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