[Not to be confused with the incomparably worse Elaan of 2005 starring Rahul Khanna, Mithun, and a bunch of other people I'd rather not watch, previously reviewed here.]
Shetty: "Fun as Mithun is, I'm a more menacing opponent, don't you think?"
Vinod K: "Yeah, our Elaan is sure better than Rahul's. Shame. They sure don't make 'em like used to."
Helen: "I'll drink to that."
Elaan may be the most fantastic and under-appreciated movie of 1971. It's exactly the kind of film I live in fear of running out of someday: loony, exuberant, stylish, exciting, and fun. It might not exactly count as masala because, despite a murdered father and a burgeoning (and convincing) love story, it doesn't have much heart. It also lacks any notable moral stance or philosophical lesson. It has most of the other trappings, though, particularly the sparkly, elaborate, eye-scarring, and science-defying ones. Whatever it is, it's delightful.
I hardly know what to discuss first. Let's start with Shankar-Jaikishan's songs. This may be the first film I've seen with two Helen songs, the first introduced with Helen as a matador and a man in a bull mask
before mysteriously switching to her wearing a sort of...what is this, an Alpine milkmaid outfit with an equation stitched on her apron?
I really wish "Dil Lena Hai To Lo" had kept with its original theme—Helen as a matador teasing a man crawling on all fours needs to happen. The next one is in one of those dark, dank clubs punctuated by drug-trip fluorescent decor.
...And little white pigs in Santa hats?
"Janaab-E-Man Salaam Hain"
We also get three songs with Rekha, primarily the spangly "subterfuge in the heart of the villain's lair" number "Aaj Tumhari Kaan Mein Kah Doon."
Her hesitant shimmying and stomping at :23 crack me up.
There's also "Aap Ki Rai Mere Bare Mein," a cute love song with Vinod Mehra in which Rekha wears velvet trousers and her friends do the twist around the lead pair.
And in "Ang Se Ang Lagaya," she dances with an invisible man...until he materializes and they cradle each other in bed.
"Hang on a sec, Beth. Did you just say 'invisible'?" Oh yes I did! The major plot of Elaan seems to involve Vinod M as a newspaper photojournalist-turned-spy
who infiltrates Madan Puri's hideously frilly lair (more on that in a moment).
Don't all crime bosses keep their pens in pastel coffee cups decorated with Dutch folk art?
The version I watched was not subtitled, so I may be missing something, but I caught no talk of bombs or poisonous formoolas or traitors against Hindustan, so I'm not sure exactly what Madan's misdeeds are apart from counterfeiting and generalized wooden crate-related shenanigans.
When he is first caught by the bad guys, Vinod M is plonked in a cell with Vinod Khanna, whom you can tell is very bad by the way he lounges insouciantly chewing on a piece of straw,
and an old man who turns out to be a scientist with a ring that makes people invisible when they put it in their mouths.
At this point in the film, you can either go "Huh?!?" or "Wheeeee!" I watched this with Fairy Filmi Ending and we chose Wheeeee!"*
Vinod M. and requisite comedy pal Rajendra Nath—who is hands-down my favorite requisite comedy pal from any era—use the ring
to defeat and escape Madan, chief henchperson Shetty, Sabeena,
a regiment of villainous soldiers jauntily attired in baby blue,
And occasionally yet-again-not-an-actual-skin-color blackface.
and Vinod K, who is in cahoots with Helen and does not appear to be on anyone's side but his own.
Fortunately, the police (Iftekhar) are on the job as well. If you look at this picture of Rekha from her lair song, you may notice a curious accessory on her right wrist that doesn't exactly jive with her outfit. This is her transmitter back to Iftekhar. She's undercover too! Yessss!
I never saw a title on the map, but I think it's Bombay tipped on its side.
I'm absolutely confident that discovering what I've missed without subtitles would only make me love this film even more. There is nothing not to love about this movie. Likable, competent hero. Charming, stylish, confident heroine with her own story and stuff to do. Lots of bad guys. Eye candy for everyone.
Silly pseudo-science. Fabulous songs, as discussed. Lots of booze.
Great locations, including The Pool.
I think the pool on the right is the Radio Club in Colaba. Thoughts?
And the lair! At first it seems like a standard decadent mansion, bedecked as it is with all manner of gaudy art and furnishings,
but all this froo-froo is staffed by zoned-out goris
and connected, no doubt by underground passageways, to a command center full of communications equipment,
and torture devices. With this one, Shetty and Sabeena tie our heroes to poles and spin them around at high speeds.
Shetty also has very menacing pincers that can give a nasty shock.
It's just all so very, very fun. Starting even with its opening credits, in which Rekha screams for about three minutes straight as her out-of-control horse races down the beach and the geometry of images and text changes endlessly, Elaan is a rollicking good time.
Apparently director K. Ramanlal never made another film, instead returning to his multi-decade career as camera crew. This is a huge shame. Elaan's glee and excitement, its never-a-dull-moment-ness, remind me of Feroz Khan minus all the tiresome bits of duty and tears over dead brothers. It has great visual interest, a crisp pace, lively performances, and groovy music. Run, don't walk, to Youtube, where Elaan is currently available for free via Youtube Box Office courtesy of Eagle Films. Gobble up this masterpiece while you have the chance!
* This might be a good criterion for choosing friends, actually. And certainly for 70s movies-viewing companions.