Long before Mithun Chakraborty squeezed himself into those tight white flares to play Gunmaster G9 in Suraksha, Superstar Krishna was the suave and debonair Agent 116 in this Bond-inspired tale of secret agents, evil villains and a fiendish plot against India. Or at least so I deduce, given that this was another adventure without subtitles. There are elements from a number of early Bond films, but Gudachari 116 seems to be very loosely based on Dr No with a few other classic sixties motifs that pop up from time to time. This was the first of Krishna’s forays into the spy genre and while it’s nowhere near as over the top as his later film James Bond 777 or other Hindi spy films I’ve seen, there are still a few fabulous moments and plenty of recognisable references to the Bond films.
Agent Gopi (Krishna), better known by his code number 116, is a typical James Bond character. He’s smooth and successful with the ladies, possible due to his natty collection of cardigans, sports coats and leisure shirts. (This may also explain some of his son Mahesh’s multi-layering and accessorising style).
However he has to leave his singing, dancing and romancing in the hills when news of Agent 303’s rather theatrical death reaches the head of their intelligence agency.
Agent 303 (Shobhan Babu) was shadowing a gang of men who were attempting to blow up a bridge. After foiling their plan, he managed to take pictures of the gang and their getaway car, thus ensuring he could track them down at a later date and find the boss of their organisation. Obviously this information is of critical importance for the security of the nation, but the intelligence agency seems to be operating on a tight budget so he drops off his pictures to the local camera store to be developed before visiting his sister.
Missions of national importance run a poor second to familial obligations for Agent 303, which mean that he is killed before passing on the information about the gang to his superiors. Gopi’s mission is to find the photographs, identify the bad guys and stop their plans to destroy India. Just in case that seemed to be rather a lot for a single man to accomplish, he does have a number of fancy gadgets and the somewhat dubious assistance of local man on the spot Simhachalan (Relangi Venkataramaiah) and his merry band of helpers.
On the way to his meet-up with Simhachalan, Agent 116 runs into the beautiful Miss Radha (Jayalalitha) and starts up a brief flirtation with her on the plane. However Radha is the daughter of Agent 116’s chief suspect for the role of evil mastermind behind the bombings which, luckily for Gopi, means that their friendship can be cultivated as part of his mission. Gopi ends up at Radha’s birthday party where he plays the piano for her in this song which reminds me of the Chordettes classic. I love the rather Christmassy decorations for her birthday which almost get tangled up with the backing dancers and the dancing couple in the bottle on top of the piano.
Simhachalan has given Gopi two of his men to help his investigation and they provide most of the comedy side-plot which as usual doesn’t add much to the proceedings. Ramana Reddy and Rajababu do however manage to provide Gopi with some assistance and with the aid of some helium balloons, a hidden microphone and of course a little phone tapping, Agent 116 discovers that Radha’s father (Rajanala) is only a front for the real villain.
Agent 303’s sister also gets involved in the action as Radha’s father convinces her that he is the police officer in charge of her brother’s murder case and enlists her help to trap Gopi. This involves her attempting to seduce Gopi in his hotel room by dancing and then drugging him before handing him over to the gang. He looks rather puzzled by her advances, although that may just be the combination of the wallpaper and the pictures which is rather overpowering. Gopi ends up in a rather drab and utilitarian secret hideout with a man intent on frying his brains as a means of extracting information from him but in true super-spy fashion quickly turns the tables and extracts some information himself.
The plot gets more convoluted as Radha is kidnapped by the evil mastermind’s men to force her father’s continued co-operation with their plans and Gopi tries to rescue Agent 303’s sister while foiling the plans of the real villain. These plans are never really clear but seem to involve a rather large factory and a team of scientists making poisonous gas for some nefarious purpose. The boss, a rather sinister Chinese-looking villain, communicates with a series of gestures rather than by using actual words so perhaps his main henchmen are all telepathic and therefore no description of the plot is needed.
Overall, Gudachari 116 keeps to the spy/action story without too many deviations into cheap special effects or ridiculous leaps of faith. The interiors are wonderfully decorated with some amazing wallpaper and curtain combinations and there are plenty of chandeliers making an appearance. In comparison the outfits are rather restrained (at least in comparison to the Hindi remake Farz) and Radha appears elegant and stylish in a number of beautiful saris. Gopi and the various other main characters are also all very dapper and it’s only the gang of hired thugs who appear in outlandish shirts and scarves.
There are one or two instances where obviously model cars and planes get blown up, but mainly the effects are limited to radio receivers disguised as books and knock-out gas in a cigarette lighter which seem fairly plausible. Perhaps the most incredible invention is a method of restoring burnt paper back to its original pristine condition and retaining the written message but everything else is within the realm of possibility (at least for a secret agent).
The songs are another highpoint and the music by T. Chalapathi Rao seems to suit the general sixties ambience. This is probably the best – a fusion of traditional music and rock and roll that lets Jayalalitha show off a number of dance styles.
Gudachari 116 has a convincing storyline written by Arudra with much influence from Ian Fleming and the Bond film franchise, and is capably directed by M. Mallikharjuna Rao to give an entertaining spy adventure. Krishna is excellent as Agent 116 and the role of the sophisticated spy suits him well. Despite the lack of subtitles and an occasional unfunny ‘comedy’ scene I really enjoyed this film and I’d recommend it as an excellent take on the spy genre. 4stars.
This is the first of Superstar Krishna’s Bond style forays and I don’t think he had quite hit his stride in terms of the balance of serious spy action and parody that the later films do so much better. The Bond of Ian Fleming and that of (most of) the films are quite different characters, and this film sort of falls between the two. At times it was a bit closer to Get Smart than any credible spy thriller as the low tech gadgetry was so badly made that I could have done better with a shoe box and a couple of bits of wire!
The lead actors are good and Krishna fits the suave man of the world style. His knitwear was horrifying, but it was the late 60s so I am just thankful the film is in black and white. Apart from the instantly recognisable ears, he also seems to have passed on some of his dance mojo to his son, as that lanky frame and the laid back style was very familiar. Jayalalitha is a feisty heroine and some of her outfits are very eye-catching indeed, so she earned her screen time. The comic sideplot is bad enough, but Ramana Reddy’s hamming is the last straw. He really is terrible and I have grown to loathe the very sight of him.
The music is a real mish-mash. There are fragments of the Addams Family theme used at dramatic moments (more comic than dramatic for me). There are hillside cavorting love duets as well as a blend of 60s rock n roll with whatever else took their fancy. It’s entertaining even if the choices are bewildering!
The story is not particularly credible or thrilling as it is bog standard ‘good guy against ill defined villain’ and the pace is very slow, especially considering national security is at stake. I enjoyed this mostly for the retro charm, excellent visual excesses, and the very entertaining songs. I greatly prefer James Bond 777 (which is available on Youtube), which has a fab funky soundtrack and a gang of bank robbing dogs that compensated for the plotholes. Gudachari 116 is nice to look at, but you could just watch the songs and skip the narrative and you would still get a feel for the style of the film. I don’t think I would re-watch this, while other films in the spy caper genre have become favourites. 3 stars.