Monday, March 26, 2012

Jasoos: remembering our desi spy

These last few days everyone was talking about Agent Vinod. That's the way how it is these days whenever a new big Bollywood movie arrives. Producers, directors and actors give hundred thousand interviews, repeating the same things to everyone. However, all these discussions made me remember Ankhen, another desi spy film of many decades ago.

The review of Agent Vinod seem to be very mixed. I don't know how good is Agent Vinod, but the name sure brought with it memories of the innocent days of reading Indian jasoosi novels. When I was a teenager, inspector Vinod and detective Sunil were so much closer to my own fantasies than Mr. Bond or Mr. Bourne could ever be. They had to discover the nefarious plans of villains, similar to those who are exemplified in the Bollywood world by the dumbass Robert or Mr. Deng and their molls in the clinging gowns, Mona or Lily, made iconic by actors like Ajit and Premnath, and starlets like Faryal and Jayshree T.

The jasoosi stories written by authors like Surendra Mohan Pathak are well alive and kicking, selling more copies in the railway stations, bus stands and mufassil towns of India, than all the more famous Hindi literature writers combined together. Among Pathak's characters, some like detective Sunil, detective Sudhir Kumar Kohli and undercover agent Vimal, are well known to millions of his fans, who eagerly wait for his new books to come out.

I don't know if Pathak's books are translated into English. If they are, may be, they would have a limited appeal for the people who read authors like Chetan Bhagat, but I think that their special charm is to be read in Hindi. They have dialogues like "Ki haal hai sohniyon?" They won't have the same charm if translated into "How are you baby?" But may be they can be translated into Hinglish, "How are you, sohniyon?" that keeps a bit of their original charm!

My own favourite Hindi jasoosi movie was "Ankhen" (1968) by Ramanand Sagar. Dharmendra as the undercover agent Sunil was a real hero to my teenage eyes.

Story outline of Ankhen: The film had Nazir Hussein as the Major Saab (Nazir Hussein), an old military man from Azaad Hind Fauz of Subhash Chandra Bose, who runs a private spy group against the "desh ke dushman", in support of Indian Government. His son Sunil (Dharmendra) is part of his group. Apparently, they don't need to work or to have a job, as they seem to be rich persons. Sunil's sister (Kumkum) stays along with her young son Babloo in her father's home, as her husband works in merchant navy and is away for work.

In a spy mission in Japan, Sunil meets Meenakshi (Mala Sinha) a half-Indian, half Japanese girl, whose father was also in Azaad Hind Fauz. She falls in love with Indian jasoos. However Sunil says that his life is for his country and he cannot accept her love.

One of Major's men sends a message from Beirut about a gang that supplies bombs and weapons to anti-Indian groups in India. Major asks Sunil to go to Beirut to discover the gang and also to find out the names and addresses of their Indian partners.

In Beirut, Sunil is supposed to get help from Nadeem (Sujit Kumar) in Beirut but Nadeem seems to be mixed up with anti-Indian arm suppliers' gang.

However, Major has also arranged other persons to help Sunil in Beirut and this group includes Meenakshi (Mala Sinha with Madhumati, Mehmood, Dhumal, etc.). Sunil makes friend with Zenith (Zeb Rehman), who is supposed to an Arab princess, but is a member of the anti-Indian gang. Then with help of Meenakshi he discovers that real Nadeem is a prisoner in an old ruin and helps to liberate him. They kill the false Nadeem and then ask real Nadeem to take his place in the anti-Indian gang.

In India, the anti-Indian gang (Jeevan as Dr X, Madan Puri, Lalita Pawar and Daisy Irani) with the help of Akram, son of a close friend of Major, kidnap Babloo and force Babloo's mother to accept Dr X's right hand Madam (Lalita Pawar) in their home as their "old aunt from Banaras". Madam wires Major's radio receiver and listens to all his secret conversations with his gang.

In Beirut, Sunil and Meenakshi manage to bust the anti-Indian gang and discover that someone is staying in their home and listening to their messages. So they send a false message that Sunil is dead and their mission has failed. Sunil and his team then reach India and attack the dungeon of Dr X. After a fight, they save Babloo and Dr X is caught.

Finally Sunil accepts that he is also in love with Meenakshi, and walk into sunset singing, "Milti hai zindagi mein mohabbat kabhi kabhi".

Comments: The morse code radio hidden in the cupboard, camera hidden in the microphone that Meenakshi uses to take pictures while singing, the parts shot in Beirut with Mala Sinha, Mehmood and Dhumal singing "Allah ke naam pe de de" dressed as beggers, Mala Sinha dressed as the princess, Dharmendra's fight with the tiger in the dungeon, many scenes of this film had great impact on me. I was also very much taken by a shot of paddle boats in a lake in Japan.

Lalita Pawar as the vamp, dressed as the cunning aunt-in-law, with her one eye smaller than the other and her crooked smile, used to give me nightmares.

Those were the years after the Chinese war of 1962 and the Pakistan war of 1966, thus the idea of spies exploding bombs in India sounded quite plausible. Though today the small camera, telescope, micro-films etc. look laughable, at that time, these gadgets had great effect on me.

It was the time when our heroines used to do classical Indian dances and folk dances and there were no east European dancers doing chorus in bikinis. The songs were simple but meaningful, like "Gairon pe karam, apno pe sitam, ae jaane wafa yeh zulm na kar". The background music was loud and melodramatic, like the scene when Major's man called Saleem is killed in the ship. Our spies use code names like Musafir and Taj Mahal. They dress in disguise as fakirs, beggers and princess. And they invariably speak in a mixture of Hindi and Urdu, even in Beirut and everyone seems to understand Hindi, the lingua franca of the world.

Compared to today's standards, technically that film was ages behind. Yet compared to the modern spy and action thrillers, I think that Ankhen was much more like the books of detective Sunil and agent Vinod, more fun and much more rooted in Indian ethos.

Its heroine, Meenakshi, was much more independent and entreprising than today's heorines (Mala Sinha at 32 years, was still a big force in Bollywood those days, infact, in the titles, her name came before that of Dharmendra).

Probably I will enjoy the thrills of new Agent Vinod and I will admire the mujra of Kareena Kapoor, but they won't make me dream like Ankhen had done more than forty years ago.

***

4 comments:

  1. Gunmaster G-9?

    I enjoyed some of the secret agent thrillers made during that era (bolly and hollywood). I was actually looking forward to a fantasy secret agent ride with the release of Agent Vinod, but reviews are very discouraging.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Subhorup.

      Unfortunately the over-hyped films rarely match the hype! :)

      Delete
    2. I wished I had read those books!! I remember the song " Gairon pe karam.." though! Not sure if I have seen the film

      Delete
  2. I too loved Aankhen, I remember watching it on Doordarshan when I was a kid. Thanks for taking me back to those days.

    ReplyDelete

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