Geeta Mera Naam

Geeta-mera-naam

Sadhana’s Geeta Mera Naam is masala with an added dimension of weird.  The cast includes Sadhana, Sunil Dutt and Feroz Khan; all veteran stars with a diverse portfolio of work. Add in the usual suspects like Helen, Rajendranath, Keshto Mukherjee and even Jr Mehmood and you’ve got the ingredients for entertaining excess at your fingertips.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-monkey 1

Widowed Ma Saraswati (Achala Sachdev) takes her four children to the fair. Experienced masala watchers know that any visit to any amusement with a child is bound to end in tears and separation. Bandits raid the fair, as they do, and in the ensuing mayhem Saraswati keeps hold of Geeta but loses her twin Kavita. The boys are swept away before their matching tattoos could be completed, leaving Chandu with half a monkey on his forearm. If only some people had worn short sleeves in key scenes. Suraj is taken by the bandit leader as a replacement for his dead son while his brother is adopted locally. Years pass. Geeta (Sadhana) is a petty criminal, in and out of the cells at the police station run by her(unknown to either of them) long lost brother Inspector Chandu (Ramesh Deo). Kavita, now called Nita (also Sadhana), is a nice girl who teaches orphans in her spare time.  Nita’s adoptive parents sell her to Mohanbabu who wants her for a few months, or until he loses interest. Then they can sell her again. As she fights to escape someone kills Mohan. Nita sees a shadowy figure in a hat but the police charge her with the murder. And what of Suraj? Now called Johny (Sunil Dutt) he is a successful smuggler with a gang and a pretty good lair and a masala death trap and … a man called Sheroo who whips him, and a toy monkey, his memento of that day at the fair. Johny’s best friend (other than the monkey) and lieutenant is Raja (Feroz Khan), equally ruthless and pragmatic about the business at hand but with more of an eye for the ladies.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-NitaGeeta-Mera-Naam-Geeta

Sadhana didn’t exactly challenge herself with a double role as Nita, the good twin, is only seen for a short time and Geeta does all the heavy lifting. But Geeta is a great character. Feminine but independent and strong, she insists on being seen as an individual not someone who answers to “hey girl”. Sadhana’s clothes as Geeta were quite mid 70s frumpy and not what I expected from such a fashion icon. Geeta discovers her sister Nita in jail and decides to find the real killer. Learning that Johny did the deed, she infiltrates the gang through Raja.

Geeta uses her fearless attitude, kickarse fighting skills and feminine charms to gain his interest and for some reason, her feelings are also engaged, making vengeance a little more complicated.

Sadhana is a very capable actress but I found her direction more interesting than her performance. The film is a bit darker and more low key than the average masala flick, and there is an undercurrent of violence and power. Johny kills with tear filled eyes, then atones for his murders by having Sheroo flog him as penance. He is obsessed with rules and justice and blood in the sense of blood ties. Blood doesn’t recognise blood, but people do recognise their long lost identical twins and significant tattoos and remember where they were lost, all of which is handy. Geeta uses sex or at least the promise of sex to lure men but she has right on her side. She takes a strong stand against Johny partly to save her sister but also because she just doesn’t believe in his rules and why Raja feels bound by them. And his bad jokes should not be encouraged. I’m used to the first view of the heroine being restricted to various body parts, but Sadhana tries to level that playing field by having Sunil Dutt’s butt be his introduction.  Common masala themes of redemption, family, moral righteousness and the law are explored through characters struggles and insights. The standard masala requirements of separated siblings, elaborate death traps, convoluted revenge and audacious yet pointless criminal gangs are all present and accounted for.

Feroz Khan, or Fur-Roz as I mentally called him throughout, plays Raja with minimal facial expression but maximum wardrobe impact. I think there was some kind of battle raging in the costume department as he spends about half the film shirtless and the remaining half in puffy shirts. Raja is Johny’s most loyal friend but of course, once you add in such elements as a gold heist and Helen as the woman scorned, things get tricky. I’m not a fan of Feroz the actor but he did make some interesting films even if I am not always completely on board. Raja is not a very developed character but he does have presence and it is easy to believe in his authority within the gang.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-tormentGeeta-Mera-Naam-Sheroo at work

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Johny and gangGeeta-Mera-Naam-insight

Sunil Dutt turns in a solid performance although I would not say it is his finest moment. His portrayal of Johny is over the top but he does give a sense of the troubled person under the trappings of villainy (and the pleather outfits).

Geeta-Mera-Naam-jokesGeeta-Mera-Naam-lairHe and Feroz are in a race to see who can get their teeth into most of the scenery first but considering Johny disposes of disappointing employees by turning them into his own version of Madame Tussauds, realism was never on the cards. I did like that he didn’t play Johny as obviously crazy.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-evil laughGeeta-Mera-Naam-a cunning planDespite the occasional evil laugh, the peculiar behaviour was shown in a matter of fact way, so Johny seemed like a credible threat. He was capable of friendship despite his inner demons. Sure, the gang must have had rules about things like “Never mention the monkey” and “Don’t ask Sheroo where he buys his corsets”.

The background score is fantastic and I loved the punchy brassy tracks as well as the forays into surf rock and swing. Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s  featured songs are far less interesting although they do further the narrative somewhat. Helen plays Raja’s girlfriend and finds herself dumped for Geeta. She gets one big dance number, the incredibly strange and eyeball searing Mujhe Maar Dala. Geeta intends to sacrifice herself to save Raja who wants to save Geeta as Helen gleefully gyrates in a bubble filled water feature with Oscar, singing about pain, suffering and love.

Poor Oscar. A flesh coloured onesie is difficult for anyone to carry off, and the black belt doesn’t have the slimming effect that may have been intended.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Helen and OscarGeeta-Mera-Naam-teeth

And I’d like to give Helen a special acting award for the bit where she unzipped Raja’s jacket with her teeth. There was not a flicker of expression on her face to indicate how traumatic it must have been as his fuzzy torso was revealed.

Johny’s lair is part suburban living room, part gallery and part obstacle course.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Feroz and SunilGeeta-Mera-Naam-the other cat wall hangingThe famous Cat Wall Hanging appears. Raja’s apartment is the height of 70s bachelor style, complete with round rotating bed. Johny ends up with a cast of thousands in his relatively modest abode for the grand finish.

Geeta-Mera-Naam-carpet

I was amused to see some carpet placed over sections of the tiled floor and wondered if it was due to health and safety concerns for the actors, or reflected Johny’s experience of having to get bloodstains off the marble.

This is unlike most other 70s masala in terms of the psychology of the characters and the prominence of the women within the story. Sadhana chose Geeta Mera Naam as both her comeback and a farewell, wanting to go out as a memorable heroine.  I wish she had directed more films as this is highly entertaining and all the elements are well balanced.  3 ½ stars!

Geeta-Mera-Naam-Mayhem

Kalicharan (1976)

Kalicharan poster

Kalicharan is a modest film in many respects. Subhash Ghai directed with masala verve while Jainendra Jain wrote a fairly staid screenplay, sometimes seemingly at odds with each other. Relying more on the cast than on gimmickry, there are still some surprises.

Prabhakar (Shatrughan Sinha) is an outstanding policeman on the trail of a mysterious crimelord. He deduces that the man known as Lion is none other than respectable businessman Din Dayal (Ajit), a close friend of his boss and father figure I.G. Khanna (Prem Nath).  Prabhakar is ambushed and has a serious car accident, which eventually kills him, but not before he leaves a cryptic note. I.G. Khanna is mourning the loss of his protégé and wondering how to break the news to his own daughter Anju (Alka) who saw Prabhakar as a brother. Then there is the question of Prabhakar’s kids, Pinky and Chinky (Master Bittoo and some other kid). Fate brings retired jailer David (David Abraham) into the picture. He recognises the corpse of Prabhakar as his prisoner Kalicharan. So I.G. Khanna does the only sensible thing. He gets Kalicharan released from jail, takes him to Simla and tries to train him to act as Prabhakar. Of course Kalicharan had his own troubled past, but in true masala style, all paths lead to Lion.

Kalicharan-the denKalicharan-its a tiger Lion

Well they might have lead to Lion a lot sooner if Lion could consistently tell the difference between a lion and a tiger as a decorative motif.

Shatrughan Sinha has the power to out-ham almost any other actor in almost every film he has made. I have an equally amazing power, that of being able to forget Shotgun is in almost any film. I love Aa Gale Lag Ja and Kaala Patthar and yet am always mildly surprised when he turns up. Anyway. He plays both Prabhakar and Kalicharan with bluster and supreme self-confidence.

There is little to distinguish between the two characters other than the dialogue they utter and he makes minimal efforts to differentiate them (a grimace here, a furrowed brow there). I was more impressed by his costumes. Some appeared to have been provided by the upholstery department.

Kalicharan-David and Prem Nath

Prem Nath was that rare man who out-hammed Shotgun in this instance. Almost all of his dialogue is delivered as a shout, and if there was an award for Most Enthusiastic Cursing, he would romp it in for his use of “BASTAAAAAARD!”. He was also ambushed by the wardrobe team a couple of times but it’s not like there was any subtlety being smothered by his outfits.

Reena Roy’s Sapna is an educated girl who swears profusely and decides to take revenge for her brother’s death. Sapna just gets on with things. Including this dance which she invited Prabhakar/Kalicharan to attend as it might give him more hope for his life and make him less depressed.

The wardrobe department seemed to be fascinated by Sapna and tried out many looks, not all of them successful.

Kalicharan-Sapna as a bad girl

I was amused by her undercover bad gal attire. But Reena Roy managed to overcome the fabric based challenges and her performance is both well-constructed and masala appropriate.

Kalicharan-more outfits

She is generally good even in a terrible film, and makes the most of the opportunities to expand her character beyond the standard dialogues.

Kalicharan-Alka

Alka was less memorable as Anju, the saree wearing good girl and sister figure, but she was more of a plot device than a character.  She called on Kalicharan’s humanity when I.G. Khanna was more intent on curbing the criminals’ baser instincts. Oh the transformative power of tying a rakhee!

Kalicharan-Danny DenzongpaKalicharan-one legged Trishul fight

Danny Denzongpa has a small role as a one legged bootlegger, Shaka. I love Danny as a villain with heart of gold. Plus seeing him hop around trying to stab Shotgun with a trishul was quite fabulous. Kalicharan was such a manly man’s man that to level the playing field he also fought on one leg.

Kalicharan-Danny and Shotgun

That is the stuff masala bromance is made of.

Kalicharan-ShettyKalicharan-Shetty and co

Shetty is the stuff masala villainy is made of, and this role is one of many cookie cutter bad guys he played so effortlessly. He is at the start and finish of Kalicharan’s life of crime, the career goon who will do anything without qualm. Of course, Shetty also provided Shotgun with a tragic back story as his motivation for going off the rails.

Ajit is suave and slimy as the urbane mastermind with an excess of phones and a deficit of scruples. I’m not sure the fluffy dog says “Evil Mastermind” but he seemed interested in proceedings. Din Dayal/Lion remains in the background for most of the film, but rapidly loses his cool as Kalicharan draws closer. I’ve seen his tiger strewn den before in Fakira and maybe something else.

Kalyanji-Anandji provided the soundtrack and the background score is great. Brassy, dramatic and a bit funky, the music lopes along and lifts the energy of the action scenes.

But of all the things I was expecting in the club item, Father Christmas was not one. The other songs are less successful but I blame some of that on the lyricist who decided that what we needed was lots of “lalalala’s” a few ‘OoohAaaahOOoohAaahhh” choruses and a repetitive “KALicharan KaaaalicharAN KalicharAN” vocal.

The action is directed in a fast and pacey style while Shotgun’s delivery is ponderous and he may as well have been carrying a sign that said ‘Look at me!’. But you need a certain amount of swagger to carry off this sort of role, and its knitwear, and he has that. There is an excellent transformation scene when Kalicharan first dons the police tunic. He twirls around, standing on what I picture to be a lazy susan, as I.G. Khanna looks on admiringly. And that is about it for special effects in this film. The compulsory fight in a godown full of things stacked up only to be knocked over is very entertaining. And there are clues hidden in books. A nice low tech solution to criminal communications.

Good masala films often reflect on social issues and personal integrity and while I don’t think this is a great film, Kalicharan also examines some big ideas. Redemption is a theme – from the titular hero’s transformation to smaller decisions made by the likes of Shaka. Sapna’s brother was killed for dobbing on Lion but his friend eventually tipped off the good guys in return. Respect and responsibility were often mentioned as things required in order to live a decent life. Kalicharan was a kind of Pygmalion as Khanna and David argued over whether a criminal could be reformed.

Most masala films also rely on needlessly elaborate schemes. Din Dayal hires a mute assassin with theatrical flair (who I think is in a few Telugu films as a baddie too) to go after Kalicharan. Shetty has an array of backup plans that require, say, a train to destroy a warehouse when a bomb is just not destructive enough. And a bit more communication and a lot less manly man brooding would probably have resolved things a bit sooner. But everyday common sense is not what I watch these films for. I did like the insistence that people have responsibilities as well as rights and that not everyone is a lost cause.

If you have low Shotgun tolerance, this is not for you. But if you like him or at least don’t break out into hives at his appearance, then give it a whirl. Reena Roy is delightful as usual. Subhash Ghai trots out some classic filmi moments, and had the good sense to include Helen and lots of balloons. 3 stars!

Agent Vinod (1977)

Agent Vinod

Aaah, the seventies!

A time of flares, large floppy hats, the always delightful Helen, and wonderfully cheesy Bollywood.

Agent VinodAgent VinodAgent VinodHelen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A time when Mahendra Sandhu played the original Agent Vinod, long before Saif Ali Khan donned the same nom de guerre and secret agent mantle.  And did it with much more flair (and flares)!  Agent Vinod draws heavily on the 007 franchise, even including a sidekick by the name of James Bond, but despite its derivative nature it’s still lots of fun with plenty of gadgets, glamorous women, car chases and the obligatory secret hideaway.  Mahendra Sandhu is quintessentially smooth and suave as Agent Vinod, although his habit of introducing himself as ‘Agent’ Vinod does rather give his profession away.  As an added bonus there are strong female performances by Asha Sachdev, Rehana Sultan and Jayshree T, as well as the divine Helen in a role that requires more than her appearance in an item number.  Sadly I only have an un-subtitled VCD copy of this film which means I may have missed some subtleties of the plot (if there were any!), and I do apologise for the poor quality of the pictures.

Agent Vinod is a spy film, so of course there has to be an evil organisation plotting world domination of some description, and the film starts with the kidnaping of renowned scientist Mr Saxena (Nasir Hussain) by the Scorpion group. The Scorpion organisation plan to sell his secrets to the rest of the world for mega bucks, or maybe it’s to force him to create a secret formula for something that they can bottle and sell for mega bucks.

vlcsnap-2013-08-03-18h23m24s33Agent Vinod

Both seem equally plausible and maybe it’s a combination of both, but whatever the reason, Chief Scorpion Madanal (Iftekhar) and his gang of thugs find that Saxena won’t be coerced by the fear of death, but he might just be persuaded if his daughter is threatened instead.  To this end, the group sets out to kidnap Anju Saxena (Asha Sachdev) but she manages to elude her rather inept kidnappers and instead disguises herself as a taxi driver in an attempt to find her father.

Agent VinodAgent Vinod

At the same time, another secret agent Zarina (Rehana Sultan) has foiled an attempt by Madanal and his thugs to blow up a train, managing to take pictures of the main gang members before they spot her and give chase.  Zarina is an ace secret agent, and she escapes pursuit, hides the photographic film and climbs down the side of a building – all in high heels too – before she’s finally captured by the gang.  Zarina is my hero.  She escapes from Madanal not once, but twice, including by climbing up against the water being pumped into her cell to drown her – go Zarina! Her best moment comes when she uses a handy robot to beat up one of the gang members and to be honest I think she’s a much better secret agent than Vinod!

Agent VinodAgent VinodAgent VinodAgent Vinod

However, the film is titled Agent Vinod not Agent Zarina, and finally the threat to National Security means that there is only one man for the job.  Agent Vinod is recalled from his frolicking in the sun with a bevy of beautiful maidens and charged with finding Saxena and his daughter, as well as hopefully finding out what has happened to Zarina.  Finding Anju Saxena turns out to be relatively simple, although initially she suspects him of involvement in her father’s disappearance.  This leads to an excellent cat and mouse song between the two where Anju tries to get Vinod drunk to make him reveal her father’s whereabouts.

As any good secret agent knows, the key to foiling villains is a bunch of cool gadgets, so Agent Vinod picks up an assortment of disguised bombs, tracking devices, a distinctive golden gun and of course his specially modified car.  He’s also well prepared in the event of a stake-out, making sure to have his trusty flask along.  I was also impressed to see that despite the reckless nature of the car chases, Agent Vinod was careful to fasten his seat-belt before driving with reckless abandon along Indian country roads.  Note the dapper white suit too!

Agent VinodAgent VinodAgent VinodAgent Vinod

The discovery of Zarina’s resourcefully hidden photographs point Agent Vinod in the right direction although Lovelina (Helen) attempts to lead him astray, although her backing dancers might just dazzle him enough all by themselves.

Luckily for Agent Vinod, the Scorpion organisation falls into the trap of so many evil, secret gangs by requiring its agents to wear the mark of the scorpion, making them easily identifiable.  However, perhaps as compensation, the gang have cool walkie-talkie’s in the form of scorpions and they have a classic hidden lair on a remote island.  Although this isn’t as opulent as might be expected, it does feature a giant opening mouth on the wall as a rather obvious ‘spy-hole’, and there are plenty of traps and creative ‘death’ rooms to make it acceptable as an evil hide-out.

Agent VinodAgent VinodAgent VinodAgent Vinod

Agent Vinod is helped by the hapless James Bond (Jagdeep), aka Chandu who appears at odd moments with some generally vacuous slap-stick. I don’t find Jagdeep’s comedy amusing here, and the comedy scenes often seemed disjointed and out of step with the rest of the film, although part of that may be due to the lack of subtitles. However his character improves in the second half of the film when he romances the gypsy girl Jayshree T.  This also gives the film one of the best songs, when the gypsy girl and Anju team up for a comic dance to distract the gang and try to throw them off Agent Vinod’s trail.

There are yet more nods to the  James Bond films including an elaborate mirrored room on a rather small boat, and of course the identity of the shadowy figure behind the Scorpion organisation has to be revealed before Agent Vinod and Anju can sail away into the sunset. K.N.Singh makes an appearance as the Head of the Secret Service, Leena Das has a lovely dance number as one of the Scorpion agents and Pinchoo Kapoor is excellent as Vinod’s uncle/ mentor.  The cast all throw themselves into the general mayhem, with only Agent Vinod staying cool and calm throughout.  But with this selection of outfits, who can blame him for his air of suave sophistication?

Agent VinodAgent VinodAgent VinodAgent Vinod

While the writing team of Khalid Narvi and Girish have borrowed heavily from 007, the underlying story is entertaining in its own right with a solid cast who all put in credible performances.  The music by Raam Laxman is excellent and Deepak Bahry has kept everything moving along.  It’s fun, engaging and definitely worth watching even if it’s just to count the number of Bond references. I really enjoyed this Agent Vinod and wish they had made a sequel!  3 ½ stars.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati LP

Some films benefit from being firmly of the past. Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a 1969 ‘romance’ that relies on pestering and stalking to cement the main romantic pairing. Distance and the lens of ‘then’ make this less unpalatable for me than a modern film that still relies on these notions. Bhappi Sonie gathers a charming hero, a reprehensible villain, a great soundtrack, an appearance by Helen in an acting role, and a whole lot of ‘they did what?’ only in films logic, and somehow the result is fun and melodramatic.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali and Ajit

Deepali (Babita) enters and loses a beauty competition. Ajit (Prem Chopra) consoles her with a smooth line or two, and decides he might quite like a rich, pretty wife. Unfortunately for him he has a girlfriend, Sherry (Helen), who is pregnant. Nothing a short sharp shove off a cliff can’t solve, although there is time for a club number first.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Prem ChopraEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Helen

Sherry is saved by Preetam (Shashi Kapoor) and his friends. After a spot of mistaken identity Preetam also meets and falls for Deepali but she is in love with Ajit. Preetam decides to irritate her into loving him. Normally I would find this objectionable but when the alternative is Prem Chopra, I think stalking is the lesser evil. Preetam and Deepali eventually get together but fate and Ajit intervene. Multiple mothers and the whiff of incest or faux-cest add another layer of complexity. And there is more Drama and Act!Ing!  in the last 15 minutes than many films contain in their full running time.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Secrets and MasEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Preetam

The denouement is interesting. Most of the deception is justified by referring to a mother’s feelings or a woman’s duty to another woman. Even Sherry forgives Ajit because, you know, that’s what women are meant to do. Sigh. No one seems overly concerned with common sense or with the fallout from their decisions. Rama and Kaushaliya did what they did because of their superior sensitivity and feminine intuition and are beyond criticism. Just as well Preetam was a bit of an airhead and unlikely to sustain lasting damage.  But I did appreciate the explicit endorsement of the mother who raised a child being as much a mother as the one who gave birth to the child.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-unimpressedEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Babita and Shashi

Confession: I don’t particularly care for Babita. She is in many films I have enjoyed immensely but she is never the reason for liking a movie. Deepali is a spirited girl yet she doesn’t really do much apart from snipe at Preetam and simper at Ajit so she isn’t any more than The Heroine. I liked her forthright style when putting Preetam back in his place though Deepali doesn’t seem spiteful.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali lays it downEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-so is Babita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Preetam behaves himself she is happy enough to have a conversation or accept his help, but she is clear that her love is for Ajit. Until it isn’t. Babita’s performance is hampered somewhat by the vast amount of frosty blue eyeshadow she wears, and she was at the mercy of a vengeful yet slapdash hairdresser.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-ShashiEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-maybe not

Shashi is perfect casting for Preetam. He ranges from lovelorn swooning to silly pranks and gets more Ma drama than you can poke a stick at. Preetam struck me as a more of a manchild than a determined stalker. He just couldn’t quite see how anyone could find him resistible and also wanted to assure himself he had tried all he could to get the girl.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-mansplainingEk Shriman Ek Shrimati-Beauty and brains

That he knew nothing about her to inspire this except what she looked like is beside the point. Shashi’s charm carries a lot of the story so if you don’t buy that, the first half of the film would be a struggle. Once things get more dramatic, Shashi emotes fiercely and often hilariously, and the pace accelerates towards the final showdown.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Deepali likes to cry

An urban middle class stalker romance doesn’t immediately hint at tribal shenanigans but since almost everyone is a keen hunter, we get a bonus comedy jungle interlude.

The gorgeous Laxmi Chhaya appears as a tribal princess, and is hooked up with Preetam’s bestie, perennial bachelor Ram Bharose (the sweetly daft Rajendranath) for her troubles. The support cast is rich with excellent character actors. Om Prakash is Deepali’s uncle who seems to be more in love with Preetam than she is, Dhumal plays the king of the jungle, Sudhir and Snehlata get substantial screen time despite having little to do with the main plot, Sulochana and Kamini Kaushal play Preetam’s mothers. Babita’s father, Hari Shivdasani, has a small role as a filmi doctor too.

I love everything about that song. I really like Kalyanji-Anandji’s tongue in cheek dramatic sensibility that plays beautifully with this very filmi drama. And Shashi’s muppety style works a treat with the bouncy Western infused dance music. I also like that we see Laxmi’s transformation into a groovy city chick in that song.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Shashi and Rajendranath

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati is a dated but entertaining muddle of romance and drama. The visuals are retro and stylish without being exceptional, and the performances are on a similar scale. See it if you like the appealing cast or have an interest in filmi medical ethics and philosophy. And if you don’t like regressive attitudes to the role of women, have a drink handy and warm up your eyerolling muscles. 3 ½ stars, mostly for Shashi and Helen.

Here, have a bonus screencap of Prem Chopra with a teacosy on his head.

Ek Shriman Ek Shrimati-Prem Chopra in a teacosy

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!