Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Keemat (India, 1973)

In 1967, Ravikant Nagaich, the director of Keemat, directed Farz. One year later, its star, Dharmendra, headlined Ankhen. Both were among the first A list Bollywood films to capitalize on the James Bond craze, and audiences of the time were appropriately wowed by their combination of relatively fast paced action, pan-Asian locales, and sophisticated gadgetry.

By the time of Keemat’s release in 1973, the novelty of such films had probably worn off somewhat, but Keemat takes advantage of the era’s looser standards to provide racier content. Gone are the foreign terrorists of those previous films, replaced by the threat of sex trafficking, which is handled with as much good old exploitation movie verve as propriety would allow. A final “island of captive women” portion of the film includes every classic Women in Prison trope but for the shower scene. There’s the butch warden who gets inappropriately handsy with her charges (the sequence where she angrily tears at Rekha’s blouse must have been particularly shocking) and, when Rekha’s character attempt to stage a breakout, she does so with a Dolls Squad of lady prisoners dressed in tiny pink negligees.

But the most interesting thing about Keemat for me is that it was intended as a sequel to Farz, despite the fact that, when it came to casting, returning director Nagaich ended up with Ankhen’s Agent Sunil playing the role -- that of Gopal, Agent 116 -- played in the original by Jeetendra. Jeetendra, if not game, must have been unavailable, because he would later tread similar territory in 1985’s Bond 303, directed by Ravi Tandon. Of course, Ankhen was a career making turn for Dharmendra, the break of a wave that he was still riding, but Jeetendra was nonetheless still a viable star. The switch could also be due to Jeetendra being more of a leading man in the 1960s mold, with more of a reputation as a dancer suited to romances and musicals, while Dharmendra was more suited to playing the two-fisted men of action increasingly required by the 1970s more violent fare, of which Keemat is a fairly blunt exemplar.

As the film begins, Young women are disappearing from India’s villages and disadvantaged urban areas, lured from their meager circumstances by promises of fame and fortune, never to be seen again. In one instance, we see a sharply dressed slickster named Pedro (Ranjeet) pick a girl up and take her to a hippie bar, where he feeds her a sugar cube presumably laced with acid. Soon the inhibited lass is on stage singing lustily with the band of dirty hippies and dancing lasciviously. Pedro snaps pictures of the performance, which he later uses to pressure the mortified girl into going along with his demands. Later she is seen despondently being shuttled with a dozen or so other girls to a dock, where they all board a ferry to destinations unknown.

This situation having reached epidemic proportions, the head of the Secret Service (K.N. Singh) calls in one of his top agents, Gopal, Agent 116 (Dharmendra), who must be interrupted in the middle of a hot date to report for duty. Meanwhile, CBI Inspector Deshpande (Satyenda Kapoor) and his men are making inroads of their own into the investigation, and manage to intercept the aforementioned ferry in transit, only to find it empty once they board. Gopal makes a diving expedition at the site of the discovery, whereupon he finds the weighted bodies of the girls who had been onboard floating on the ocean floor, an eerie forest of corpses.

The investigation next reveals that a bar girl going by the name of Maria very closely matches the description of one of the missing girls, whose real name is Nanda (Padma Khanna). Gopal arranges a meeting with her at a restaurant and, as they dine, notices a lone woman at a nearby table spying on them. When he steps away momentarily, the woman comes over to the table and angrily confronts Nanda about her masquerade. This is Sudha (Rekha), Nanda’s sister. When he later takes Nanda back to her place, Gopal confronts her about her real identity. But just as she is launching into a teary confession, Pedro’s men arrive and violently cart her away, leaving Gopal to fight for his life against two chain wielding goons.

In the wake of Nanda’s abduction, Sudha makes herself a fixture in Gopal’s life and, after a series of attempts on the part of Pedro and his hideously scarred gunsels to rub Gopal out, determines that the only way to get to the bottom of things is to pose as a mark for the gang and let herself be captured. This leads to her eventually being herded onto that fateful ferry, which Gopal follows to a mysterious island far offshore where, in classic Ravikant Nagaich fashion, things start to get really twisted. Rekha and the other captives initially find themselves in a militarized prison camp staffed by butch female guards, but are later shuttled, via a long submarine tunnel, to a lavish lair deep beneath the island.

At that lair, we meet the real boss of the organization, a sadistic madman by the name of Shaktimaan (Prem Chopra), who amuses himself by trying to goad girls into trying to escape so that he can set his vicious dogs upon them. We also see that an auction is about to get under way, at which visiting decadents from a variety of non-South-Asian countries -- Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Africa, Europe, “Mr. Johnny from America” -- are going to bid for the pleasure of owning one or more of the captured girls. The auction ultimately involves the women being forced to display themselves in a musical pageant that is part Las Vegas and part Miss Universe, and concludes dramatically with Shaktimaan outing Gopal, who is in attendance disguised as an Arab Sheikh. Things then veer wildly into Flash Gordon territory as a frothing, Island of Doctor Moreau style beast-man is wheeled out in a cage for Gopal to fight to the death. Then we have a brief homage to The Most Dangerous Game as Shaktimaan lets Gopal and Sudha loose in the island’s jungle interior, giving them a sixty second head start before following with his dogs and armed soldiers. But with only Gopal’s superhuman wits and agility to depend upon, will our hero and heroine survive?

Now, my earlier ruminations on Dharmendra’s casting in Keemat were by no means meant to suggest that the characters of either Agent Sunil or Agent Gopal were so well developed that he might be inappropriate for the part. That said, Keemat does suffer from the portrayal of the then forty-ish Dharmendra as an overgrown boy that filmmakers of the time seemed so inextricably enamored of. Gopal is churlish with his superiors and, at times, unaccountably tongue tied with the stock spy movie vixens that he encounters. In addition, every new witness or informant he interviews is a new opportunity for the film to introduce a different comedic bumpkin or stooge, all of whom Gopal feels very comfortable telling to shut up or otherwise berating. I guess this is what was perceived as needed to make such an unpolished character seem suave and Connery-esque by comparison.

Other elements of Keemat’s casting, however, are spot on. We get a rare opportunity to see the flamboyant Ranjeet explicitly cast as a pimp, which allows him, for a change, to blend in with the film’s milieu, rather than appear like someone who has dropped down from another sartorial planet. Prem Chopra’s Shaktimaan is a ravening maniac, which, if you’re familiar with that actor’s work, allays any need for me to tell you just how pleasurable it is to watch him cut loose. Rekha, for her part, plays a character that moves through a lot of personas in the course of the film, yet manages to not surrender to either stock women-in-peril hysterics or preposterous kung fu girl voguing. Lastly, if Keemat needed a comic relief supporting character -- as it seemed sorely inevitable it would -- it’s a lucky thing that it’s Rajendra Nath, playing a buddy of Gopal’s named Rajendra Nath, who has a warmth that many such comedic players from the era were lacking, as well as little of their desperation and shrillness.

Overall, and aside from some somewhat jarring violence and grotesquerie, Keemat boasts that rote, generic quality that makes all Indian spy films at once so entertaining and unremarkable. We know that it is going to hit all the right beats, from the exotic henchmen to the exploding lair. In between, director Nagaich spices things up with his familiar brand of thrifty movie magic; Smallish or incomplete sets are rendered lavish through the use of glass mattes and models, we get some nifty animated gun sight wipes, and there is an ambitious miniature sequence in which a jeep tries to outrace a raging flood in a subterranean tunnel. Composers Laxmikant-Pyarelal also keep things lively, including toe-tapping item numbers for both Jayshree T. and Padma Khanna, as well as an adorable “drunk” song for Rekha -- “Bol Bol Darwaaza” -- whose character we’re meant to believe is so innocent that she could drink an entire tumbler of gin mistaking it for water. (My take away from this is that, when visiting India, the motto should be “DO drink the water”.) In short, the film is an enjoyable time waster, but probably won’t serve well those aspiring secret agents who are looking for practical tips.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Santo vs. Dr. Death, aka Masked Man Strikes Again (Spain/Mexico?, 1973)

I've wanted to see Santo vs. Dr. Death for a very long time. It was produced in Spain, where Santo was also phenomenally popular back in the day, and, as such, is the only Santo film not produced entirely in Mexico or the Americas. (And, while it kills me, note that I am not including 3 Dev Adam in that list, because that features Turkish actor Yavus Selekman playing Santo, but not Santo himself.) It definitely has a Euro feel to it, and gives us the pleasure of seeing Santo opposite such Eurotrash eminences as frequent Eurospy femme fatale and Horror Express star Helga Line.

But, of course, I've seen the Spanish version of Santo vs. Dr. Death -- or, as I should say, Santo contra Dr. Muerte -- but what I hadn't seen is the rare English dub of the film, which also goes under the alternate title Masked Man Strikes Again. This, in the cruel calculus of internet nerdom, makes my claims of being a Santo completist an act of egregious fraud. You see, only a small handful -- four, as far as I know -- of Santo's fifty-plus films received such treatment, with Dr. Death being the only one of his many features from the seventies to do so (the rest were gothic-tinged early sixties efforts like Santo vs. the Vampire Women). Having now seen it, I can report that it is as haphazardly looped as any European B movie from the seventies, and that that dubbing probably adds very little to the film other than the fact that I could occasionally text while watching it. Not only that, but Santo is consistently referred to as "The Saint", in an act of overzealous translation that makes me glad none of the movie takes place in Los Angeles. But, more important is the fact that I have now seen it and, as far as I know, have only to watch the nudie version of El Tesoro de Dracula to make my claims of Santo scholarship airtight.

Santo vs. Dr. Death is actually a fairly conventional Santo film -- if perhaps, under the direction of Rafael Marchant, a bit more handsomely mounted than his typical seventies fare -- though one propelled by an exceptionally bizarre plot. It begins with a very detailed depiction of what at first appears to be a daring museum art heist by a lone cat burglar, only to have that burglar, after rappelling himself into the gallery, spray one of the displayed masterpieces with acid and leave. This masterpiece is about to be handed over by Mexico to a museum in Spain, and while the obvious damage to it isn't Mexico's fault, it does seem a little careless that no one notices it until it makes its arrival across the pond. Oops!

Santo is the obvious person to call in the event of an international art scandal, and the fact that he has an upcoming match in Madrid provides perfect cover as far as his superiors at Interpol are concerned.  And, to be fair, Santo, jack of all trades that he is, seems perfectly comfortable hobnobbing with officials at the Louvre and other higher ups in the world of fine art. In fact, he asks all the right questions and quickly makes a connection that every non wrestler has so far missed. All of this while keeping up his commitments in the ring, which, in Dr. Death, amount to three lengthy bouts which are all but one filmed from beyond the ropes in that flat, undynamic style we've become so used to.

Anyway, it turns out that the man to whom the Spaniards turn to restore the damaged masterpiece is one Dr. Mann (George Rigaud, another Horror Express alumnus). Unknown to them, however, Dr. Mann has developed a formula and device -- that appears to be like a crude art xerox machine -- that can make a perfect duplicate of a painting, which he then returns to the museum, sadly informing them that what they had was a forgery all along. Mann pulled this same trick on the French -- nabbing, as it is later suggested, the Mona Lisa in the process -- but in that case murdered the actual restorer hired by the Louvre, a Professor Schwartz, and substituted his nephew Peter (Antonio Pica, of Satanik and Vengeance of the Zombies) in his place.

Ensconced in his creepy old castle with his secretary Sara (Line) and Peter, who is for some reason pretending to be blind, Mann learns of Santo's French escapades and, fearing that his murder of Schwartz will be uncovered, orders his thuggish minions to rub the masked man out. The first of these thrilling assassination scenarios takes place in a men's room at the Mexico City Airport, where a gunsel invades the sanctity of Santo's stall with a hale of bullets. Fortunately, the wily Santo has merely placed his shoes in that stall, only giving the appearance that he is taking a dump, and instead comes up and clobbers the deserving hood from behind.

And so Santo arrives in Madrid, with manager Carlos Suarez in tow -- who is, in a rare instance, actually playing Santo's manager rather than a villain or comic relief sidekick and is rocking a wig. Soon thereafter, he is introduced to his partner in spying, Paul (Carlos Romero Marchent, a regular in director Marchent's films), whom Santo initially disapproves of due to his mustache, shaggy hair and mod threads. To be fair, Paul's look is a lot more Tony Orlando than Manson, but in any case he quickly wins Santo's trust by dispatching another would-be assassin with his lightning fast knife throwing skills.

It should also be noted that Dr. Dea... I mean Dr. Mann, is also an artist himself, and keeps a dormitory full of beautiful models on staff at the castle for this purpose. It should be further noted that these models appear to be more prisoners than guests, and that Mann occasionally kills one of them before gorily surgically extracting something from her body and dumping her into an acid pit. ("A Doctor of what?" Santo asks one of the Spanish museum officals, regarding Mann. "Art", comes the reply. "And some kind of science.") Eventually, one of the models, Ester (Night of the Skull's Maribel Hidalgo), during an exploratory visit by the two sleuths to the castle, slips word to Paul that she suspects something sinister is going on.

When a replacement model is sent for Ester, who has been given notice, Santo and Paul intercept her in transit and replace her with Susan, a convenient lookalike who is also an Interpol agent. Susan is portrayed by Mirta Miller, a beautiful Argentinian actress who boasts several Paul Naschy films on her resume, as well as, among many others, appearances in Lenzi's Eyeball and the Tony Anthony spaghetti western Get Mean. Miller ends up bearing a heavy load in Santo vs. Dr. Death, as much of the film's middle section focuses on her exploits, much of which understandably involve her running around the cobwebbed subterranean corridors of Mann's castle in a diaphanous nightgown. She nonetheless presents a tough-as-nails heroine, at one point shutting up the tremulous Ester -- who, accompanying her on one of these jaunts, protests that she's afraid -- with a terse "Oh, please!"

Throughout all this, Santo is somewhat sidelined, mainly seen waiting faithfully by his ham radio for Susan's call. When those calls stop coming, Santo, not having read The Rules, immediately sets off with Paul to lay siege to the castle. Meanwhile, we finally learn what Mann has really been up to all this time, and it's fucking weird. Throughout their captivity, he has been secretly giving the models daily injections of estrogen. This promotes the growth of fibroid tumors that in turn provide the special ingredient to his art duplicating formula -- and also clearly indicates that no woman's hands ever came within striking distance of the script for Santo vs. Dr. Death. What I do like about all this is that Mann has no grand scheme for doing this beyond just wanting to have a really amazing art collection.

And what I like about Santo vs. Dr. Death, despite its flaws, is how it neatly combines the three primary genres that characterized Santo's Mexican films of the period while seldom overlapping. Basically, by this time you either got gothic Santo, usually in conjunction with Blue Demon, in films like Santo y Blue Demon contra Dracula y el Hombre Lobo, sci-fi Santo, as in Asesinos de Otros Mundos, or, with increasing frequency, Santo as Interpol's secret weapon in spy thrillers like Mision Suicida and Anonimo Mortal. Dr. Death combines a little bit of all of these while thankfully overlooking the cinematic Atavan of Santo on the hacienda (El Aguila Real) and Santo on the border (Santo en la Frontera del Terror).

I also like that, while Santo vs. Dr. Death's story is indeed strange, it is told with much more coherence and energy than many of Santo's later exploits. For one, the film really takes its action seriously, the final act, comprised of Santo and Paul's attack on the castle, being exemplary. In quick succession, we see a number of furious fights that are both well choreographed and filmed, Santo negotiating a series of perilous booby traps in the corridors of the castle, a speedboat chase, and some nifty stunt work that involves Santo making a high dive off a cliff and later being towed in pursuit of the villain while hanging from the ladder of a helicopter, all while sporting a snazzy, leather paneled turtleneck.

Then again, perhaps my expectations have been battered into submission by other film's insistence on showing me two minute of Santo idly watching television while also showing me what he's watching on television. But, hey, I'll take whatever excitement in a 1970s Santo film I can get, and Santo vs. Dr. Death, in its vaguely appealing Euro way, delivers.

Santo vs. Dr. Death can be seen in its entirety on YouTube.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Friends of 4DK: Elomea (East Germany, 1972) by Keith Allison

As other, non-4DK related matters have been making demands on my time of late, I've reached out to some friends in the blogosfear to contribute guest posts. The first comes from my esteemed friend, colleague and boss over at Teleport City, Keith Allison.

Of the three science fiction films produced by East German studio DEFA that found their way to the United States, Eolomea is often considered the least of the three. It lacks the 1950s pulp appeal of The Silent Star and the eye-popping disco style of In the Dust of the Stars. Compared to those two brightly colored space adventures, Eolomea is a more somber affair set in a lived-in solar system where the wonder and daring of space travel has been replaced by workaday drudgery and blue-collar boredom. The space stations are less wonders of futurist architecture and more akin to a grubby bachelor pad. The cosmonauts of Eolomea are not bold venturers into the great beyond; they are mostly irritated guys who just want to do their time and get home, like a crew stationed at some remote Antarctic outpost.

Eolomea begins with one of those multi-cultural “general assembly meeting” that are usually convened to discuss what to do about the Mysterians. Scientists and associated bureaucrats on Earth are panicked when they start losing contact with their far-flung network of space stations. Unable to figure out what might be causing this (some sort of plague is suspected), they take the emergency measure of freezing all space flights. This order sits poorly with cosmonaut Dan Lagny (Ivan Andonov), stationed on a remote outpost with only one other ennui-wracked crewmember for company. Lagny is sick of space stations and endless voids, and his return to Earth is delayed by this new order. Luckily, space -- like the Soviet Union -- is pretty big, and most of the people on the outskirts of the colonized cosmos simply ignore orders from Earth.

Thus is Dan able to escape the confines of their little station and return home, where he can don space-age (1970s) leisure-wear and yell at the sky. His retirement is derailed when he meets scientist Maria Scholl (Cox Habbema), in charge of investigating the communications blackouts and uncovering the mystery behind the single cryptic message anyone has received from the space stations: the single world “Eolomea,” which seems to have no meaning. Despite his grouchiness, Dan is pressed into service once more. The investigation eventually uncovers something sinister to do with another prominent scientist and leads Dan, Maria, and their small crew to the littered and wrecked halls of one of the seemingly abandoned space stations -- seemingly.

The dramatic change in tone that sets Eolomea apart from other DEFA sci-fi films is thanks largely to it being one of the first Eastern Bloc science fiction films released in the wake of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film effectively ushered in a new era, one less concerned with rocket models and monsters and more concerned with human drama played against the vastness of space. The first Communist response to 2001 was 1970’s Signale – Ein Weltraumabenteuer, a German production that places one foot in the pre-2001 world of space pulp and the other in awkward attempts at post-2001 intellectualism. That film is largely forgotten, falling as it does in the twin shadows of both 2001 and the Soviet response, Solaris, a stark and complex film that is as well-regarded and almost as well-known as 2001. Also existing in that shadow is Eolomea, based on a book by Bulgarian writer Angel Vagenshtain, released the same year as Solaris and promptly forgotten until recently.

Although its disjointed timeline and contemplations on the emptiness of space make Eolomea a more complexly structured film than Silent Star and In the Dust of the Stars, it’s still relatively accessible compared to Solaris and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The central mystery proves more solvable than the mind-bending freak-outs that comprise the ends of either of those movies. Like Solaris, Eolomea explores the effects of space and isolation on the human psyche, but Eolomea’s themes are more proletariat than the melancholy, metaphysical weirdness of Solaris. Here, the chief human emotion is not grief, but simple everyday boredom.

It’s not unexpected that Eastern Bloc science fiction in the 1970s, buoyed by the Soviet space program, would chose to dwell on this aspect of space exploration. In oversimplified summary, while the American space program went for flight and exploration, the Soviets went for space stations and orbiting settlement. The Soviet space station program kicked off in 1971 with Salyut-1. Both Solaris and Eolomea came out a year later. The effects of living in such an environment must have been as heavy an influence on the directions of both films. Once you have guys actually up there, it tends to scrub away a bit of the polish to expose the gritty reality of day-to-day space life: less proud cosmonaut pointing toward the stars, more bored cosmonaut with holes in his socks.

It seems at first a jarring change of tone for a Communist science fiction film, so full were they of can-do attitude and faith that adherence to core socialist principles would eventually see us achieve the stars. In Eolomea, we have achieved the stars, and it turns out it’s kind of dull. It starts to make more sense as the film progresses, however, and in the end Eolomea is about the importance of not letting the drudgery and bureaucratic red tape of space travel outweigh the profundity of the pursuit. Despite similar trappings, it’s a much more optimistic view of man versus the cosmos than Solaris.

Still, despite the ultimately hopeful “to boldly go” ending, Eolomea is rather a jarring shift from DEFA’sother sci-fi films. Trading in pop-art set design for grubby space stations, primary colored space suits for more workaday realistic ones, and scantily-clad space dancing girls for irritable cosmonauts with stinky socks might be part of what keeps Eolomea from attaining the same level of love shown the other DEFA scifi romps. It’s a fascinating and ambitious science fiction film though, and as long as you don’t go in expecting the non-stop visual disco of In the Dust of the Stars, Eolomea gives you a slow burning but engrossing mystery. And hey, it’s not all depressing space grind! There’s Cox Habbema in her future-bikini, Ivan Andonov in his space leisure-wear, a reel-to-reel robot, some cool spaceship and station miniatures, and of course space vodka. Lots and lots of space vodka.

Friday, May 17, 2013

My legacy is secure.

Screw you dodgy servers and Ukranian dick pill farmers, or whatever you are. It takes more than your poxy efforts to keep Teleport City down. In fact, the phoenix-like resurrection of that venerable site continues apace, with the latest good news being that my complete archive of film and music reviews -- some five years' worth -- has now been fully reinstated. This process has provided a real walk down memory lane for yours truly -- except, of course, in those cases of reviews that I don't remember writing, which happens. In any case, feel free to check it out, maaaan.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Friday's best pop song ever

Gaddaar (India, 1973)

Few Indian crime films are as pure as Gaddaar. Within seconds of its opening credits, we are right in the middle of a thrilling depiction of its central crime and meeting our criminals. And what criminals they are – brutalizing women, children and the elderly with equal abandon, murdering innocent witnesses. These are hard, awful men.

And what a cast playing those hard, awful men! While Gaddaar provides a good showcase for star Vinod Khanna and his matinee idol good looks, its arguable main attraction is the first rate assemblage of Bollywood character actors who portray its crooks. Not only do we have career bad guys like Madan Puri and Ranjeet doing what they do absolutely best -- even if Ranjeet’s wardrobe is a bit disappointingly sedate -- but MVP’s like Iftehkar taking a rare step outside his usual police official roles to essay the part of the noble villain. And then there is B.K., probably one of the all time great Pran roles. Prone to referring to himself in the third person and making extravagant claims of infallibility, B.K. is a figure at once ridiculous, imposing, and tragic, ultimately undone by his own ego.

Gaddaar begins with the gang of seven men led my B.K. stealing a royal fortune of forty lakhs from an electrified palace safe in a meticulously planned robbery. Their number includes Sampat (Anwar Hussain), an acrobat, Professor (Iftehkar), the science guy, Babu (Ranjeet), who punches people, Kanhaiya (Madan Puri), the driver, John (Ram Mohan) and Mohan (Manmohan). Just as it seems the gang is going to get away free, a guard pulls an alarm and a shootout ensues. B.K. is wounded and the gang is separated. Later, everyone makes it back to the hideout except for Kanhaiya, who was carrying the money. The men wait, becoming more quarrelsome by the moment.

Night falls and the gang make their way to Kanhaiya’s apartment. There they come upon Raja (Vinod Khanna), a small time thief, in the process of an attempted burglary. Raja knows who they are and asks for a cut of the loot in exchange for his silence and his assistance in tracking down Kahnaiya. Before B.K. can answer, he escapes. Later the men go to see a cabaret dancer (Padma Khanna) who is a known consort of Kanhaiya’s. Raja shows up again and takes the woman into his custody, again asking the gang for a guaranty of a cut. B.K. agrees, and Raja strong arms the dancer into divulging Kanhaiya’s whereabouts before apparently shooting her in cold blood.

Kanhaiya’s trail leads to the village of Rampur in the snowy Himachal Pradesh region of Northern India, where Vinod Khanna and his giant swastika necklace arrive in short order. Lost in a snow storm, he comes upon the isolated Hotel Mansaro. This turns out to have been recently purchased by Kanhaiya, who lives there with his daughter Reshma (Yogeeta Bali) and young son Tito (Master Raju). The hotel is otherwise empty for the off season, with the only other guests being Mathur (Satyenda Kapoor), an alcolholic doctor, his wife, and Shankar (V. Gopal), the hotel’s porter.

Meanwhile, the rest of the gang is hiding out in a cave near the hotel, with B.K. overcome by a racking, consumptive cough that gets worse by the minute. Informed by Raja of Kanhaiya’s presence, they make their way to what they think is an abandoned barn on the property, where an armed guard seriously wounds Sampat before being shot dead by them. The men then descend upon the hotel and take the staff and guests hostage. After B.K. threatens little Tito with torture, Kanhaiya reveals that thirty five remaining lakhs of the treasure are buried in a cave nearby. B.K. and Professor follow him there, only to find that the cave is the very one that they had just been hiding in. Kanhaiya begins to dig up the strong box, but then pulls a gun and shoots Professor. As he dies, Professor asks B.K. to promise him that there will be no bloodshed. B.K. does, but we can’t see whether or not he’s crossing his fingers.

Like any great “heist gone wrong” tale, Gaddaar descends into greater and greater violence as it goes along, depicting the erosion of trust between the criminals in fairly unflinching detail as the bullets fly with increasing frequency. Leavening this somewhat are Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s musical sequences, which include a strange, Egyptian-themed nightclub number that involves white hippie girls and a lot of eating. Overall, the duo’s song score here is pleasantly heavy on the tribal rhythms and traditional melodies, while the film’s instrumental score relies heavily on needle dropped cues from Enno Morricone’s score to For a Few Dollars More. Anand Bakshi’s lyrics are also clever. Upon learning of the remaining loot, the gang archly celebrates Madan Puri’s Kanhaiya with a rousing rendition of the theme song:
“You are a traitor after all
you are a cheat after all
you are our old friend
At least you love money.”

Gaddaar was apparently only the second film as director – and the first as producer – for Hamesh Malhotra, a career director whose work included 1986’s fanciful “snake lady” film Nagina. His talent is nonetheless well in evidence, from his arresting use of bold primary colors, to his shrewd, atmospheric use of the snowy Himachal Pradesh locations, to his taut staging of the opening heist. True, there is room for all kinds of films under the Bollywood action banner, from the sober social drama of Deewaar to the comic book histrionics of a Maha Badmaash. But it is films like Gaddaar that hold down the rare generic middle ground. As such, it is one that I’d recommend to any fan of either great caper films or crime films of an international nature, whether or not they’ve yet gotten their Indian cinema training wheels.