Mera Saaya (1966)

Mera Saaya-title

Raj Khosla directs Sunil Dutt and Sadhana in a courtroom procedural with a bit of a twist. Despite the melodramatic conceit at the centre of the plot, this is a sensible and well plotted film that is very satisfying.

Geeta (Sadhana) is lying ill in a very ornate room. The doctor sends a cable for her husband Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt) to come home immediately as the prognosis is poor. The Thakur arrives home – he puts his head down and power walks past the other passengers, urgency in every step. He opens the car door before it even stops. But it is too late and Geeta expires in his arms.

Rakesh mourns, sunk in grief, listening to ‘their song’ – Mera Saaya (My Shadow). Nothing seems to reach him. Until the inspector shows him a photo of a suspected female bandit who is the very image of Geeta.

The woman claims to be Geeta, which of course the Thakur rejects. But she seems to know so much, and looks so much like his recently deceased wife. When she goes on trial, her only defense is that she is Geeta not Raina the bandit, so the judge gives her some leeway to prove her identity. Since her husband is a famous lawyer, she wants him to represent her. But as he is a witness for the prosecution, instead she decides to defend herself and has him called as a witness.

How could she know so much about him? And about Geeta for that matter? And she looks so much like Geeta that he cannot help but feel drawn to her. The words of their shadow song have extra meaning for Rakesh now he is seeing the image of his wife everywhere, in memories, dreams, and in the dock. But who is she? And is she really a killer?

The servant, Sargam (the minxy Kumud Bole), seems to be up to something. And an old lady got arrested so she could pass a note in jail to Raina (and then ate the evidence). There are stories within stories and the evidence seems to point first one way then the other. I often find filmi law a bit unconvincing but the arguments within Mera Saaya are fairly logical. The avuncular judge (Jagdish Sethi) is a genial man. He is interested in a fair hearing for all rather than pushing a predetermined agenda, so he encourages the questions and reminds witnesses of their obligations. The dialogues have the ring of truth and the questions and revelations fall out so that the plot complications are developed and resolved in a sequence that helps reinforce the central question as well as hinting at the solution. There are questions I might have asked in addition to the ones in the script, but not many that I wouldn’t have thought relevant. Plus, you just can’t argue with a Significant Mole.

Sunil Dutt is quietly compelling as Rakesh. He desperately wants a reason to believe his wife still lives, but is a rational man and knows he cremated her. There are flashbacks of Rakesh and Geeta together, their happiness juxtaposed with the dreary days of waking alone. Even in the most confrontational moments in court Rakesh acts with his integrity and tells the truth though it might undermine his own position that the woman is an impostor. Dutt and Sadhana are warm and physically demonstrative in the flashback scenes. Rakesh’s loss and anger at the sheer presumption of this woman taking his wife’s name are born out of an equally passionate grief, and Dutt delivered with restraint. It’s a lovely, intelligent performance.

Sadhana plays her double role with gusto. Geeta is the sweet and dutiful wife, but she has personality and a cheeky streak. Raina is suspected of being in league with the local bandit gang leader. Nothing about her story makes much sense, but when Raina is trying to persuade Rakesh that she is his Geeta her desperation seems genuine. Both characters have enough similarities that Rakesh cannot outright say that Raina is nothing like his wife. But there are a few things that don’t add up and Sadhana’s expressions convey that there might be something dubious going on. Like her co-star, she focusses on delivering a balanced and believable characterisation that helps sustain the mystery.

As befits the story, this is not a movie chock full of big item numbers but the soundtrack has plenty to offer. The songs range from romantic ballads to more boisterous fare.

It was quite handy that Raina had a dark past as a dancer (and a good use for Asha Bhosle’s flirty upbeat vocals). The songs are often used to amplify the characters emotions, like giving Rakesh a glimpse of his happy past before the present crashes back in.

The support cast is generally excellent. I really liked the scenes between the police inspector (Anwar Hussain), the family doctor (Shivraj) and the prosecutor (K.N Singh) as they would sit around in the evenings and talk about the case, what they thought would happen, and how Rakesh was bearing up. They were gossipy, opinionated and yet pragmatic. Bankeji (Dhumal) and Munshiji (Mukri) are the comedy sidekicks – less entertaining although I was mildly taken aback by the casual references to Bankeji’s opium use. Ratnamala is warm and caring but quite ineffectual as the aunt. And while I am trying to avoid spoilers, Prem Chopra has a small role so you can guess who one of the bad guys is.

Partly filmed on location at the Lake Palace, Udaipur, this is a beautiful looking film. Sunil Dutt and Sadhana bring their characters to life and give a solid emotional core to the story.  Plus there is a lovely lush soundtrack by Madan Mohan with the golden trio of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi lending their vocals. 4 ½ stars!

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!

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


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