China Town (1962)

Chinatown

Shakti Samanta is responsible for many of my favourite Hindi films, and China Town is another one to add to the list. Not only does it have Shammi Kapoor in a double role, but as an added bonus Helen appears as one of the two heroines, and she dances in two songs – awesome! Shakti Samanta heads to Calcutta and the seedy opium dens of Chinatown to deliver a crime drama with plenty of masala seasoning. It’s the story of a gangster whose buffoonish lookalike becomes involved in a police plot to uncover the shadowy figure behind the Chinatown drug trade. If that sounds familiar, Salim-Javed were supposedly inspired by China Town when they came up with the plot for Don and the set-up is certainly very similar. However there are fewer twists and a lower body count in China Town, and the end is quite different. This has fewer noir elements than Samanta’s earlier Howrah Bridge but it does edge into the genre, and even though the outcome is fairly predictable, the journey to get there is well worth taking.

The film opens with the title track and features Helen in a wonderful dress covered with dragons. Chinatown gangster Mike (Shammi Kapoor) is introduced in the bath (!) and has a wonderful laconic style as he explains that the world will order itself to accommodate Mike, not the other way around. With such ishtyle, it’s not really surprising then that dancer Suzi (Helen) is in love with Mike, despite the callous treatment she receives at his hands.

Mike works for Mr Wong (Madan Puri), the owner of a hotel in Chinatown that acts as the front for a number of criminal activities, but chiefly the gang run an opium den and deal in drugs. Mike is spotted making his dodgy deals by the indomitable Inspector Dutta (Kanu Roy) and in the course of the ensuing car chase Mike is hurt and brought back to the police station by Inspector Dutta. However Mike proves to be a tough nut to crack and none of Inspector Dutta’s interrogation techniques manage to force him to reveal the other members of the gang, or who is controlling their activities. Fortuitously for Inspector Dutta, Rai Bahadur Digamberprasad Rai (S.N. Bannerjee) comes to the police station to make a complaint about bar singer Shekhar (Shammi Kapoor) who has followed his daughter Rita (Shakila) to Calcutta. Shekhar just happens to be the spitting image of Mike, and Inspector Dutta sees a way to infiltrate the gang, if he can get Shekhar to impersonate Mike.

Shekhar is the antitheses of Mike. He lives with his mother (Jeevan Kala) in Calcutta and spends his time singing, chasing after Rita and avoiding her father who is less than impressed with Shekhar. Shekhar is carefree and careless, and Shammi is excellent as the crazy and impulsive singer who will do anything for love.  Here he is serenading Rita, who doesn’t seem too impressed by his moves here at all!

Rai Bahadur on the other hand will do almost anything to keep Shekar away from his daughter, and when you consider Shekar’s antics as he dresses up as a Sadhu to follow Rita on the journey to Calcutta it’s hard to disagree when Rai Bahadur calls him a cartoon.

Despite his somewhat frivolous nature, Shekhar allows himself to be persuaded to work for the police, and undergoes extensive training to impersonate Mike. He successfully infiltrates the gang and starts to pass information back to Inspector Dutta, but before he can find out who’s the boss behind the scenes, Shekhar’s mother arrives in town. She soon reveals that it’s not a coincidence that Shekhar looks like Mike, and soon my favourite Bollywood plot device of separated twins gets thrown into the mix. So now all Shekhar has to do is stop Rita from marrying Mr Chaudhary, convince Rai Bahadur that he is a suitable person to marry his daughter, find the head of the drug smuggling gang and save his long lost brother – no worries!

Although Shekhar fools the gang, he can’t hide his musical soul and when out delivering drugs he dances and sings along to this wonderful mujra. I love the way Shammi can’t sit still and gyrates away in the background before finally joining in with Roshan Ara.

Along with the action, as Shekhar fools Mr Wong and one by one delivers the gang members up to the police, naturally there is time for some romance. Rai Bahadur seems a very liberal father, except where Shekhar is concerned and Rita manages to meet up with Shekhar and hit the tourist spots of Calcutta. They make a lovely couple, and Shakila looks beautiful here in a couple of sweet duets. The romance is rather cute too – as in one scene where Shekhar and Rita take refuge in a hotel and pretend to be married. The owner’s wife Mahakali (a brief appearance by Tun Tun) adds a vermillion tikka which Rita then doesn’t want Shekhar to rub off later despite all her protests about the deception. Very sweet! Rita is also feisty and quite prepared to fight back when she is kidnapped by the gang, which makes her a likeable heroine and more of a partner to Shekhar.

Suzi is quite prepared to fight for her man too, and Helen is fantastic in a role that gives her the opportunity to do more than dance. However she also looks stunningly gorgeous in this song where she dances with an intoxicated Shekhar.

The location allows Samanta to use the Calcutta backdrop and Howrah Bridge to good effect, particularly in the last fight scene. Dwarka Divecha does an excellent job with the cinematography and as in previous Samanta films there is good use of light and shade to heighten the drama. The Blue Dragon hotel has plenty of hidden doorways behind fake walls and bookcases, and there is even an escape route through the sewers to add to the ambiance.

The support cast all fit their roles well; Madan Puri reprises the role of a Chinese hotel owner while M.B. Shetty is expressive as Ching Lee, one of the gang who suspects Shekhar is not really Mike. But despite good performances from all the cast, China Town is all about Shammi Kapoor, and his performance here is the reason to watch the film.

I just adore Shammi in this film. He looks fabulous and seems to relish the contrast between his two roles, keeping the two personalities quite separate throughout. Shammi even looks very different as Mike and he plays the part of a brutish and rough gangster easily without hamming it up for the camera. As Shekhar he is buffoonish but good-natured, and although he does become more sensible when working for the police, he manages to make this seem like an act and every so often reverts back to true form with some classic Shammi craziness. When there are two Shammi’s onscreen it’s just wonderful, even if the technology isn’t quite able to make the effect completely seamless. Shammi is wonderful to watch, so even if the story does become a little predictable and the ending is annoyingly contrived, it really doesn’t matter when Shammi is this good – twice over! Recommended for Helen, Shakila, good songs and shady ambiance, but overall watch this for Shammi – he’s amazing! 4 stars from me – and I’ll give the last word to Helen, because I think this is exactly what she does.

Helen!

Pistolwali (1972)

pistolwali

I often wonder how gangs of ne’er-do-wells get along before they reach the critical mass that attracts a hero to sort them out, and what it is that they do all day. Pistolwali doesn’t answer the first of those questions, but it does provide plenty to look at as you ponder whether what they do all day is make their own outfits and fight over the dress-up box.

K.S.R Doss’ Pilla? Piduga? was either dubbed or partially reshot in Hindi as Pistolwali. Both (unsubtitled) films are on YouTube so choose your poison. I have chosen to use the Hindi version as some actors and both Helen and Jayshree T appeared to be speaking Hindi and this film is all about the authenticity…Plus I understood more of the dialogue even if I couldn’t read the significant clue written in blood.

Like so many other Telugu cowboy themed revenge films, this one is set in a time and place that exists only in Telugu cowboy themed revenge films.The movie opens with Raaka (Satyanarayana Kaikala) and his gang attempting a train heist. A brightly clad cowboy (Ramakrishna as Amar) puts them out of business from his perch in a convenient tree. It’s cowboys vs cowboys and hat colour is not a reliable indicator of anything.

Maybe if we saw the floral sunhats being stolen from helpless old aunties it might be suitably Bad, but instead it just looked like a job lot guaranteed to brighten up every occasion. And there was that one guy who just painted his scalp silver. Reeka (Prabhakar Reddy) seems to have fewer marbles and fewer outfits than Raaka. He throws childish tantrums that quickly escalate into homicidal rampages. And that is the nicest thing I could say about him.

“South Bombshell” (according to the poster) Jyothilaxmi is Neelu. She is first seen cavorting in a daring swimsuit but later changes into equally fashion forward pantsuits. The villains go too far when they steal from the temple, and Neelu sets off in pursuit. She swaggers, shoots and curses like a hero rather than a heroine relying on womanly wiles, and generally she rescues herself. Jyotilaxmi wears some abbreviated costumes and gets a big dance number, but Neelu isn’t a girly girl. Neelu gets roughed up by her adversaries but how to say this… they don’t get rapey and creepy with her despite the allure of her midriff. She is a foe and they deal with her as a threat, not as a plaything. She is tough cookie and I suspect it would take a bit to outrage her modesty in any case. When Helen gives it her all in Hoga Sa Hoga, Neelu fills the time honoured role of hero looking like they’d rather be elsewhere. Although that may also be professional item girl rivalry.  Neelu has her own ideas and just goes and does her thing. Even if that includes falling through a trapdoor and wrestling a (sight impaired) tiger.  And she has a straightforward approach to relationships.

Pistolwali-Graceful

I am not sure it was desire for authenticity or just directorial cruelty that had her struggling to get on and off horses, but it looked like Jyotilaxmi did a lot of her own action scenes.

The viewer learns that Raaka is Neelu’s biological father long before she does.  Raaka raped Lakshmi and left her for dead before also maiming his friend and rival for Lakshmi’s love. She fell pregnant as a result and she and the baby were taken in by her now one-legged true love who seemed to think it was the right thing to do. He may have been grooming Neelu for vengeance as well, but he seemed like an affectionate and over indulgent filmi Daddy. Neelu was none the wiser about her parentage until quite late in the film. That might all sound a bit progressive so let me assure you that the way it was revealed to her made me deduct a lot of the good parenting brownie points.

Ramakrishna is technically the hero but Neelu overshadows Amar in all respects. He does an OK job and he doesn’t get in her way, but apart from some excellent outfits he achieves little of note. Although I did giggle at his inept dealings with the ladies. On the subject of costumes, it looks as though each main character was issued with one distinctive pair of boots and they pretty much wear them throughout. Raaka’s boots were particularly special and Satyanarayana Kaikala was suitably over the top to match. And the outfits did help a little with identifying characters in the many and varied fights and action scenes. K.S.Madhavan threw everything and the kitchen sink into the stunts. However I have to say that the plot is quite cohesive and to an extent, I would almost say logical.

The background music is a brilliant mish-mash of fuzzy surf rock and funky Hammond organ with classic cowboy guitar strumming and the odd slide whistle. The song set pieces are unashamedly random and the film has an embarrassment of item girls that all get a guernsey in featured numbers.

Jayshree T is always so perky, I love watching her dance. She always seems to wear more hair than clothes but I never see her as really skanky.

 

Helen and her creepy blue contact lenses appeared in a nightclub song and Jyotilaxmi got a dance in a fabulous Fauxgyptian inspired village set with what may be happy go lucky tribal cannibals. The camera is often at crotch level which is a bit confronting. But to be fair, the camera wasn’t just upskirting the ladies. Once seen, never unseen.

This is one of my favourite heroine-centric B movies from 1972 and Jyothilaxmi is perfect as the righteous gunslinger. See it if you have ever harboured thoughts of wearing a fur trimmed vest with fringed pants but weren’t sure how to accessorise, or if you want a primer on tiger wrestling for the modern lady. 3 stars!

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.