Chhupa Rustam‘ (1973) is not one of Vijay Anand‘s best films. It seems to be a rehash of ‘Johny Mera Naam‘ (1970), a bit like the leftovers Mummy used to mash together into one gooey, brown, yucky porridge and try to convince us that it was quite tasty. Well, not really as bad as that.

Because after all it does have a gorgeous young Hema Malini, a sten-gun wielding Dev Anand, a comic Vijay Anand, a tragic Bindu and Prem Chopra and Ajit who are rather inconsequential villains because they have some major personal issues. Premnath bumbles in various foreign languages in the background, and he is incomprehensible in all of them, including Hindi, but he is too remote to really exude danger.

Ajit has a morphine habit, and Prem Chopra is a gullible young man, prone to falling in love and attempting to rape his girlfriends but quite easy to make a fool of. Ajit also spanks him quite often.

Bindu is Ajit’s nurse. She gets taken in by Prem’s declarations of love, and “gives him everything”. That soon has him calling her ‘useless’ and falling for Hema Malini. Bindu takes revenge by writhing in the snow before a bonfire and dancing with Vijay Anand. Who for all his bumbling ways is a gentleman and falls for the fallen Bindu. Maybe the fact that he is called Jimmy Fernandes and she is called Bambi has something to do with this.

The lost Golden Valley of Nangla on the Indo-Tibet border was hidden thousands of years ago by a volcanic eruption and then, layers and layers of snow. But it is found quite easily by our hero Dev Anand who goes by the name Ashwini, by digging 30-40 feet, of course with a lot of help from his archeologist father A K Hangal who dies in the bargain, but leaves behind a book full of x and y codes.

Yes, there are a whole lot of maps and lots and lots of tunnels, mapped in red and occasionally pink, enough to bring the mountains down.

The songs are not really great, and neither is the cinematography. And I realize that in the absence of these, a supposedly fluffy Hindi films sinks in the oven, and doesn’t quite come off.

There were a couple of really poignant moments though. Hema Malini and Dev Anand in the snow. Catching a brief moment together amidst the camp set up there to find the valley, where they are prisoners. Hema Malini asks, “What will become of us?” And for a moment, you forget that it is a Hindi film, and of course, nothing very bad will happen to them, and not die or anything drastic like that, and of course they will be together in the end. The simplicity with which she asks the question does make you forget all that and for a moment you do feel very, very worried.

And another one, when Dev is inside the Golden Valley with the villains and they are all shooting away, and Hema Malini is outside with her parents, and all they can hear are gun shots. Vijay Anand cuts between a close up of her face, and the action inside. The tears roll down her cheeks, and you feel sad, the sadness of death. Bindu gets a close up here too, equally anxious.

‘Laat Saheb’ (1967) directed by Hari Walia, was another film like that, which didn’t quite come out soft and fluffy and sweet. Mainly due to a complete lack of chemistry between Nutan and Shammi Kapoor. They both act well, they both try hard. But Nutan just doesn’t seem right for Shammi.

This film suffers from bad and sometimes downright weird camera work.It is obvious that they didn’t even have enough shots for a good edit. However there are a couple of really interesting moments in the film.

The first is when Nutan arrives from Switzerland after 4 years, and decides to ride down to her house on her favorite horse, who has come to pick her up at the airport. She is wearing a rather Parisian frock. But then in a flash, she is wearing something else. It’s not shot well, so it comes as a jerk. But what she actually does is put her skirt up, so that it becomes a blouse, and inside she is wearing short tights. Ready to ride a horse. Quite a cool outfit, I thought. I had to rewind the DVD several times before I caught on to what she had done.

The other lovely bit is when her father, Murad tells her gently that Shammi Kapoor, called Jugnu, who is an illiterate hill man, a laborer, may not really be a good match for her, a rich girl educated abroad. You may tire of him soon, Murad says. It’s a life time commitment after all. And Nutan only repeats 2-3 times, very girlishly, “But Papa, I really like him.” She was so, so good in that scene.

Prem Chopra is here again, playing the proper villain this time, taking advantage of a mute girl who works in his house, and wanting the rich Nutan too, really evil. There is also a weird track between Lalita Pawar, Jugnu’s mother and Death, who keeps informing her about her son’s imminent demise!

I am not sure whether Hari Walia made another film after ‘Laat Saheb’ but Vijay Anand did give us ‘Pal pal dil ke paas’  in the same year ‘Chhupa Rustam’ released. So he can be forgiven. Anyway, at Upperstall I read that this was a time of major personal upheavals for him and also his Godman Rajneesh phase. The downturn of a brilliant career.

‘Chhupa Rustam’ by the way, was subtitled as ‘cool cat’. I forget what ‘Laat Saheb’ was called.