My life is tragically underpopulated by Indian secret agent films, but I'll be murdered by poisoned hemophilic face cream if Keemat doesn't do its best to fill the void!
Weird and overly-complicated methods of silencing traitors is one of many James Bond boxes ticked with great gusto by the cast and crew of Keemat. Others include:
• groovy titles and theme music complete with brass and surf guitars (listen here - can anyone catch what they're saying at the beginning of the song?),
• a dripping-with-bad sub-baddie,
• a maniacal, exaggeratedly silly arch villain
Prem Chopra looks a lot like Futurama's Hedonism Bot in this film.
who has a stylized hideout and animal companions,
This map shows the path of the captives in the lair as they try to escape. Handy! I especially like the arrows.
• a plan to acquire great fortune that involves oppressive labor practices and moral degradation of the less fortunate (in this case, luring young women with promises of glamorous jobs abroad only to get them so addicted to drugs that they are willing to sell their bodies to pay for their habits),
• glamorous outfits,
In case you haven't put away your Christmas decorations yet, Keemat has plenty of ideas about what to do with them.
• and even dry delivery by the lead agent Gopal (Dharmendra) and occasional droll humor.
This being 1973 Bollywood, there are also:
• shots of vintage scenery,
• horrible furniture and interesting interiors,
• fabulous wigs,
• fabulous fashions for the men too (my favorite being a slew of bad guys in colorful belted tunics),
"Hello 1973. Prepare to meet your style-makers." Colorful, synthetic, sparkly saris; big hair; and polyester suits and ties. What more could you want?
• fabulous makeup, with extreme eyeliner that does not meet in the corner as the look to sport even when you're a girl gestapo,
• and a nice variety of songs, including one chronicling poor Nanda (Padma Khanna)'s descent into Pedro (Ranjeet)'s world; a cabaret number by Jayshree T; Rekha drunking in her nightie; and the big number featuring the enslaved girls being auctioned off to a room of international buyers.
Ordinarily I don't want my entire post on a film to be lists, but that's really what Keemat is. It is a wonderful collection of fun ideas and scenes that don't add up to much, but that doesn't matter because everything is so enjoyable. Ogling Dharmendra's laid-back heroics is the best reason to watch Keemat. He smiles throughout his encounter with Prem Chopra and all but winks through most of the film, happily dispatching baddies with barely a hair out of place before delivering one-liners or making out with the heroine Sudha (Rekha).
Sudha is a strange combination of feisty but girlish. She makes some very big decisions calmly and coolly but also acts petulant at times while batting her eyelashes at others. That's probably why I didn't quite buy her relationship with Gopal - we've all seen more convincing romance from both these actors elsewhere - but once again, it probably doesn't matter much because we in the audience just happily go along with what Gopal tells us we want, as does everything/everyone else in the film. Laxmikant-Pyarelal's music is fantastic, very stylish without overpowering the other elements of the film. Agha and Rajendra Nath share comic duties but not in a bad way; even with the caveat in place that Rajendra Nath is my favorite CSP actor from any decade, I don't think either of them is on screen enough to really annoy.
An interesting note about women in this film: if the subtitles are correct, the bad guys state that part of the brilliance of their plan is that none of the girls they ensnare will be able to leave their clutches because their bad behavior means their homes will no longer welcome them, thus leaving them even more desperate and dependent. Fortunately, the film makes no such judgment; Gopal's rough treatment of victim Nanda is, I think, more to get information out of her than a moral reaction. (And if it were, he'd be an outrageous hypocrite - not that that usually stops film heroes....) Sudha, who is also Nanda's sister, even flat-out says that she will take her sister back no matter what she's done or where she's lived.
Even the heroine herself behaves a bit naughtily (drinking, staying the night at a strange man's house, kissing her fella as he reclines on a bed) with no regrets and no consequences!
This attitude too fits the vibe of the movie. Director Ravikant Nagaich, last seen on Beth Loves Bollywood at the helm of Wardat (though perhaps it's a stretch to imply that someone was actually in command of that movie), seems to take a James Bond (the character)-like approach to running this whole project: that is, maximum results with minimum effort. A lot is done with looks and visual connections rather than dialogue, which suits Gopal's demeanor perfectly. Interesting ideas that could have been more prominent threads or at least points to reflect back on here and there, like poverty and dead-end home lives driving these girls to sign up with the likes of Pedro, who is clearly disgusting, are dropped. Similarly, a few characters arrive and depart with no real context in or impact on the story. Ordinarily I'd find that kind of sloppy, but this film is so hero-oriented that it almost makes sense not to have done more with some of the potential present. The more I think about it, the more the film seems like Gopal reminiscing about events in his own solipsistic memory, not just because things are focused on the hero but because everything unfolds in a style that matches his character and the elements included are the aspects of the story he'd want you to know. Thankfully, he's a good storyteller. Gopal and Keemat definitely deliver on good, suave, silly, dishooming fun.