are up to), the other inadvertently turns up. We then ‘flash-back’ to the event that lead to their incarceration.
Both Sunil and Vijay have planned to rob a safe on the same night. As they enter the room from different entrances, each is dismayed to see the other enter the room. But time is of the essence, so they both chip in to break open the safe. It’s only when it comes time to split the loot, that problems arise. Neither wants to share, and instead they slug it out on a roof top. As they fight, they tear open the money bag, and a shower of bank notes rain down upon the police officers who are looking for them. Naturally they are captured, and each blames the other for their arrest.
The film skips ahead to it’s next plot point. It concerns a young boy named Bitoo (Master Bittoo) who is neglected by his father (Shreeram Lagoo). That’s not to say the boy doesn’t have everything he needs. Bitu has everything, including nannies and a team of security guards to watch him around the clock. The neglect stems from his millionaire father’s hectic work schedule. He never has time for little Bitoo.
But criminal minds are scheming. If Bitoo were to be kidnapped, they could extort an exorbitant ransom demand from his father. One gangster, known only as Uncle (Kader Khan) plans to do exactly this. He arranges for a squad of cars to kidnap the boy. Despite being professional gangsters, there kidnap attempt is foiled by a passer by, Miss Shalu (Hema Malini). Single handed, and in a quite ridiculous fashion, she manages to destroy all the cars that were sent after Bitoo.
Miss Shalu is a school teacher at an exclusive boarding school. She suggests to Bitoo’s father that the boy come and stay there. The school has excellent security and she guarantees that Bitoo will be safe.
By this time both Sunil and Vijay have been released from prison, and have gone their separate ways…but not for long. Destiny once again steps in so they attempt to work on the same scheme at the same time. Both men conspire to kidnap Bitto. This, of course means infiltrating the private school. Vijay’s plan involves impersonating the son of a friend of the headmaster…and ultimately becoming the Phys. Ed. Teacher. Sunil’s scheme is to replace the music teacher, who is off on leave after encountering some of Uncle’s henchmen.
Naturally, at the school, Sunil and Vijay are not enamoured to see each other and spend a considerable amount of time trying to outwit each other, and ultimately get their hands on Bitoo.
Do Aur Do Paanch starts off in an amusing enough fashion, but to be honest, the child kidnapping plot is a bit creepy when you think about it. In the second half, this film moves away from comedy and becomes slightly darker in tone. Well, you certainly can’t call the film boring. It has a bit of everything in it. But for me, I don’t think this is the best introduction to the work of Amitabh Bachchan. I think I’ll have to look elsewhere.
The espionage festival continues at Teleport City. Today however, I step back into the shadows and allow Todd to carry the ball – and carry it he has – all the way to India! And you know what that means folks! Yep, not only wild and crazy spyjinx, but wild and willfully energetic dancing.
Uploaded to youtube by: amitajai22
Today’s feature presentation is the Bollywood spy caper Golden Eyes: Secret Agent 077, featuring Mumtaz, Sailesh Kumar and genre favourite, Helen. Here’s a brief snippet:
The 1968 film Golden Eyes: Secret Agent 077 is the sort of movie where bare-walled sets are dressed by way of colored lighting (it’s amazing what 1960s movies could accomplish with just a couple lights and some primary colored gels) and a super villain’s high-tech lair is represented by having what looks like the contents of an old Radio Shack “Build Your Own Ham Radio” kit strewn on a wooden table. In another villain’s hideout, the only decoration is a giant inflatable whiskey bottle. People speaking into common household fixtures and furnishings — lamps, radiators, etc. — as if they were communications devices replaces the fancy gadgets that had become prerequisites of the genre by this time. Scientific torture gizmos are so advanced scientifically that they are invisible, their effects only perceptible from the pained grimaces on the faces of their otherwise manifestly unmolested subjects. And yes, it’s all pretty delightful.
To be beamed directly to Teleport City and bathe in the candy-coloured excess that is Golden Eyes: Secret Agent 077 click here.
For those who crave more cheap-jack spy thrills, you can also:
• Globe-trot like a superspy with Superseven Calling Cairo.
• Strike like a ball of thunder with Lightning Bolt.
For those who like their spirits – and like James Bond, check out Keith’s rambling, insane primer on how to drink whiskey like James Bond – Bottled in Bond.
Once again I travel to the mysterious sub-continent and look at another cheap-jack spy production. Yes, despite this film’s title, it is not a Eurospy flick, but another film from India. I really wish someone would come up with a nickname for these films, like Basmati-spy or Hindi-spy, just so I would have to trot out the same information every-time I review one of these things.
This one starts with an Indian scientist, Dr. Sharma (Brahm Bhardwaj) creating a process for rejuvenating people, taking up to sixty years off their age. I am not sure what the process is, even though I witnessed the film. On the screen, there are newspaper clippings suggesting it is surgery – others say it is an elixir – but pictured on screen, the good doctor shines a light on the old people as they are cocooned in plaster. For simplicity sake, let’s just say that it is a very complicated procedure, which has multiple phases – that is so much nicer than saying that the film is a prime example of ‘dodgy science’ in a motion picture. As the film titles roll, we witness Dr. Sharma taking a decrepit old couple, and turning them into beautiful, vital young people once again.
Dr. Sharma’s success is heralded around the world, and one group in particular who take notice are an evil organisation that operates out of a lair that looks like a candy-coloured version of the radio-toppling set from Dr. No, in Rome. Also like the aforementioned Dr. No, the evil minions wear colourful radiation suits. As these minions go about their business, a big red speaker box above them announces that Dr. Sharma is required in Rome. Immediately a minion radios the Indian branch of the operation, and contacts Agent 65, who is a fat slob with a walking stick. It’s no ordinary stick however, it shoots bullets. Agent 65 is ordered to kidnap the Dr. Sharma, which he does ruthlessly and efficiently with the inside help of Sharma’s servant.
Meanwhile, frolicking on a beach with two women, is Agent XX7 (Hercules). A radio signal, beamed directly to his sunglasses, indicates he is wanted at headquarters immediately. A quick cut away and XX7 is meeting with Indian M, and Indian Q. Q appears to give our hero a truck load of gadgets, none of which appear to be particularly clever or dangerous – but of course, as the film plays out, each one has a use. Can you imagine Q saying ‘Here 007, take this stick and a piece of string, you may never know when they’ll come in handy!’
The mission starts with – musically, a needle drop from Goldfinger – and XX7 paying a visit to Sharma’s servant. XX7 just knows that the servant is bad and beats seven shades of shit out of the poor guy. Then when the perp still refuses to co-operate, he threatens the poor guy’s wife. Okay, we know the servant is crooked, but really, you don’t have to go after the guy’s wife. That’s just mean spirited – and definitely not classy. But it works. The suspect breaks, and tells XX7 that Agent 65 is hiding out at some hotel.
XX7 heads to the hotel, and is met in the foyer by a young women (Agent 311) who seems to be ill. XX7 helps out and takes her back to her room. Of course, this is all a ruse, to give Agent 65 time to escape. Once XX7 realises this, he brutalizes 311, going so far as to dangle her from the balcony by her ankles. Eventually she talks, and reveals that Agent 65 has sped away in his car. She gives XX7 the licence plate number.
Within moments, XX7 is behind the wheel and giving chase. The footage is undercranked to make it look super-speedy, and the car tyres squeal, even on gravel. When the roadway is blocked by an earth-mover, the chase continues on foot; then on a flying-fox over a raging river. This leads then to speedboats. XX7 is stupid enough to fall out of his boat, and at that moment, more evil minions arrive in other boats and attempt to run him down. Agent 65 returns to shore, while the others attempt to grind XX7 up with their propellers, but somehow XX7 duck-dives to safety and crawls up on shore and continues his pursuit of Agent 65.
The next part of the chase is on some kind of aerial log transport system – it’s a bit like a chairlift, but designed to carry lumber. Agent 65 grabs one of the ropes and is carried off, but not before XX7 grabs hold of his legs. Both men are propelled along the wire, but their combined weight (which must be more than a log – or the whole scene wouldn’t make sense) causes the rope to begin to fray. XX7 somersaults a leg over the guide cable just as the rope snaps. With his hands, he reaches out and grabs Agent 65 before he falls to his death. But XX7 cannot hold on for long, and 65 falls, while XX7 is left clutching his jacket. Which is fortuitous, because inside one of the pockets is a clue. There is a plane ticket with instructions to meet Miss Karmini in Rome.
The thing is, is Miss Karmini a contact, and therefore an enemy agent, or is she the next target? XX7, is despatched to Rome to find out. Accompanying him is his loyal sidekick, and slight comic relief, Agent 505 (Rajenda Nath).
Meanwhile Dr. Sharma has been brought to the evil organisation’s lair, where he meets the Number One bad guy, Dr. Chang (K.N. Singh), who is working on some experiments to create a master race to rule the earth – yeah, you know, the same old madman’s dream. Of course, Sharma refuses to co-operate, and Chang is forced to use other methods of coercion to get Sharma’s co-operation. It’s here that we find out the Miss Karmini, is actually Karmini Sharma, the good doctor’s daughter, and of course, as the plot plays out Karmini and XX7 are going to hook up.
The attractive female Agent 294 is sent by Dr. Chang to intercept XX7 upon arrival in Rome. She greets him at the airport and convinces him that she has been instructed to chauffeur him from the airport. He accepts the lift, and follows her to her car which is a white station wagon. They get in and drive off in a white saloon. Don’t worry, the car will turn into a station wagon again later. So much for continuity. At least they got the colour right! As they travel, XX7 gets suspicious and asks her some questions which she doesn’t know the answers to. He pulls his gun on her, and she swerves the car all over the road until they come to a stop. Then he jams her head out the open window, and slowly begins to wind up the glass until it is cutting off her air. XX7’s way with the ladies wins through again and she reveals the next lead.
It is almost strange that this film should open with XX7 on the beach with two women, because this would indicate he is a womaniser, but as the film plays out, he is revealed to be not only a ruthless bastard, but a violent misogynist. This guy really gives the girls in the film a rough time – okay some of them are ‘baddies’ and deserve to be punished, but really, this guy is just a brute. It’s strange looking back on the early Bond films, and seeing what the imitators took from them. Those that played up the womanising and the misogyny, are interesting time capsules (not to be lauded and admired) showing how different cultures treated women – no let me clarify that – how they treated good and bad women. Good women are always treated well, but bad girls are often given a very rough time for their impure ways.
In the end XX7 is such a jerk and treats women so badly, I wanted the bad guys to win. There’s one fight scene in particular, where there’s about five bad guys against him. I thought the odds were right, and finally they’d teach him a lesson. But not to be, I’m afraid.
Unless you’re particularly undemanding, and enjoy cheap-jack spy thrills – oh, and it would help if you spoke Hindi, because I don’t think there’s a subtitled version available – then I’d steer clear of Spy in Rome. It isn’t exactly a bad film, but a slightly misguided film – and those scenes take away from all the things that the film does right.
Release Year: 1981
Starring: Mithun Chakraborty, Danny Denzongpa, Amjad Khan, Vijayendra Ghatge, Ranjeeta, Kajal Kiran, Neeta Mehta, Padmini Kapila, Ranjeet, Purnima
Screenplay: Khalid – Narvi
Director: Deepak Bahry
Cinematography: Arvind Laad
Music: Raam Laxman
Producer: Pranlal V. Mehta
I am going to have to hire myself a translator because there are just some films that you really, really, want to know what’s going on, and Hum se Badhkar kaun is one of them. You may be thinking why do I keep watching films that I can’t understand? Generally, it stems from a modicum of boredom with mainstream cinema. Look, I love a good movie starring Pitt, Clooney, Damon… whoever, but let’s face it — after you’ve watched a certain number of films (meaning ‘lots’), the formulas start to become quite apparent. Even independent cinema is formulaic, simply because there is money for independent cinema. It’s not as much as the blockbuster studios, but the directors who choose to work in independent cinema know how to make good, reliable small-budget films. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But there is something unpredictable about older foreign cinema. Even the humble Eurospy film from the 1960s is completely unpredictable. We know they should be like a Bond film, but they never are. Budget restraints and even simple things like talent and ability stop these films from being what they want to be, and in the process they became something new…unpredictable.
The same applies to Bollywood. Over the last ten years or so, Bollywood has almost become respectable. In some instances, with so many Hollywood studios in trouble (at the time of writing MGM is in the crap again), Bollywood almost seems like it could be the saviour of modern cinema. I don’t know how many reports I have read that Spielberg is being (or going to be) backed by Bollywood money.
But it wasn’t always like that. Bollywood, like European film in the generation before it, were learning the ropes. And while they were learning, they were inadvertently breaking the rules too. That dear reader, is why I keep watching films that I can’t understand. It’s this rule breaking – the serving up of the unexpected and the unpredictable – that keep me coming back.
Now I have mentioned Eurospy in my intro – and if your aware of my proclivity for spy films, you’re probably expecting this to be a Bollywood spy film. Well, you’d be wrong. What we have in Hum se Badhkar kaun is an engaging crime thriller with just a hint of swashbuckling treasure hunt, and it features Gunmaster G-9 himself, Mithun Chakraborty. But maybe it’s best if I start at the beginning. As I cannot speak Hindi, this is how I perceived the film – whether this is factual, is rather doubtful.
The film starts off with a family of six; that is Mum – Radha, Dad – Mohan and four children – Chandan, Raju, Bablu and Pappu, paying a visit to their bedridden Grandpa. Gramps is old and frail, and as the family present him with a gift, which happens to be a sculptured bust of his long since passed wife, he almost has a heart attack. This spurs Gramps into action. He has some family business to attend to before he dies.
Gramps tells Mohan that there is a family treasure hidden away, and that he will lead his son to it. Unfortunately, one of Gramps servants, Lalchand (Ranjeet) overhears the conversation and is itching to get his hands on some treasure.
Gramps takes his Mohan to a temple and reveals a secret door way. They go through into a secret chamber (that’s the thing with ‘secret doors’ – they often lead to ‘secret chambers’). Gramps gives Mohan four keys and points to four keyholes at the other side of the chamber. Mohan scrambles over and unlocks a large door and opens a giant pink cupboard. Inside the cupboard is the families hoard of gold and jewels.
The family secret has now been passed to Mohan. The timing is fortuitous as Gramps falls down the stairs as they are leaving the secret chamber. He dies. After the funeral, Lalchand approaches Mohan and demands to be given the keys to the treasure. Naturally Mohan refuses. But Lalchand doesn’t take no for an answer and one evening as Mohan is out for a casual stroll, Lalchand shoots him with a rifle.
Now this is kind of dumb. Because if Mohan dies, no-one will know where the treasure is. But luckily for Lalchand, Mohan doesn’t die from the gunshot wound. Instead, the blast sends him toppling over the edge of a cliff – with an avalanche of boulders as well. Amazingly (well I was amazed), Mohan survives. Bloodied and battered, Mohan staggers home and into the kids bedroom. There he pins one of the four keys to each of his sons bedclothes. Just in time too, because Lalchand turns up and once again demands to know the location of the treasure. But Mohan dies.
Lalchand believes that Mohan must have passed the secret onto his wife Radha (Purnima). He asks her for the keys. She doesn’t know. But Lalchand doesn’t believe her and begins to whip the children to make her talk.
During the burst of violence, one of the boys has his key knocked free, but Lalchand is too busy beating people to notice. After dolling out an amount of physical abuse, Lalchand leaves the family locked upstairs, while he goes somewhere (I dunno where – I don’t speak the lingo – maybe he needed a can of Sprite?). On his way down the stairs, he finds a key on the ground, and this starts the cogs in his mind turning.
Meanwhile, Radha has found a convenient rope in the room – just lying on the floor near the window. She ties it off and she and the children escape out the window and run to a nearby boat. The family get in the boat and begin to row away from shore. By this time, Lalchand has realised what the key is, and runs up stairs to retrieve the others only to find the family have fled. From the window he starts firing his pistol at Rahda and the children as the sail off. Lalchand’s rein of terror comes to an abrupt end when the police arrive to arrest him.
Meanwhile as Radha and family sail off, the boat capsizes and the children are all washed ashore in different locations. And folks, all this happens before the main title sequence. Yep – the film hasn’t even started. This is the appetiser.
Alone and widowed, Radha, separated from her family goes mad with grief. Of course, time passes and the boys grow up, and we slowly get introduced to them one by one. Chandan now calls himself Bholaram (Amjad Khan) and he runs a milk dairy farm. He’s essentially a good guy, but is struggling to make ends meet. Raju now goes by the name of Tony (Danny Dezongpa), and he is a small time crime boss. Bablu has become Vijay (Vijayendra Ghatge), who is a police officer. And finally we meet the youngest, Pappu, who has also drifted into a life of crime He now calls himself Johnny (Mithun Chakraborty), and in a weird twist of fate, on occasions works for Tony, unaware that he is his brother. Johnny is a super thief, and with his introduction we also get the film’s first big production number with Mithun strutting his stuff – in a dayglo red terry-towelling robe – with a bevy of bikini clad women falling at his feet. Then he moves to the disco floor where he gets a chance to not only display his moves, but also model a wide lapelled white gaberdine suit. Very chic, indeed.
Above I described Johnny as a ‘super thief’. That isn’t a lazy metaphor. He is more than an elusive cat burglar. He dresses like a super hero in a purple costume with a cape – and he wears a Zorro mask. Not quite ‘The Phantom’, but still what’s the point of being a super criminal if you can’t dress like one of them?
Lalchand, now out of prison ropes Tony into helping him out on a little job he has planned. He needs Tony to track down three men and steal some keys from them. Of course, Tony doesn’t realise that these three men are his brothers. Also, because he was the boy who lost his key – Lalchand still has it – he doesn’t realise the significance of the keys.
Of course, each of the four brothers is going to be drawn inexorably towards each other as the film builds towards in climax. And essentially, what you have is two good brothers, Bholaram and Vijay; against the two criminal brothers, Tony and Johnny. There is no prize for guessing how it all ends.
As I mentioned at the top, this is one film I wouldn’t mind seeing a subtitled version of. It appears to be a great deal of fun. Sure the plot has holes that…let’s be honest, that just don’t make sense. Four boys go missing, yet are found and brought up living right on top of each other. Didn’t the people that found the children ask around if anybody had lost a child (let alone four)! There’s even a mad woman; Radha going around pining for her lost children. And even the whole treasure thing is rather silly. Lalchand knows where the treasure is, but can’t get to it because the door is locked. C’mon! A sledge hammer, or a drill could open the safe. It’s not really a safe, but a steel doored, pink cupboard. It’s not rocket science. But this film is first and foremost a slice of wild, kung-fu, disco dancing mayhem. The intricacies of the plot don’t really matter except to move the story forward.
The film may not be Ocean’s Eleven but it is an interesting caper and the four main stars handle themselves pretty well. Mithun and Amjad Khan get most of the screen time, but their styles are very different – Mithun, young fast and sleek, and Amjad, large slow and almost performing as comic relief – in a Bud Spencer kind of way. Yeah, I enjoyed it.
I trust that everyone had a safe and happy Christmas. I am not back on deck till mid-January, so posts will be a little light on. But please check out the other COBRAS member’s sites. It looks like many of them are blogging through, and can provide you with a good healthy dose of espionage related writing. In the meantime though, here’s a review of the Bollywood Spy Melodrama Yakeen. Have a Happy New Year.
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.
Director: Ravee Kant Nagaich
Starring: Jeetendra, Babita Kapoor, Aruna Irani, Kanchana, Sajjan, Agha, Manohar Deepak, Mukri, Mohan Choti, V.D. Puranik.
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Choreography: I. Hiralal
Although Farz was among the first Bollywood attempts at making a Bondian spy flick, it was in fact a remake of a Tollywood film called Goodachari 116 (1967). For the un-initiated ‘Tollywood’ can mean two things — either the Telugu-language film industry based in the state of Andhra Pradesh or a film from the the Bengali-language film industry based in Tollygunge of South Kolkata in the state of West Bengal. In this instance I am referring to a film in the Telugu language films. Goodachari 116 starred Krishna Ghattamaneni, or ‘Super Star’ Krishna as he was known. Krishna would later star in James Bond 777, which sort of makes him the leading contender for the title ‘Tollywood Bond’. But if Krishna was ‘Tollywood Bond’, then Jeetendra certainly worked hard at cultivating the title ‘Bollywood Bond’. Remembering that Farz was made in ’67, eighteen years later (in ’85), Jeetendra was still having a crack at the Bollywood Bond style movie, appearing in Bond 303.
Farz opens at a Dam, and three hairy terrorist types pull up in their beaten up car, and park some distance away. One of them sneaks past security and takes care of the sentry with a garotte wire. The two other terrorists start planting some explosives, and connect it all on a long cable back to a detonator/plunger back at the car.
What these bad-ass infiltrators don’t know is that Agent 211081 is on the case. Dressed in a classic grey suit, and sporting sensible, neatly trimmed hair, he casually disarms the explosives and then with a miniature camera — which by today’s high tech standards is not very small — he photographs the bad guys and the numberplate of the getaway car.
The bad guys push the plunger, and much to their surprise the dam does not blow up. Confused, quickly they flee and report back to their boss. Of course, like any incompetent minions, they get slapped around a bit, and then sent back out — this time their mission is to kill Agent 211081.
When we next see 211081 he is arriving home where his sister has been waiting. He apologises for being late, explaining that he had his duty to perform. I could be wrong here, but I think ‘Farz’ translates as ‘Duty’. Outside the bad guys have tracked 211081 to his home and set about planting a bomb in his car.
Next 211081 gets a telephone call from Indian ‘M’ to report to headquarters. Our hero grabs his jacket and heads out to his car. Now the bomb is not one of those turn-the-key, and then ‘BOOM’ ones. This is a start the engine, which starts the timer type of bombs, so 211081 starts the engine and drives off with the bad guys following behind, waiting for and watching their handiwork.
Agent 211081, in his rear vision mirror, realises that he is being followed and suspects something sinister is going on. He veers off the highway and heads down a dead end road. He gets out of the car in just the nick-of-time, as the vehicle blows up. Then the bad guys turn up and a gunfight breaks out. Our hero is not much of a marksman and keeps missing the bad guys. They close in, encircling our hero. Finally, 211081 runs out of bullets and decides to leg it. Outnumbered and surrounded, he is shot in the stomach, but even then he refuses to give up and keeps moving through the trees towards the road. At the roadside, he flags down a passing motorist. The lady behind the wheel gets out of the car holding a flashlight – even though it is daylight. Why? Because she is a villainess and the flashlight really conceals a pop-out blade. She plunges the blade into Agent 211081 and he falls to the ground dead. It appears that Agent 211081 wasn’t the hero of the film after all. And that flashlight scene appears to have been directly lifted from the EuroSpy film, Mission Bloody Mary. The flashlight tricked is used a little later on in the film too, but then it’s night, so it makes a little more sense.
Finally we meet the hero of the film, Gopal, Agent 116 (Jeetendra) and he reports to Indian ‘M’, where he recieves his mission briefing, which as you have no doubt guessed is to replace Agent 211081. One little observation about Indian ‘M’ — by the way his office is decorated it is fair to assume that the man has an obseession with geography and cartography. Behind his desk he has a giant map of India which covers most of the back wall. On the wall to the left of screen there is a large map of the world, and then in the foreground, sitting on his desk is a globe.
Now this is where the film starts, and to be honest, it gets pretty confusing very quickly. This is because there is not too much spying going on, and a lot of heavy family relationship drama going on. Firstly it seems like Gopal has fallen in love with a girl named Sarita (Babika). The thing is that Sarita’s father happens to be head villain. Now there is a lot of suspicion going on here. Is Gopal using Sarita to get to her father. Or is the father using Sarita to get to Gopal. I must admit, I don’t know.
As an adjunct here, just two little observations based on my limited Bollywood viewing. Firstly the head villain is always referred to as ‘Boss’. And secondly, there are always two Bosses. There is the first Boss, who you are supposed to think is the evil mastermind because he is giving all the orders — but half way through the film, as the hero closes in — it is revealed that this first Boss is just an underling to an even bigger and more evil second Boss. Now the way you tell these two Bosses apart is their appearance. First Boss will look normal. He looks like a businessman, albeit and evil business man. The second ‘Head Boss’ – the evil mastermind – will look weird. He will have an eyepatch, or a scar, or even just a downright ugly head.
To complete his assignment, Gopal happens to be given two comic relief sidekicks. One of them is like Lou Costello but with caterpillars for eyebrows, and the other is like Jerry Lewis in Nutty Professor mode. These guys, even without being able to understand the language, are just painful and they get way too much screen time. Gopal just seems to sit back whenever they are on screen and watch their performance with a gormless smile on his dial.
After quite a bit of mundane spying which does very little to advance the story, Boss’ number one henchwoman seduces Gopal with a sweaty dance routine. I don’t mean sweaty, as in watching the routine you’ll break out in a sweat because the dance is so hot – no, the dancer actually has large sweat stains on her back and under her arm pits, which are very noticaeable on the tight fitting orange ensemble that she is wearing. After the dance, she puts a pill in Gopal’s drink. He pretends to drink it (pouring it into a pot plant) and then pretends to pass out.
The bad guys send a fake ambulance to collect Gopal, but as this phony ambulance team are carrying Gopal’s body out to the vehicle, Sarita turns up at his apartment. Seeing her love unconscious, she demands to travel in the ambulance with him. She is allowed to. Gopal is shunted into the back and driven away and pretty soon, as they head out of town, it becomes apparent that they are not taking him to the nearest hospital.
Gopal is in fact taken to a secret cave lair in the forest. Sarita is taken as a prisoner too — despite her father’s position in the evil organisation. All ends well though, because Gopal is only playing possum and shoots up the place and rescues Sarita.
There’s still plenty of action (I use the word loosely) and twists to come in the story, but I’ll leave my feeble synopsis there. All-in-all, I found Farz to be rather flat, and even when there is a good sequence, the material leading up to it and after it are of little consequence. For those who are interested in the musical numbers, well they may be of some merit. There is some nice choreography that integrates traditional Indian moves with ‘the twist’, and during Sarita’s birthday sequence, Jeetendra proves that while he may not be a bone crunching Connery type, he is a passable pelvis grinding Elvis clone.
If you are like me, and taking your first tentative steps towards an understanding of Bollywood films, then I’d suggest Farz is not the film for you. Its pacing and attempts at comedy are quite a hurdle, especially when you’re juggling comprehension with poor picture quality and sound. But having said all that, from a historical point-of-view, it’s a film that may well be worth revisiting once I am more battle-hardened and my knowledge and understanding of Bollywood films has grown.
I wasn’t able to get any screencaps of the VCD set used for this review, so I have borrowed some shots from Keith’s Teleport City review. To read Keith’s review, click here.
Director: Ram Kumar
Starring: Joy Mukerji, Sapana, Helen, I.S. Johar, Abhi Bhattacharya, Farida Jalal, Ram Kumar
Music: Rahul Dev Burman
Lyrics: S.H. Bihari
Choreography: Kamal, Surya Kumar
My excursion into the world of the Bollywood spy film has only just begun — at this stage having only watched a handful of films — but so far, and this is bound to change as my knowledge and viewing grows, I would say that Puraskar is my favourite Bollywood spy film. It is fast paced and it’s fairly original — the only Bond affectation is that the head villain continually holds a cat (it’s not even a white cat). The story is almost decipherable to those who don’t speak a lick of Hindi. The nightclub based musical interludes are pretty cool too. But most importantly of all, the film has scorpions and a finale in which the villain’s lair blows up.
The film opens with the villain of the piece, who is simply referred to as ‘Boss’, watching as a woman madly flees from a house. In terror, she gets into a car and drives off at speed – excessive speed. She is driving so fast she cannot control the car and starts swerving across the road. This comes to an end when she crashes through a stone barrier and drives off a cliff. Now how do we know that the man watching must be a villain. Well he is dressed in a hat and wearing sunglasses. Furthermore he is wearing ‘weird’ red gloves and is stroking a cat which he cradles under his arm. If that isn’t visual shorthand for ‘villain’, I don’t know what is.
After this woman’s death (which is explained via flashback later in the film), the CID assign their two best agents to the mission. Their gun agent is Rakesh (Joy Mukerji). Actually as the film plays out Rakesh isn’t much of a hero. He is clumsy in the fight scenes and has a dreadful dress sense, outfitted in a range of striped shirts which would be more befitting a member of a barbershop quartet rather than a gun secret agent. Anyway, despite my misgivings, Rakesh is the man! His sidekick — and sometimes comic relief — is Sumesh (I.S. Johar).
Meanwhile Professor Das (Abhi Bhattacharya) has invented a new top secret weapon that uses sound waves to destroy its targets. As Professor Das is a good guy, we can only assume that he invented this weapon as some kind of deterrent to war. Das gives a demonstration of his new weapon which is broadcast on television. One viewer happens to be ‘Boss’ who is ensconced in his top secret underground lair. And quite a spectacular lair it is too, with flashing lights, oscilloscopes, and many machines that go ‘ping’ and ‘whir’ in the background. He also has a healthy supply of odious minions who wear red skivvies.
‘Boss’ is pretty impressed with Professor Das’ new weapon and naturally wants to obtain it for his own nefarious purposes. To this end he sends a team of henchmen to the Professor’s home. They knock out the Professor and take him to their car. But they cannot leave without the plans which are locked in the safe. One minion is left behind to open the safe, but who should turn up as he is trying to open it. Yes, it’s our striped shirted hero, Rakesh. He captures the minion and is about to make him talk, when from the doorway another minion shoots his accomplice to stop him from spilling the beans. I don’t know why he didn’t just shoot Rakesh? I guess it would have been a short film? Anyway Rakesh rushes off after the shooter, but the gunshot has awoken Professor Das’ hot looking daughter, Renu (Sapana). She rushes downstairs and crashes into our hero. They stare into each others eyes for a second — there’s some chemistry there — then he pushes her to the side and continues his pursuit of the villains. Naturally, Renu thinks that Rakesh is one of the kidnappers. When the characters meet later in the film, there’s quite a bit of hostility to overcome, before she accepts him as a good guy. In fact, she shoots him – I don’t know how much more hostile can you get? But, of course, we know these two will get together by the end of the film.
Meanwhile. Professor Das is taken to the villain’s lair where he is met by his identical twin brother. His brother, however, is not a prisoner. He is out for his own financial betterment and wants to sell his scientific brother’s secrets. When Das wont hand over his secrets (or the combination to the safe), the evil brother choses to step into his brother’s shoes and return to the house in an attempt to break into the safe and get the information.
The first thirty minutes of this film are good spy action and pretty easy to follow — even without understanding the language. But then as so often happens in Bollywood films, the family drama element enters the story and this is where it lost me. There’s some plot thread about a young couple Kumar and Reshma, and somehow Kumar is blackmailed by the ‘Boss’. It all seemed rather sad, but I had no idea what was really happening. Still, there’s plenty of spyjinx ahead.
I am pleased to report that while the shadow of James Bond looms large over many spy films, this film is its own beast. Sure it displays many of the espionage genre’s tropes; ie. scientist develops deadly weapon and is kidnapped / scientist also has hot looking daughter who helps secret agent with the mission etc., but it doesn’t stoop to wholesale recreations of Bondian setpieces (such as Farz and Surakksha). Seen in that light, Puraskar is a worthy, if somewhat cheesy, companion to many Eurospy films of the sixties — albeit with musical interludes.
Speaking of musical interludes, Puraskar has four of them. Two are filmed outside, with spectacular mountain ranges as a backdrop. Despite the beauty of the landscape, I must say I found these musical numbers prety cold. However, the two musical numbers set in a nightclub, are temperature-raising showstoppers. In the first of these, the performer is wearing a silver conical bra — remember this is a good 20-25 years before Maddonna would iconically project herself into the annals of popular culture wearing such as device. I know I am sounding like a randy old pervert once again, but if a man can’t watch a scantily clad dancer perform in the comfort of his own home, then what is the world coming to?
I realise Puraskar: CID Agent is not for everyone. As far as I am aware, there currently isn’t a subtitled version available. Also the film is pretty cheap. I mean for the final battle, the characters run around with rubber machine guns. The only reason you can tell that they are being fired is the noise on the soundtrack. There is no smoke or spark from the muzzle and there certainly aren’t any squibs or bullet explosions on the set. Also, when I said that the villain’s lair is spectacular, I meant it, but probably no more spectacular than your neighbour’s house at Christmas time. Some of the flashing lights on the walls are only chains of Christmas lights stuck on. The film is cheap, but thankfully I am a sucker for alternating red and blue lighting. Nothing saying ‘hi-tech’ villains lair like a red or blue light bulb. Try it at home! Next time you are watching a spy film, change your regular light bulb for a blue one, and magically you’ll find yourself ensconced in a villain’s lair as you watch. This is true immersive cinema people!
So I am a sucker for trash cinema. I am a sucker for trash spy cinema with scantily clad dancing girls, but try not to hold that against me. In the end, Puraskar may not be a film that you will want to seek out, but is sure as hell made me happy!
Once again, without the aid of a translator or a safety net, I travel to India in search of superspy action, and I found it in Surakksha, the first of the Gunmaster G-9 films. You may think that not speaking a word of Hindi would render watching a film such as as almost undecipherable, but in this instance I beg to differ. Sure I didn’t know exactly what they were saying, but when a film steals so blatently from the James Bond series, it almost serves a s visual shorthand for the events as depicted on the screen. And when I say ‘steal’, I don’t mean an affectionate homage — there’s no sly nod or wink here — it’s wholesale theft. Amongst the Bondian pilferring is an early scene where the pilot of an aircraft gases the passengers — just like the Vulcan scene in Thunderball. Well almost — this is not quite so hi-tech. The pilot, shielded behind a folding partition sprays an aerosole can at the passengers rendering them unconcious (or dead). Then there’s the scene, where a henchman sits poolside playing cards with some dupes, while upstairs his lady friend, all decked in red, watches from an apartment window above with a telescope. From her vantage point she can see the cards that the other players are holding, and via radio — he has a tiny earpiece — she relays the information. Yep, you’ve seen that in Goldfinger. There’s even a recreation of the Olympia Brass Band sequence from Live and Let Die. And there’s plenty more folks, but I do not want this review to be solely a catalogue of the Bond inspired setpieces in this film.
But there is a plot of sorts, and as the film starts out, it concerns special agent Jackson and his investigation into the nefarious activities of Doctor Shiva. Shiva is the head of an evil organisation called the Shiv Shakti Organization (SSO), who have created a weapon, so deadly and horrific, it could change the face of the planet.
From the get-go Agent Jackson is involved in the action — which involves a motorcycle chase, a car chase and a gunfight — but eventually Jackson is caught (and then tortured). And how’s this for savagery — Jackson’s wife and son are waiting at home when there is a knock at the door. Mrs. Jackson opens the door and it’s a delivery man dropping off a large wooden crate. She accepts delivery. She then gets a jemmy bar and with her son at her side, opens the crate, only to find her dead husband inside. Now this is hardly the most grusome moment that I have ever seen in a spy film, but in its way, it’s one of the most hard hitting, as the young boy’s reaction is heartbreaking.
Jackson’s death brings Gunmaster G-9 (Mithun Chakraborty) into the story. And Gunmaster G-9 is not only one smooth superspy, but he is also one electric, disco-dancin’ chick magnet. Made in 1979, by disco-dancin’ I am very definitely talking about white suits with wide lapels dancing — I’m talking John Travolta/Saturday Night Fever disco dancing. But I’ll get to the music and dancing a little more later. So G-9 is on the case, and I must admit, despite the joy of spotting the various Bond references, the first half of this film is pretty flat. There’s the odd time bomb, another motorcycle chase, and a few kung-fu fist fights, but nothing to write home about. But just as I though the movie was over, and was about to turn it off, the film starts off again. The guy, who I though was in control of the evil organisation, is in fact just a henchman. The real villain, Doctor Shiva is still at large. So the story starts again — but this time it is really good. The sets — well they are cheap — but they are colourful and trippy. In fact, the whole villains lair, which is three-hundred feet below sea level, is a psychadelic masterpiece.
The films features some outrageous (but cheap) stunts. Actually in some instances, I use the word ‘stunts’ rather loosely. That would imply that a stuntman was employed. There is a one rooftop motorcycle jump that is barely more than crude animation. In Surakksha’s defence here, this idea was dreamed up a good eighteen years before a similar stunt was performed in Tomorrow Never Dies. That shows imagination, and that’s certainly what is on display here. This is the type of film, for a fiery car crash, the film-makers would set a toy model car on fire, and then just throw it in front of the camera. The thinking was, if we throw it fast enough, maybe no-one will notice it’s not real.
And once again I resume my battle with the Bollywood dance routines and soundtrack. This film being a relic from the Saturday Night Fever era is particularly hard to reconcile. In general I have trouble reconciling bouncy pop soundtracks and spy films. I like my spy music to be ‘jazzy’. I’m not too particular about the kind of jazz. It can be low and moody, or it can be hot and wild, or anywhere in between. But I don’t like pop — even when it is performed by bands or an artist that I like. For instance, I like Joe Strummer and the Clash (sadly Joe’s no longer with us), but when I watched Die Another Day and heard London Calling I cringed. The album London Calling is one of the greatest albums of all time – but that song does not belong in a spy film. But Bollywood films are from a different world really. And to be totally fair to this film, which has four major musical dance pieces, two of which are pretty damn good. And a lot of this has to do with the energy and exuberance of Mithun Chakraborty. That guy can really dance, and his energy just propels the musical numbers along. The final musical number, set in the cavernous villains lair is a particular standout — with fantastic editing — keeping the story, suspence and spectacle all balanced nicely.
This film really won me over. I was really ready to can it, and say it was little more than a Bond wannabe — and it is that, but in the second half it raises the bar, and becomes something different, entertaining and stylish in its own twisted way. I guess though, that’s what you get with a Bollywood spy film. Sure it can take a borrow Western spy film touches, but it also has to present the setpieces expected from Sub-continental audiences. In the end you get a hybrid that’s not really like anything else. It’s not EuroSpy, AsioSpy or even like a Mexican spy film. As silly and as obvious as this sounds, a Bollywood spy film is a ‘Bollywood spy film’. It is unique.
Like James Bond, Gunmaster G-9 would return. This film was followed by a sequel called Waadat, which I was planning to review — but cannot at this time. I did order a copy of it, but somehow I didn’t receive it — it’s a long, long story, but to simplify the tale, in its stead I received another five Mithun Chakraborty films, of which none appear to be spy films. Needless to say, the singing and dancing continues in my household.