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11 September 2014

The Great Gambler (1979)

Directed by: Shakti Samanta
Music: RD Burman
Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, Neetu Singh,  
Utpal Dutt, Madan Puri, Prem Chopra, 
Roopesh Kumar, Sujit Kumar
While watching Alibaba aur 40 Chor, I realised that it'd been a long time since I had immersed myself in pure masala films. It is all very well to watch and review 'good' films, but there is a certain joy in watching the masala films that Hindi cinema did so well during a certain period. So, flipping through my films, I also decided that I had ignored Amitabh Bachchan for too long. At his peak, it seemed there was nothing he could do wrong. Funnily enough, the film I chose, The Great Gambler, is a lesser-known AB film and, while it did comfortable business in Bombay, did not achieve the super success that his other films did. But the suspense thriller, with its fast-paced plot, tight screenplay, excellent production values (for the time), high-octane action, and deft direction by Shakti Samanta (he of the Shammi Kapoor and Rajesh Khanna fame), led to this film attaining cult status in following years. 

Jai (Amitabh Bachchan) is a small-time gambler, making his living off the streets of Bombay.  He is as quick with his fists as he is with cards - he can "make the cards dance at his fingertips", he says. Escaping from the police after a street fight once, he is picked up by the local crime boss, Ratan Das (Madan Puri), who also runs a casino where well-heeled customers come to lose their ill-gotten wealth. He soon convinces Jai that gambling legally is a far better option that living by his wits on the streets. 
Spiffed up to look like a high-class card sharp, Jai soon gets into the groove of relieving his customers of their excess money. One of these men is Nath (Jagdish Raj), a government employee who handles the country's atomic projects. He is on a losing streak but like most gamblers, feels that his luck will turn. Ratan Das encourages that belief by providing him with money on credit. Jai's winning hand leaves the man bankrupt and unable to repay his gambling debts. No worries, says Ratan Das. He will forgive the debt if Nath will only do him a favour. 
The military has developed a top-secret laser weapon that can destroy any ship, aeroplane or submarine within a 50-mile radius. Bring him the blueprints of the plan, and all will be forgiven. Nath is compelled to do as he is told for fear of professional suicide and personal loss of family and honour.
Ratan Das is merely the front. The real leader of the spy ring that is operating in India is Saxena (Utpal Dutt), whose trusted lieutenants, Romesh (Prem Chopra), Sethi (Roopesh Kumar) and  Marconi (Sujit Kumar) help sell the nation's secrets to enemy governments. Of course, the secrets are sent through 'top-secret' channels - through film reels of Monica's (Helen) dances. (Hey, who would suspect film reels of Helen's dances, right?) 

One such reel falls into the hands of the Crime Branch. Suspecting that the dance reels are something out of the ordinary, and hide messages that might be important to the security of the country, Verma (Om Shivpuri) delegates his best man, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan again) to investigate the matter.
In the course of his investigation, Vijay decides to take Monica in for questioning. Unfortunately, they are spotted by Sethi who decides the danger of Monica talking to the cops is too large to allow her to live. 
Monica has barely time to stutter out Sethi's name before she dies. Sethi escapes, and informs Saxena that Monica has been taken care of, but he cannot be sure that Vijay didn't catch a glimpse of him. Saxena is concerned - perhaps Sethi should go to Marconi in Rome until the matter dies down. He assures Sethi that he is grateful and will see that Sethi is rewarded well.  

As soon as Sethi is removed from his presence, however, he orders Romesh to inform Marconi to 'take care' of Sethi. The fact that Sethi has been seen is a matter of danger to all of them. 
He also asks  Romesh to find another dancer to replace Monica. Romesh is quick to offer the services of his girlfriend, Shabnam (Zeenat Aman). She is a nightclub dancer, and a very good one at that. So Shabnam is co-opted into the gang. 
Sethi, who arrives in Rome is welcomed with great delight by Marconi. But before they can get around to celebrating his arrival, Marconi is informed by Romesh that he has to get rid of Sethi. He is a danger to them. A shocked Marconi decides to take the call in another room. Sethi, no stranger to danger, eavesdrops on their conversation, and is furious at being betrayed by his own gang. 
He escapes from Marconi, and on his way out of Marconi's den, Sethi steals not only the film reel that contains the secret K2 plan,  but also the code book that the gang uses. He first calls the cops in Rome, asking them to pass a message on to their Indian counterparts - if they want to know who murdered Monica, the secret behind the dance films that are smuggled out of the country, and the names and addresses of the gang members, he will provide the answers - his price? 50,000 US dollars. 
Meanwhile, Saxena is furious at the theft and the fact that Marconi hasn't been able to trace Sethi. Two days have passed without any news. He orders Romesh to call Marconi and find out what's happening. When Romesh gets his men to call Rome, Sethi is calling the Crime Branch office as scheduled. The meeting will be in Venice, at a casino, he says. He provides the details, and also the code name for the police agent - 'Delhi friend'. (Yeah, he is not very imaginative.) And if they try any tricks, he will repeal his offer, and the blueprints will be offered to the highest bidder. Sethi also insists that the police send the officer who arrested Monica to complete the deal. 
Sethi's phone call comes in on the same wavelength as the gang's, and his call is intercepted by Romesh and Saxena. Hearing of the plan to get back the blueprints, Saxena deputises Romesh to find out who the police agent is.
Meanwhile, Ratan Das has a bigger gamble up his sleeve. His best friend, Deepchand, left India after the Partition, and settled in Lisbon. Deepchand has a nubile young daughter (Mala). The friends had planned on turning their friendship into a relationship, with Ratan Das' son marrying Mala when they were both old enough. Unfortunately, Ratan Das' son died in a plane crash several years ago. But he would still like the marriage to take place. He considers Jai no less than a son; he would like Jai to go to Lisbon and marry Mala. 
Jai is not very pleased to have his future thus summarily disposed of, but Ratan Das quickly assuages his qualms. This is a business deal - Deepchand is a very wealthy man, and Mala is his only heir. Marry Mala, and the wealth comes to Jai. It will be a 50-50 split. The prospect of easy wealth intrigues Jai, and he agrees. Ratan Das provides him with Mala's photograph, a passport and his ticket.

Back at the crime branch headquarters, Verma is ensuring everything is in readiness for Vijay's travel. Vijay is to travel under the name, Jai. (Why? Never mind.) He has to contact the police agent in Rome, who will organise the money and notify him of any change in plans.

Romesh manages to find a photograph to identify Vijay. Bribe him, says Saxena. He cannot be bribed, says Romesh. Well, find a weakness, says Saxena. If not money, then a woman perhaps. Take Shabnam with you. Ask her to fall in love with Jai. 
Romesh is aghast. Shabnam is his girlfriend. He intends to marry her. But Saxena allays his fears. Get Jai to fall in love with Shabnam, get the plans from him, and then... So Romesh and Shabnam also book themselves on the same flight to Rome via Cairo.  
Now, Jai and Vijay are spitting images of each other, and they are both booked on the same flight to Rome, via Cairo. So when Romesh and Shabnam run into Jai at the counter, they mistake him for Vijay, and scheme to get Shabnam seated next to him on the flight. Jai, not too bothered about his supposed fiancee, has a pleasant time flirting with Shabnam during the journey.  

The real Vijay, travelling from Delhi, arrives in Bombay too late to catch the flight, and has to book himself on another flight the next day. He informs his boss and asks him to intimate the change in plans to their agent in Rome.

Jai and the others reach Cairo. Romesh gets one of his associates to call the airline officials and inform them there is a bomb on the connecting flight. They are asked to go to a hotel to wait it out. As they step outside, Jai and Shabnam run into Romesh who, now in disguise, introduces himself to them as Abbasi, an Arab taxi driver. He informs them that the flight is cancelled, and that the next flight is scheduled for the morrow. Jai is nonplussed - he has to travel to Rome that day so he can take the connecting flight to Lisbon. Shabnam is puzzled; surely he means Venice? Ah, well, wherever it is, they can only go the next day. So why not enjoy Cairo today?
Jai is game. He and Shabnam wine and dine, and Shabnam, egged on by 'Abbasi', also takes the opportunity to show off her belly-dancing moves. Jai is getting steadily drunk, but nothing prepares him for the morning after. 
It doesn't take him too long to present his credentials though, and the gang's doubts are laid to rest. But then, where is the other Jai? No matter, says Romesh, who appears to have a smidgen of grey matter. Jai is Vijay's spitting image, and the gang can use his services. Jai has no choice but to agree. Romesh is also clever enough to send Marconi to intercept the real Vijay.
Vijay, not knowing of these complications, has reached Rome, where he makes contact with the police agent there. As he finishes his call, he runs into Mala, who obviously mistakes him for Jai. She shows him 'his' photograph and informs him that her father expects them at Lisbon the next day. 
Vijay is puzzled but he needs to find out who his doppelganger is. In their profession, the presence of an impostor is dangerous. He decides to play along. Their trip to the hotel is not uneventful. Marconi, acting upon Romesh's message gives them chase. Luckily for Vijay, he is a far better driver than Marconi. 

Mala decides to take 'Jai' on a tour of Rome. She makes it clear that she loves him, and Vijay is not immune to her charms, even though he knows he is not the person she is waiting for The next day, Vijay and Mala proceed to Lisbon where they are met by Deepchand (Iftekhar).
Back in Rome, Romesh, Shabnam and Jai have just arrived to be met by Marconi. They are staying at the same hotel that Vijay and Mala stayed in the previous day. And the hotel clerk, mistaking Jai for Vijay, passes on a message that has come for the latter. Up in their hotel room, when Jai calls the agent, he is told that there is a change in plans - the deal will now be on the 19th, not the 20th. He is sending a man to give 'Vijay' the money; the meeting will be at the Colosseum. 

That evening, Jai proceeds to the Colosseum, meets the police agent, receives the money, and then, to his shock and horror, Marconi shoots the man. He and Romesh inform Jai that if he betrays them, then the murder (and robbery) will be foisted on him. Jai has no other recourse but to proceed according to their diktats. However, that night, he tries to coerce Shabnam into revealing all. 
His contempt sears her. But she is resourceful enough to remind him that his passport is still with Romesh. How is he going to escape without it? 

Back in Lisbon, Vijay is getting more and more entangled with Mala. She is not loath to tell him, or show him, just how much she loves him. And Vijay's conscience begins to trouble him.
Besides, he is no closer to finding out who Jai really is. That night, he calls the agent in Rome again, and is shocked to find that not only has his doppelganger taken the money, but has also apparently murdered the courier. The agent asks him to come to Rome - immediately. Vijay leaves, leaving behind a note for Mala - confessing that he is not the right Jai.

Jai, on the other hand, is on his way to Venice, accompanied by Marconi, Romesh and Shabnam. He points out to the others that Sethi knows them; if he sees Jai with Romesh and Marconi, the deal will fall through. Romesh agrees; he decides that Jai and Shabnam should stay at one hotel, while he and Marconi will stay at another.

Jai is under no delusion - he knows that Romesh has a bullet waiting for him. But Shabnam assures him that she will ensure his freedom. Jai doesn't believe her, but she not only tells him about the truth about the papers that he is supposed to get back from Sethi, but also returns his passport. Jai is touched but he still cannot bring himself to believe her.
However, as the day passes, it is clear not only to Jai, but also to Romesh, who is watching from afar, that she loves him dearly

And onwards to the casino, where 'Delhi Friend' is to meet Sethi to collect the papers and the tape. Unfortunately for Vijay, he is still in Rome, while Jai is already in place in Venice. The deal is struck with the wrong man. And Sethi is double-crossed by, as he thinks, Vijay. 
So what is in store for the real Vijay when he reaches Venice? Sethi is baying for his blood. Romesh and Marconi are chasing after Jai who has given them a slip - or has he? What will happen to Shabnam now that Jai has gone away? Or to Mala, who is pining after Vijay? Tighten your seatbelts, because from here on, there is a chase a minute - on boats, in cars, on trains... there are murders, time bombs, disguises, sibling unmasking, kidnapping, ransom notes... throw in some emotion, some romance, a comedy scene that mercifully doesn't last too long, major action Hindi fillum style, Shetty in blackface, and lots and lots of fisticuffs in a finale that is perfectly in keeping with all the masala goodness that has gone before. All in all, it's a blast!
The Great Gambler takes you on a thrilling ride through the streets of India, Cairo, Rome, Lisbon, Amsterdam and Venice. And instead of using these exotic locales as an excuse for songs, here, we see the plot develop very organically in these locations. A re-watch didn't bore me - there are enough twists to keep you hooked onto the action, and the story, convoluted though it is, grabs your attention from the first scene. Samanta is particularly good in establishing Jai's credentials within two scenes. It might not be the best Bachchan film in its genre, but it definitely packs a huge amount of entertainment, and believe me, that is saying a lot. 

For once, the separated twin brothers do not get a song or a tattoo or a birthmark to recognise each other. They are more believably identified by a family friend. (Shakti Samanta does not seem to believe in one of the most important canons of missing siblings. Even in China Town, the separated siblings had to depend on their mother to inform them of their shared brotherhood.) Secondly, turning the trope even more on its head, both brothers look, sound and act the same - they don't have any identifying marks to let even the audience know who is who. That leads to a certain amount of confusion as to whether we are watching Jai or Vijay-as-Jai onscreen. In that sense, Samanta invites us to guess quite as much as the characters. And yes, the sister is neither raped nor murdered. Nor does she fall in love with one of the villains who use her to get to the brothers. (Are we sure this is really a masala?) 

What is even better is the role of the heroine/vamp. Talk about subversion. Helen, who is automatically slotted into the role of vamp, gets her comeuppance quite soon into the film. (She only has a cameo here, not even a song.) And like in Don, Zeenat steps into the bad girl's shoes. By all the trusted foundations of masala cinema, a woman who is one man's girlfriend, who doesn't mind being part-criminal, is quite unconcerned when a man is murdered in front of her, who betrays the hero, and is plotting against the security of the country, should come to a bad end. She certainly does not deserve a chance at happiness. Not so in this film. Zeenat, who gets a meatier role than Neetu Singh, the regulation heroine (who gets only one song to Zeenat's three), not only falls in love with two men, but gets to redeem herself and have her own happy ending. What is even more of a sock in the jaw of patriarchal morality is that the hero loves and accepts her - without casting aspersions on her moral character, or even bothering about the inconvenient fact that she had a previous lover. Neither does she apologise for her past. This matter-of-fact, and mature treatment of a masala romance was refreshing, to say the least! 

The villains were equally interesting. Veteran Utpal Dutt was in full form as the suave chief, who has a passion for humming songs even while dispatching his men to kingdom come. Prem Chopra's Romesh was a very nuanced character. A villain who not only has a girlfriend whom he loves, he also has the emotional bandwidth to not quite like the fact that his boss wants to engage her in the vile business of pretending to love another man. He is protective of her, is frustrated by her growing closeness to Jai, and is broken-hearted at her final betrayal. He actually gets to show those emotions, and it moves him from being a cardboard cut-out to a multi-dimensional character of his own. And Prem Chopra does a wonderful job. 

I'm afraid I giggled at Samanta regular, Sujit Kumar. His Marconi was a blast, with the affected Hindi, and the mannerisms. I must confess that he added greatly to the fun of watching the film. He definitely was not boring. Roopesh Kumar fulfilled the role of the serious villain - and rather well, at that. Betrayed by his own gang, and looking for revenge, he infused his character with the right amount of gravitas. 

So, was it all sunshine and roses? Nope. There were enough unintentionally hilarious moments like the graphics that describe the super-secret K2 weapon. (Yes, really. Apparently, the Indian government could only get the services of a cartoonist to compose the graphics. On second thoughts, a real cartoonist might have done a better job.)
No one is really sure what exactly the K2 weapon is, either, if you listen to the various descriptions of the same - nuclear weapon, atomic weapon, laser, rays... Then there is a time bomb that the villains set to explode 45 minutes later, thus giving one of the heroes enough and more time to rescue everybody. For some reason, the time bomb looked like a milk bottle - a green milk bottle. (I laughed outright. It was such a silly scene.)
The plot, of course, like all good masala plots depends a lot on coincidences. Identical twins, the serendipitous twists that put them in the same geographical area, etc. What works is that the action is suitably rapid, and doesn't leave you time to think - or get bored. RD's music wasn't the greatest, with Do lafzon ki hai probably being the only good tune there was. But he scored big time with the background music that complemented all the testosterone-driven action.
But do watch it - for the smouldering chemistry between Amitabh Bachchan and Zeenat Aman, for the insane entertainment value, for some great action. It is certainly paisa vasool, and more one cannot ask from a masala film.

For trivia lovers: 
  • The Italian stanzas in Do lafzon ki, shot on a gondola in Venice, is sung by Sharad Kumar. For those who are wondering who he is, he played the role of Zeenat Aman's brother in Don.   
  • Producer Boney Kapoor stepped in as Amitabh Bachchan's double.
  • And I save the best for the last. IMDB informs me that Shakti Samanta had initially announced this film in 1967 - with Shammi Kapoor!


  1. I was thinking about watching this the other day, but put it off. I just wasn't in the mood for pulp, and this seems like the kind of good pulpy masala that one should give a real chance. I'm also happy to hear that Zeenat gets her due, I do love her, and it makes me want to see this sooner rather than later.

    I like your commentary on the Shakti Samanta tropes, and his personal interpretation of the masala genre. Somewhere along the way I realized I had seen quite a few Shakti Samanta films (60s-80s) without realizing it, and now I can certainly recognize his attention to beauty of locale, his interest in interpersonal conversations--even in the middle of farfetched plots, he sneaks in sensitive dialogues. For example, I just watched An Evening in Paris, and right after that fun, but token sequence of Sharmila walking out on Shammi's character (another women lit his cigarette!!!), we get a quiet conversation about the need for trust in relationships and the uselessness of jealousy in between grown-ups.

  2. Miranda, oh, you should give this a try. But yes, do have some time because while it is masala fun on the one hand, one really needs to be paying attention to what is happening on screen; or you are going to be left befuddled about which 'Jai' is up there on screen.

    Shakti Samanta's films usually had pretty mature characters within the parameters of Hindi mainstream cinema. And his heroines usually had a backbone. His heroes too, were less 'macho' and more human. Finally, he made all of it entertaining enough. Do watch. I'd be interested to know what you thought of it.

  3. I've only watched The Great Gambler once, decades ago, on DD - and thought it was so much fun. :-D There is something about these totally whacky spy flicks that Bollywood churned out during the 60s and 70s that was utterly delightful, despite all the warts (that milk bottle-time bomb and the graphics for that laser thingie had me in splits). Must watch this again. WDIGTT??!

  4. P.S. Ooh, would loved to have seen this as a Shammi film! But by 1967, Shammi wasn't looking his best, so perhaps it was just as well...

  5. Oh, yes, it was fun, Madhu. Shakti Samanta did direct well, didn't he? This was fast-paced and didn't leave you much time to think - perfect spy flicks. And yes, you should watch this. It's on YouTube (said she, innocently).

  6. That was my first thought! I would have loved to have seen Shammi in this role. But then my second thought was, 'Nooo! He wouldn't have looked convincing at all!'

    (Or, what you said! *grin*)

  7. Ooh, I love The Great Gambler! As you said it's a really fun ride and I was so pleased with Zeenat Aman's character! Unlike you, I also love the songs, with "O deewano dil sambhalo" and "Tum kitne din baad mile" being particular favorites. RDB did some interesting things with the soundtrack. Must watch again. :-)

  8. I know, I know...but oh, Asha screeching in Tum kitne din baad mile hurt my ears!!

    But do watch again - you don't need me to tell you how entertaining it is!

  9. I remember you commenting once somewhere on how young and good Amitabh looked in this film, and how you wanted to watch it again :) Looks like you had your fun, and as you know; I am always up for a good Amitabh 70's caper

    Idsthis the film whre he is Prince Chandrashekhar from Jahannesburg ?
    Love Do Lafzon ki & Rakkasa Mera Naam, and Pehli Pehli Pyar Ki Mulaquat;
    but that is expected of me; isn't it :)

  10. No, no, that one was Besharam with Sharmila.

    This film really was great fun! :) You should watch it again.

  11. Snob me always disregarded Hindi film music and music of 70's , 80s etc and re-discovered RD's orchestration much later. I actually heard the songs of The Great Gambler when some friends of mine were picking up "Do lafzon ki " for a performance they were to give , pity we have no notations for the orchestration. I cannot shake off the feeling that RD was inspired by Autumn Leaves for this song. Normally most Autumn leaves covers are played on the piano but this recording by Ian Bousfield one of my my favourite trombonists reminds me why I thought what I did.
    I actually do not like Asha's voices in the recordings, though she has sung beautifully

    In O Diwano dil Sambhalo , the initial percussion with the underlying bass guitar and then the trumpet riff is lovely, Asha's initial notes mimic the trumpets and the bass guitar really swings through the song. The chorus seemed a little raw to me as there are interesting changes especially in the begining. The trumpet line connecting the mukhra and antara is actually the mukhra played higher up.

    I rather like Raqqasa mera naam , again Asha's too kreechy for mein the higher registers, even though she sings divinely. There is a funny instrument in the song, can't quite place it and and a lovely violin track and preceding that either a duduk or a soprano saxophone, which comes in again at the end. I thought Rafi did rather well.

    Tum kitne din baad mile has lovely backing strings and trumpet solos. And some interesting strumming, I wonder if there was a Hammond organ in there.

  12. Yeh SSW apun Ka Baap Nikla, typical 70's Bombay lower stall reaction :).

    BTW, that post of yours where you and a friend (a girl) went to see a movie by youself ---
    Did you sit in lower stall/ upper stall/balcony ?
    Obviously you get more credit if you sat in the seeti maaroing lower-stall public.

    Amitabh movies get a different reaction, depending upon which part of the audience you are :)

  13. I saw "O deewano dil sambhalo" and "Tum kitne din baad mile" again today, and realized I liked them as well.
    This movie had some great songs, I wonder why it did not do as at the box-office.
    I remember it as not in the same category (box-office) as Amitabh's top films (AAA, Don etc.)

  14. Samir, I have seen films sitting in the front row (right before the screen), in the upper stall and in the balcony. I agree with you about the difference in reactions. :)

  15. I wouldn't know. :) But yes to Asha sounding horribly screechy. That is what took away from those songs.

  16. I haven't seen this film, Actually I have just seen bits and pieces of the film on television. I guess these movies are good time pass films. Shakti Samanta was once initially known for such films, you know Howrah Bridge, An Evening in Paris and so on, it was with Aradhana that the Hindi film audience saw a different Shakti Samant and then again I guess with this film he sort of went back to the kind of films he used to make

  17. Eh no, I remember seeing 5 masala Hindi films in the 70s. I was not a cinema buff. Besides I depended on my parents for the money for tickets and therefore was limited to theatres that I could walk to. So English movies meant Oscar and Chandan and Bahar and Hindi movies meant Ambar, Bahar and Laxmi There were of course selected screenings at the British Council auditorium. Rs 1.20 train fare Ville Parle to Churchage and back

  18. So you seem to have grown up in the Juhu-VileParle-Andheri area, I grew up in Sion-Matunga-Dadar area. Which meant I was exposed to idli-sambhar & dosa since childhood; I know several Tamilians who pride themselves on being Bombay Tamilians and not having stepped foot in Madras. Unlike most Bombaites I also know the difference between Tamilians & Keralites & Telugu speaking Andhraites Etc. I also know a Warrier who was pretty high up in Crompton-Greaves in Bombay. They had a factory near Vikroli (if I remember correctly).
    Being Sion-Matunga-Dadar Bombaites, we got to see sevral Hindi & English movies (downtown); and our fares and distances were much less than Vile Parle :)

  19. He was very good with films like these. If you haven't watched it, do. It's timepass. :)

  20. Bleddy Central/South Bombay snob, I say, poking fun at us impecunious suburbanites.

  21. I missed the smiley. One must not forget netiquette. :-)

  22. Oh and the Crompton Greaves Warrier and Anu's dad are related.

  23. LOL !!!!!! :))))
    You have to remember I am only a Central Bombay Ghaati; even proper South Bombaites look down upon me (even though I am an original Bombaite and was even born in South Bombay).
    I guess Malabar Hill is the only place where I need a visa to vist :)

  24. I love this film to bits for the same reasons that you do (surprise!). It's my favorite AB film of all (along with the likes of Mili, Satte Pe Satta and Don) and it has aged pretty well - it's still fast paced and fun. I must admit to being totally in love with Do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahani, too. While Zeenat's story arc was great, I wish Neetu had a meatier part. She doesn't have much to do in the film.

  25. Surprise, surprise. (Not! *grin*) Yes, I too wished that Neetu had something more to do than two romantic scenes and one song.

  26. I really really really need to watch this. It is one of my favorite AB films. I had a BLAST watching it.

    Rollicking songs it had too! And watching AB in all those disguises!

  27. Ava, it is availabe on YouTube in all its glory. :) Do watch. It's worth every minute you spend on it.

  28. I have seen bits and pieces of the film at various times and yes, I did like the song "do lafzon ki..." But I did not know that it was such fun. Must watch. By the way, why on earth do none of the characters in any movie right up to the 80's have any surnames? I first heard full names used in movies, I think in Chashme Baddoor. But in real life I've never met any north indian who does not have a surname, and even south indians do have initials.

  29. Nalini, oh yes, you should! It is an absolute treat. I don;t think the surnames meant much at that time. Even now, it is only the Karan Johar?Yash Chopra films that seem to insist on surnames like Malhotra, Kapoor and Singh.

  30. So, I did watch this one on YouTube after reading your review. Thank you for motivating me.

    Wonder why on earth did I have to wait so long. But then this, like Pakistan's foreign policy, are things which appear quite stupid when thought about.

    Brilliant movie, wasn't it! All twisty and turny and completely global with two Bachchans, Zeenie setting the display on fire and a comic Italiano Marconi, this one is sure up there on Bollywood's 'shoonya shoonya ssath' efforts. My only grouse is that Utpal Dutt appears in a very fleeting part. A bit more of him wouldn't have hurt.

    In comparison, Saif's Agent Vinod looks so pale, in spite of it being a 21st century production. Hope Hritik and Kat in Bang Bang will match up.

    Once again, danke for the review.

  31. You're welcome. I'm glad you watched it, and gladder still that you liked it. :) Yup, it was a fabulous film and deserves much more love than it got.

    And yes, I wish there had been more of Utpal Dutt - that man's a scream! I didn't watch Agent Vinod though with Sriram Raghavan at the helm, I'd put it on my to-watch list. From what I read, I didn't miss anything.

  32. Ashok Sridharan26 April 2015 at 04:39

    As a footnote, the tune Utpal Dutt usually hums is from the opening passage of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto (first movement). The only deviation is a scene where he hums 'ode to joy' from Beethoven's 9th symphony.

  33. Ashok Sridharan26 April 2015 at 04:43

    Lol, good one. I'm from Powai... that must be a village for you townies!

  34. That's an interesting choice, Grieg. RD was not known for his love for western art music.Could have been Utpal Dutt's contribution, I have not seen the film myself. "Ode to joy" is more conventional though it would have been interesting as to how it is used in the movie, I mean in comparison to Schiller's intention

  35. Ah, that's interesting, Ashok. I didn't know that. But yes, he keeps humming -Utpal Dutt always made an interesting villain, didn't he?

  36. My FIL decided that Andheri was as far as he could go to define 'Bombay'. Powai, where my BIL wanted him to buy a bungalow was far outside the borders. :)

  37. Ashok Sridharan28 April 2015 at 01:01

    Yup, agree with you. Utpal Dutt was a remarkably suave villain. I think he did justice to pretty much any role he ever took up. Incidentally, don't you think Hindi cinema showcased some incredibly suave villains? K.N. Singh, Ajit, Pran and Utpal Dutt (at times), that's quite a list. K.N. Singh has surely got to be one of the most suave actors Hindi cinema has ever known.

  38. Ashok Sridharan28 April 2015 at 01:04

    I daresay it was very much Utpal Dutt's contribution. He only hums the tune- its never accompanied by any background music. Can't imagine that was scripted.

  39. Ashok Sridharan28 April 2015 at 01:06

    Well buddy, I am a villager indeed! Jokes apart, the place where I live once used to be called Chandivali Gaon (don't see the 'gaon' anymore).

  40. KN Singh definitely. :) Have you seen Ashok Kumar as a villain? He was damn good too.

  41. Ashok Sridharan29 April 2015 at 02:23

    Ashok Kumar was brilliant in pretty much every role he ever did. Its a tribute to the man that even as a character actor he was prominent enough to be remembered. I wonder how many people would even know that he (not Rajesh Khanna) was the first ever superstar of Hindi cinema. The mad fan following that he enjoyed in many ways anticipated the kind of stardom that would come the way of Rajesh Khanna two generation later.

  42. The things is the word 'superstar' wasn't coined back then. :) I think it was Devyani Chaubal who used it for Rajesh Khanna first. And then, there wasn't so much media hype then either. I used to prefer Ashok Kumar as villain rather than the benign grandfather roles he did in his later years. He was such a fantastic actor.

  43. Ashok Sridharan30 April 2015 at 07:23

    True. Ashok Kumar has got to be one of the greatest actors in the history of Indian cinema. Talking of villainous roles, check out Kismet- the first movie featuring an anti-hero (or a 'negative' role, to use 90s parlance). You'll know why that movie ran for 3 years, so brilliant was he as a shameless, unapologetic criminal.

  44. Yes, I have watched Kismet; he was good, wasn't he? :)

  45. Ashok Sridharan30 April 2015 at 15:42

    Dadamoni was inspired in that role! Its a tribute to the man that even as an aged character actor, he was impactful enough to be remembered. Having grown up in the 90s, I used to think of him as the grand old man of Indian cinema. Its only in the last couple of years that I realised what he once was. I suspect today's kids might not even have heard of him- Dadamoni's last appearance (apart from Love in Bombay) was in Aankhon Mein Tum Ho (1997), that was nearly two decades ago

  46. I first knew Ashok Kumar as the benign father/grandfather. And truth be told, I had begun to get tired of the stereotype. Then, my father introduced me to older films, and I really liked the natural style of acting. He made it all seem so effortless.

  47. Ashok Sridharan1 May 2015 at 03:18

    I guess it'll be much the same with Amitabh Bachchan for today's kids. For us, he was the dashing hero in Don/ the rebellious Vijay in Deewar, but for kids these days he must be the old man who appeared in Shamitabh or Piku.

    Amitabh is the only actor after Dadamoni to have successfully re-invented himself as he aged. It says something about him, that Ashok Kumar had a seamless transition. It remains to be seen how the present generation of aging actors (the Khans, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, etc) manage their transition- they're all either in their late 40s or nudging 50 now

  48. Nice discussion. But Ashok Kumar did many masala films in the 70s directed by Brij/Vijay Sadanah , made a jodi with Pran and his roles in films like 'Bada Kabootar' , Chhoti si baat , Dhund and Shaukeen. I disagree with this notion that he did only benign father/grandfather roles post 60s. That would AK Hangal, isn't it?
    and even then, Didn't the benign father sing and dance to 'rail gaddi' rap song in "Aashirwaad'?

  49. Are you sure Amitabh playing the same kind of Father roles in 80% of his films means re-inventing himself? Films like Aankhen and Khakee seem like exceptions atleast to me. Dadamoni did such fatherly roles far lesser than what is projected.

  50. This has one of my favorite songs 'Do lafzon ki hai' and it is definitely an underrated film. Thanks for the review.

  51. Where did I say that Ashok Kumar played only father.grandfather roles post 60s? I said I saw only those films in which he played those roles, and to me, he was stereotyped in them. :) I think Victoria No. 203 and Shaukeen were the only two I saw that showed him in a completely different light. Most of the films I saw had him play the same 'dadaji' role and it began to grate. Again, it is what I was exposed to.

    And the point also is that there aren't that many hatke roles for actors of a certain vintage. And it was not that he wasn't good in the roles he did as the stereotypical grandfather/father. It was just that he could have done those with his eyes closed, and I think, he often did.

  52. Amitabh had a period post-Mohabattein where all he was doing was playing the stern patriarch. Of course, in his defence,they were probably all that he was offered and he had debts to pay back. But I see a looseness in him that he didn't have before - an eagerness to accept very many different kinds of roles. I think, his tragedy is that film-makers who go to him are so in awe of his status and persona that they are hesitant to offer him anything that might go against his 'image'.

    As for the Khans, Aamir is the only one I can see who will re-invent himself successfully. Shahrukh is too insecure to fully let go of his 'Rahul' persona, though the man is very talented and very intelligent. Salman, of course, doesn't care two hoots. I see Akshay Kumar moving towards more age-appropriate roles, and what's more, not caring too much about how he looks in real life. Very few actors his age would come out with graying hair and beard - he seems to have no issues.

  53. Chris, I think Amitabh is trapped by his own body of work. Remember the backlash against Ram Gopal Verma for offering him Nishabd and against Amitabh for taking it? Heck, they pilloried Karan Johar for making him play 'Sexy Sam' in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. As I remarked to Ashok, I think Amitabh's tragedy is that film-makers hesitate to approach him with roles that are different from the norm. Yet, he still has Khakee, Dev, Aankhen, Paa, Cheeni Kum, Nishabd, Aks, Lakshya, Bunty aur Babli, Sarkar, Virudh, Sarkar Raj, Aakarshan, Ekalavya, etc., in the third phase of his career. Considering his post-Mohabattein career, these are not inconsequential.

    So while initially, it seemed all he was doing was playing 'stern patriarch', there has been a wider variety of roles within the parameters of commercial cinema, since he stopped being hero. I refuse to even consider his second coming - the disastrous Mritydaata, the cringe-inducing Bade Miyaan Chhote Miyaan etc., which he did after his sabbatical. The third phase of his career has seen him enjoy himself without worrying about the fate of the film, and that, I think, is a good thing.

  54. You're welcome, Chris. I really liked this film when I first watched it, and to my pleasant surprise, it still holds a freshness upon repeated viewing, 20+ years later.

  55. Ashok Sridharan1 May 2015 at 11:52

    Completely agree with you Anu. Amitabh has in many ways been a victim of his own success. In Dadamoni's case, it perhaps helped that there was no way his old movies could been seen, except in theatres (forget youtube, there weren't even video cassettes until the 70s, when the 40s was a long forgotten era), which meant that the vast majority of viewers had no recollection of him as a star, liberating him from the image problem that Amitabh Bachchan has

  56. Ashok Sridharan1 May 2015 at 12:45

    Partly agree with you Chris- Dadamoni played a far greater variety of roles than is supposed, but I think Amitabh too has played a fair variety of character roles in his third innings. Aankhen, Khakee, Nishabd, Bhootnath, Cheeni Kum, Paa...those aren't exactly the aged patriarch roles!


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