Sunehri Nagin (1963)

Sunehri Nagin_Movie title

Sunehri Nagin is a sword and sorcery fantasy featuring Helen in a lead role, so of course I had to see it. She stars opposite genre film stalwart Mahipal, along with Anwar Hussain as a flamboyant villain. Babubhai Mistry directs in a fairly pedestrian style, but the film has loads of charm. There are lovely songs (in colour), some very good dancers, a snake goddess delivering some divine assistance, ye olde fairytale elements, special effects and some enthusiastic visual design.

Sunehri Nagin_RajkumariSunehri Nagin_Vijay

The Rajkumari (Helen) is out on a hunting expedition with her handmaidens when her chariot horses are spooked by a nearby panther. Bolting off into the blue, she screams for help. Luckily her pleas are heard by Vijay (Mahipal) who has been languishing in the forest while wearing a splendid fur trimmed suit. Within minutes he has saved Helen and taken her home to meet his blind Ma (Sulochana Latkar) and comedy bro (Kamal Mehra). They are all on their way to a pooja at the snake temple so Princess Helen goes along. The ritual involves placing bowls of milk at the base of a statue and then dancing to invoke the Naag Devi. The owner of the milk the snake drinks will be blessed. That all leads to an excellent dance by Helen and some enthusiastic ‘tribal’ dudes.

Those backward leaning kneeling statues reappear a few times throughout the film so perhaps Mistry was really commited to recycling.

Of course the snake goddess chooses Helen. So does Anwar Hussain who is lurking in the crowd. He is an evil not quite magician who seems intent on taking as much power as he can – and he needs to marry the princess to do that. He is also involved with a sorceress, Sadhna, played by the lovely Preeti Bala. Sadhna supplies Anwar with a magical laddoo that will let him travel at will, and a flying carpet. Sadhna seems to be in love with Vijay but terribly naïve when it comes to believing an earthman in a gladiator outfit. The story then falls into a cycle of Helen and Vijay making eyes, Anwar kidnapping Helen, and Vijay and his comedy sidekick going to rescue her. Add some divine intervention thanks to Sulochana’s prayers and a magic sword. Overcome the King’s (DK Sapru) objections to Helen marrying a commoner. Repeat, rinse, repeat. Until everyone realises Anwar cannot be trusted and then things go a bit pear shaped (for him).

The plot elements are pure fairytale, sometimes even pantomime, inspired. The designs are sometimes lovely and sometimes a bit mystifying. Vijay and his Ma live in this carefully geometrical tumbledown shack. The royal palace interiors are sumptuous. But I don’t know why Helen and Anwar appear to fly over 1960s Marine Drive when he kidnaps her on a flying carpet.

Vijay and sidekick encounter many fabulous perils. I think my favourite would have to be the evil grasping trees on rolling platforms but the cannibal cat man in the secret caves is a close second. Or maybe the jousting. I’m indecisive, but so many fun things happen that maybe they’re all my favourite.

The special effects team kept busy with a number of nifty transitions. Sadhna transforms herself into Helen, and is later miniaturised and captured in a bottle. The ladies change places in an attempt to fit in another song steal a magical sword back from Anwar and there are lots of flying and disappearing effects. And when Anwar says look into his eyes – don’t!

Kalyanji-Anandji are credited with the soundtrack, and Laxmikant Pyarelal appear in the playback/recording credits so the songs have some serious pedigree. The playback singers include Lata and Usha Mangeshkar, Mohd Rafi, Mukesh, and Kamal Barot. I have to admit I did cheer when Helen stole Mahipal’s been in one song as I only have so much love for snake music but overall it is a pleasure to listen to this soundtrack. Babubhai Mistry switches from B&W to colour film for the song sequences and they are so pretty to look at. I had high expectations from Helen, of course. Mahipal doesn’t have such a natural flair for frolicking in meadows as his leading lady does. Apart from the lead actors,  there are other entertaining dances including this court piece performed by Bela Bose and Madhumati.

I watched this online and then bought the VCD. I haven’t seen a version with subtitles but most of the story was clear. I had a little moment of wondering who loved who when Sadhna and Anwar were bickering about a marriage but of course she loved the hero, everyone loves a hero, so I was not confused for long. Although I think the wardrobe team showed their love for Anwar Hussain in their own special way.

It’s quite a glamorous looking film. Helen was very pretty and princess like, and Preeti Bala and the featured dancers all looked lovely too.

This is not a film to watch for deep insights into the human condition, but it does have a pleasing internal order of justice and right. People can try and welch on their bets or lie their way out of trouble but they will have to face the consequences at some stage. And it isn’t just the bad guys who learn that. Some people are a bit more resistant to enlightenment than they should be. The final fight sequence takes place at the snake temple, mostly on and around a giant bell. Seeing the not very sprightly figures of Mahipal and Anwar Hussain clambering about added an extra, and maybe unintended, level of tension. But Anwar pushed his luck with the wrong deity. Perhaps the lesson here is don’t bite the hand that can bite you.

South Indian fantasy films from the same time seem more technically accomplished but I am guessing that this was probably not a big budget production so the comparison is probably unfair. It is obvious where some corners were cut in Sunehri Nagin, but it doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of watching. See this for a good old ripping yarn of love and heroics, a likeable and competent cast (especially Helen) and the array of visual delights on offer. 3 ½  stars!

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Trip to Moon (1967)


trip-to-moon_1967
Chand Par Chadayee
or Trip to Moon is a 1967 space opera featuring Dara Singh and Anwar Hussain along with a bevy of lovelies (Ratna, Padma Khanna, Helen, Kanchanamala to name a few). Director T.P Sundaram didn’t let lack of technology or the laws of science stop him. On those rare occasions when Dara Singh takes a break from wrestling, there are loads of fab songs by Usha Khanna.
It’s a long but engaging interplanetary caper complete with super special effects. Well done to Neo Filmo Crafts (credited with the set properties) and the design team! And yes, there will be lots of screencaps.

I saw this on an unsubtitled VCD so I have made up a lot of the story but I do not feel a void where the details were missed. I wish there had been a void where the ‘Friends’ logo obscured much of the picture.

Trip to Moon_eminent scientistTrip to Moon_Padma

Eminent scientist fellow (S Nazir I think) leaves the top secret research tent to follow a bright light – clearly a torch in someone’s hand as they run behind the papier mache rocks. He is taken aback when a vampy lady appears and sings a typical filmi nightclub song, and also surprised when she transforms into Padma Khanna as a moon girl with a ray gun. There is a nice touch of Marvin the Martian at Christmas about her outfit. He is abducted in a cardboard spaceship and never seen again.
In response, the government calls on their best agent – Captain Anand (Dara Singh). You know he is the best man for the job because he wanders around the office wearing this:

Trip to Moon_Anand at the office
After thoughtfully going home to tell his Ma he is off to space on a mission, he and unfortunate comic sidekick Bhagu (Master Bhagwan) arrive at their own cardboard spaceship only to find moon men trying to sabotage it – by pushing it over. The fight begins like this:

Trip to Moon_at the rocket site
And ends like this:

Trip to Moon_after the fight
And that establishes an enduring costuming theme.
Anand and Bhagu are taken to the Moon (where they were going anyway) as prisoners.

Trip to Moon_its a trapTrip to Moon_Barahatu and the balcony of destruction

They pass by another planetary base (maybe Mars) where Barahatu (Anwar Hussain) fires missiles from his balcony. Fancy flying – hard when you’re piloting something as aerodynamic as a cupcake- sees the ship safely to the moon where Anand meets Shimoga (Ratna).

Trip to Moon_Ratna and balloon treesTrip to Moon_matching outfits 1

The moon has balloon trees! After a bit of slow motion moonwalk (the Neil Armstrong kind), the locals put special anti-comedy soles on the Earthmen’s boots and they can walk normally.
Anand and Bhagu are jailed and forced to wear matching romper suits.

Trip to Moon_Shimoga visits the prisonersTrip to Moon_Space gorilla

Shimoga visits Anand in jail but he refuses to cooperate. After a tribunal hearing of some sort, Anand is sentenced to trial by Space Gorilla Wrestling, followed by being dragged by (space) horses. Of course Anand wins, and Princess Shimoga is delighted.
It turns out Barahatu wants to marry Shimoga and is at war with the Moon people. Space becomes just a backdrop for a standard two guys fighting over a girl story. There is also a fair amount of moon lady interest in Captain Anand and they are not shy about showing their mettle.

Trip to Moon_Dance offTrip to Moon_dance off 2

Dance offs including that thing where they make a portrait with their feet!

Trip to Moon_Duel

DUELS!

There is double crossing, slapstick, jetpacks, kidnapping, guys in animal suits, more kidnapping, robots and fights galore. People casually hop in and out of rockets and nip across space with no more effort than catching a taxi. It all plays out as you would expect although not always exactly as logic might dictate.

Trip to Moon_matching outfits 2Trip to Moon_Dara and Padma
Among many highlights, Dara wears some fetching outfits. He has many many many wrestling scenes.

Trip to Moon_space rhinoTrip to Moon_robot
Some are more surprising than others.

Trip to Moon_Barahatu and Shimoga
Barahatu is not totally evil. He seems to want Shimoga to like him, or at least accept marriage (I think). Unfortunately he takes advice from Master Bhagwan( in a duplicate role as Barahatu’s comedy sidekick) so success is not likely. He gets Helen in to do the twist, in a mistaken belief that what gets him in the mood will work on her.

Trip to Moon_photo1Trip to Moon_photo2
And I enjoyed this photoshop effort when Barahatu was having a tantrum over Anand and Shimoga getting cosy.

Trip to Moon_Shimoga and AnandTrip to Moon_space dance

The lovely Shimoga (Ratna) also has lots of fetching outfits and makes the most of the fab Usha Khanna soundtrack. Shimoga is a determined young lady so she doesn’t just sit around waiting to be rescued. She goes after Anand and I think points out that if he marries her he can ensure peace between worlds, but whatever.

Trip to Moon_SimiTrip to Moon_bad girl
Padma Khanna is lots of fun as Simi, the scheming sidekick to Barahatu. She seems keen on Anand and wants to help Barahatu get Shimoga so she can swoop on the lone earth man. I may have made that up but she did seem to take extra care when drugging him unconscious. She kidnapped Anand’s mother and sister so that may have hurt her prospects. But really – her ‘disguise’ screamed bad girl so Ma should have been suspicious.

Trip to Moon_Palki and her menagerie

She shares a lot of scenes with Palki (Kanchanamala). Poor Palki ends up married to Bhagu and is instrumental in saving the world. It’s tough being a female sidekick in space, even if you do get to keep a zoo in your bathroom (or at least a lion and a leopard). She and Simi have a knock down drag out scrag fight in a pivotal scene. They really tried to get wrestling in as much as possible.

Trip to Moon_Master BhagwanTrip to Moon_Bhagu
Bhagu gets silly hats and a comedy song with excellent outfits. Master Bhagwan is fairly amusing but the slapstick was repetitive and the film is already a bit too long. But I liked that he and Anand depended on each other and he helped more than he hindered.
The Moon King gets some great outfits too.

Trip to Moon_KingTrip to Moon_King in his club clothes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The set design is charming in that almost everything looks like it was designed to be in another film –a nightclub, a grand house, a castle dungeon, an office chair – but they tried very hard to ‘space’ it up. I really loved Anand’s secret space hideout.

Trip to Moon_Moon rocket baseTrip to Moon_control roomTrip to Moon_the ships controlsTrip to Moon_technology 2Trip to Moon_technologyTrip to Moon_secret hideout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Moon is highly entertaining even if the fights are repetitive. T.P Sundaram gave Dara Singh a range of wrestling scenarios and wasn’t stingy with the song and dance either. If you enjoy films with likeable characters, good music, a dedicated hat department and lots of miniature spaceships and buildings, this is for you! 3 stars!

Trip to Moon_happy ending

Chori Mera Kaam

A child is kidnapped, only to see the criminal Amarchand (Anwar Hussain) stymied by Inspector Kumar (Policeman PRAN!). Kidnapping was clearly Amarchand’s go to plan as before long, Inspector Kumar’s eldest son is also abducted. This tactic fails, as Pran announces he would sacrifice all of his children, not just one, to bring a crook to justice.

Oh dear, such a promise made to the filmi forces of fate can only mean bad news. Things happen, as they do, especially when guns, alcohol and revenge are involved. Young Munna is abducted, rescued, caught, menaced, rescued, abducted again and finally taken in by a thief called Mr John (David Abraham).

Years pass and Munna becomes Bholanath (Shashi Kapoor).

He leaves jail after a delivering a ‘fortunately/unfortunately’ style monologue that exercises his range of facial and vocal expressions. His on/off girlfriend Sharmilee (Zeenat Aman) gets out at the same time and this delightful Kalyanji Anandji song gives us a fly on the wall view of their daily rounds:

While Bhola has a heart of gold he isn’t the brightest crayon in the box, and gets by on charm more than planning. He understands people and can take advantage of their weakness and stupidity but he doesn’t ever seem to think too far ahead. Bhola has many of the traits of a stock filmi heroine and Shashi seems quite unselfconscious about playing dim and pretty. And yes, Shashi naysayers, I do think he was acting. He could have been dressed prettier though – the brown highpants are not good especially with the Kapoor thighs.

Sharmilee is smart and more practical, despite her predilection for ruffly outfits, and I never expected to see Zeenat stealing a chicken so that was noteworthy. Sharmilee has a sick father that she supports through her petty crimes, and she explains to him that her work is what takes her away. I liked this slight role reversal where the lady gets to come and go, citing ‘work’ and her responsibility as breadwinner. It isn’t a sustained element as she does get sidelined towards the finale, but it is fun to see the girl in charge for a while and Zeenat suits this kind of role. She directs Bhola during a break in and seems to coach him in what he needs to do to carry off a con.

Shashi and Zeenat have nice chemistry as the likeable criminals. They play out their scams with relish, and bounce dialogue back and forth with dash and enthusiasm. They also have some great outfits and Shashi scores some excellent shirts.

Escaping from the police after an attempted burglary, Bhola and Sharmilee make off with a briefcase which contains a manuscript called ‘Chori Mera Kaam’. They are spotted by the mysterious Shankar (Ashok Kumar), who has a history with Mr John and unbeknownst to Bhola, was instrumental in his early life. He also seems to be beloved by the wig department.

The obligatory comic relief  in this case is a protracted and very amusing scam involving Sharmilee being allegedly hit by a car ad killed. Pravinbhai (Deven Varma), the unfortunate driver is conned into paying compensation and digging a grave at the ruins near Borivili. By coincidence this is where Shankar hangs around. By an even more fortuitous coincidence, Pravin owns a publishing house.

Bhola becomes an overnight sensation, his illiteracy and lack of nous covered up by Shankar who blackmails Bhola and Sharmilee for a share of the proceeds. This manual on how to commit the perfect crime draws the attention of villains and the police. Amarchand aka arch-criminal Number 7 wants to find a mask maker as per page 165 of ‘Chori Mera Kaam’ so he can carry out even more heinous crimes. I love that the police seem totally mystified by how people keep getting away with crimes described in the book, although they also read it so surely they should be prepared. Number 7 does have an expensive looking lair to maintain, right down to the essential stuffed tiger, so I can imagine his cashflow was under some pressure.

And then the plot thickens.

There are cross and double cross manoeuvres, silly disguises and improbable schemes. So it’s all great fun but there is a pinch of substance. The film favours the ‘good’ criminals – those who steal because they are poor, have dependants and have no other means of making a livingl. These are the sympathetic and sentimentally appealing characters. Writer K A Narayan makes some observations about the hypocrisy of the wealthy educated criminal like Amarchand who has no such excuse for his choices.

Iftekhar as the Police Commissioner looks like he turned up on the wrong set but was too polite to just leave so stayed on and did his bit. I liked Ashok Kumar as a paunchy middle aged hero – he was smart, capable and took to the wigs with great enthusiasm.  Shetty made a flamboyant purple suited appearance so it was clear Number 7 had opted for the very best class of henchman. Raza Murad played Shyam, Pran’s policeman son, and didn’t get much to do apart from being a lot taller than anyone in his family. Urmila Bhatt’s small role as Amarchand’s independent and dignified wife was quite pivotal, and only once in her scenes did I yell ‘nooooooooo’ at the DVD.

Eventually Bhola finds out the truth about his parentage. His biological father and brother need help to clear their names and bring Amarchand to justice, and it’s a chance for the petty crim to change his fate. The final confrontation must have given director Brij food for thought – it involves Shashi, Ashok and Pran in disguise, rain, lots of mud, a tiger and a bucket.

You may imagine how these things combine to form a wacky but satisfying conclusion, or just go watch the film. 3 stars!