When Anu listed her favourite Sadhna films, I remarked that another Sadhna film I like—though it’s from later in the actress’s career—is Intequam. Based on Vendetta, a Marie Corelli novel (the only film adaptation of a Corelli work that’s in colour), Intequam is a story of vengeance. Though it features a Sadhna whose gorgeousness had begun to suffer because of her medical problems, she’s still interesting—and the central character in this film.
Intequam begins at a customs desk, where a man (Ashok Kumar) has just arrived from abroad. The customs officer [the very picture of gullibility] asks if there’s anything to declare, and on being shown a sapphire ring and a pack of Rangoon picture postcards, is happy to let the man through.
Just then, a colleague comes along with the information that the police are on the lookout for a man flaunting a sapphire ring and a pack of Rangoon picture postcards. He’s a smuggler, and must be apprehended.
[Which begs the question: if this ace smuggler was merely asked to declare what he was bringing in, and not actually searched, why did he bother to show something so very distinctive and hard to forget? Ah, the ways of Hindi cinema…]
Anyway, the chase is on, with the cops’ jeep following the smuggler’s car [a hijacked one]. Near a slum, the smuggler gives the cops the slip long enough to get out, find a passing girl, and hand her the postcards, while begging her to keep them safe and not let the police know where he is. [Stupid, stupid. Why shouldn’t the girl send the cops on his trail? And what if she decides it’s a good idea to send the postcards to all her friends across the country?]
The focus now shifts to the girl, Rita (Sadhna), who’s headed home after a long day’s job-hunting. She hasn’t been able to find work anywhere despite being well-educated, and is now at the end of her tether. [She should spend some annas on films like Hum Dono, Usne Kaha Tha, or Waaris; she might get some ideas about where to apply for a job].
Home is in a chawl, where Rita lives with her consumptive, coughing-her-lungs out, but bravely going-on-making-baskets mother [No prizes for guessing who. Leela Chitnis].
Fortunately for Rita and Mum, there’s good news: a call for an interview. Their neighbour Meera (Dulari) brings across the letter, which has been left at her home by mistake, and there’s much excitement. If Rita can get this job, life will be better.
The interview is at the Sona Department Store, where Rita has applied for a job as a stenographer. She is interviewed by the slimy Baanke (Jeevan), who leers at her throughout and swiftly decides that yes, she is certainly the right candidate for the job. [Rita is either too dumb, too naïve, or just plain too desperate to notice Baanke’s undisguised lecherousness].
Rita is therefore appointed, and goes to meet the boss, Seth Sohan Lal (Rehman), who gives her a brief pep talk. He, however, curtly turns down Rita’s request for an advance to pay for her mother’s treatment.
Seth Sohan Lal is a very wealthy man, but much of his wealth is being drained away thanks to the irresponsible behaviour of his sole offspring, Rajpal ‘Raj’ (Sanjay Khan). Raj is an inveterate [and, worse, unlucky] gambler, who’s constantly losing money and having to phone Daddy to pay up his debts. Seth Sohan Lal, however, is so devoted to his son that he hardly even protests.
Among Seth Sohan Lal’s business associates—and one whose goodwill Sohan Lal is eager to retain—is the buffoonish Seth Murlidhar (Asit Sen). Murlidhar has a taste for liquor and women. To ‘cater’ to him, Baanke sends Rita to Murlidhar’s hotel room, on the pretext of taking dictation.
To her credit, Rita is very uncomfortable about this arrangement, and tries to back out of it. Baanke, however, assures her that Murlidhar is a decent man, and that it’s important for the company that he be kept happy.
When Rita arrives at Murlidhar’s room, however, it’s to discover that—as she had feared—Murlidhar’s idea of being kept happy is rather different from what she would like. When he starts to paw her, she lets fly and slaps Murlidhar.
The result is that, the next day, Rita is summoned to Sohan Lal’s office, and he questions her. Didn’t she know how important Seth Murlidhar is to them? How dare she insult him? Rita, instead of being cowed, snaps back: what Seth Murlidhar tried to do was an insult to her. And if Seth Sohan Lal tries to pressurise her, she’ll go to the department store’s trade union. They’ll make sure she gets justice.
Seth Sohan Lal makes a suave recovery, telling Rita that he was just testing her. And that he is proud of her for standing up like that.
With Rita pacified and out of the way for now, Seth Sohan Lal hurries to Baanke and tells him to make sure Rita doesn’t cause problems. And that she is taught a lesson.
The next day, Rita—coming in to work, and removing the raincoat she’s been wearing—doesn’t realise that Baanke has been watching. When she’s gone off to her desk, he slips a valuable necklace from the store’s jewellery display…
…and shortly after, the alarm in the store is sounded. All the employees line up, a police inspector is summoned, and bags and purses and personal belongings are checked.
All her pleas and protests of innocence go unheard, and Rita ends up with a year’s imprisonment. [Shoddy job by the cops, I’d say; they don’t seem to have done any investigations re: how Rita was able to filch a necklace from a display she was nowhere near, etc].
Fortunately, we don’t get to see all the nitty-gritty and sordidness of Rita’s prison sentence; the next scene has her being released, 15 days before her sentence is up, because she’s been a good girl.
… yet not in time. Because, as she arrives at the jailor’s desk, she is given some worrying news: her mother is very ill. Rita therefore runs all the way home [Why? Wouldn’t a bus have been faster?]—and finds that poor Mum has coughed her last cough.
Rita is heartbroken, of course, but also bitter and furious as hell. Seth Sohan Lal and Baanke and Murlidhar are to blame for the death of her mother. And come what may, she will make them pay. This, in good Hindi film style, isn’t a quiet little thought or even something muttered under one’s breath, but a loud proclamation made in what Rita believes to be a deserted temple—she tells the resident idol that she has no further use for him.
And, also like in good Hindi film style, when you’re least expecting it, an eavesdropper crops up. And it’s someone you’ve met before. This happens to be Hira Lal, the man who—a year ago—had given Rita that bunch of postcards and told her to keep them safe. He’s come back to thank her for helping him that night, and to ask for the postcards back.
When he accompanies Rita home and she hands over the postcards, he reveals them to be a hiding place for—diamonds! [Yes, well, a man called Hira Lal. What do you expect? What beats me is how people in Hindi films carry around loose diamonds in their palms like so much gravel].
Another coincidence, now. It seems (though we are not told why, right now) that Hira Lal too hates Sohan Lal, and wants to avenge some long-ago wrong Sohan Lal is guilty of. Hira Lal proposes that he and Rita gang up, and use the diamonds as a means to have their respective revenge on Sohan Lal. Rita agrees.
Switch to two years later. Hira Lal (now in a natty suit) and Rita (now all chic, coiffed and chiffon-sari-clad) are the owners of the hugely popular Casino Egyptiana, where, besides the gambling, drink and blonde waitresses, the big attraction is the dancer Rebecca (Helen). Rebecca, in a departure from the quintessential vamp, is a ‘bad girl’ only on the outside; she’s actually Rita’s good friend, and is helping her carry out one bit of revenge: on Seth Murlidhar…
All of these Rebecca and Rita carefully hoard, until it is time to blackmail Murlidhar and make sure he’s cured forever of his penchant for lusting after pretty ladies. Even his lawyer, who comes to negotiate with/threaten Rita, goes away with his tail between his legs.
Now to the main focus of the revenge—both Rita’s and Hira Lal’s—: Seth Sohan Lal. Hira Lal has come to the conclusion that Sohan Lal’s weak spot is his son, Raj. Rita must entice Raj; when he is completely in her thrall and has married her, Rita will have become the embodiment of Sohan Lal’s honour and dignity. Then they will have their revenge.
Fortunately for them, Raj is in the right place [Kashmir] at the right time [summer]. Rita and Hira Lal, with Rebecca in tow, go off to Kashmir too. While Rebecca finds a cartoonish suitor in Raj’s friend Pyare Lal (Rajinder Nath):
Rita is busy luring Raj with a song and mysterious disappearances and appearances in places he hadn’t expected. It doesn’t take long [to be precise, just one song] to have Raj fall head over heels in love with Rita.
Soon, they’re cootchie-cooing all over the Valley, and Hira Lal is orchestrating Rita’s every move, from when she should make Raj wait for her on a date, to how long.
One evening, when they’re by themselves, Hira Lal confides in Rita. 20 years ago, he and Sohan Lal were best friends and associates. They were sailing past Rangoon harbour when the police got after them (Hira Lal does not say why the police were chasing them, but we can guess. So can Rita).
The two men came to a decision: one of them would lure the cops away and allow himself to be taken, while the other would escape. Hira Lal agreed to be the scapegoat, on the condition that Sohan Lal, on arriving in India, would look after Hira Lal’s wife and child.
20 years later, when Hira Lal—now free—arrived at Sohan Lal’s house, it was to find that Sohan Lal hadn’t even bothered to look up Hira Lal’s wife and child. He had no idea where they were. “I was a bit busy,” Sohan Lal said.
Yes, well. We can understand now why Hira Lal can’t stand Sohan Lal. Especially as Hira Lal, despite his best efforts, hasn’t been able to find his family either.
But, back to Bombay, where Rita and Hira Lal now decamp, in pursuit of Raj. Raj is thrilled about his ‘betrothed’, as he introduces Rita to his father at a party hosted by Sohan Lal. Sohan Lal, though he has an unsettling feeling that he’s seen this girl somewhere before, can’t place her—but is quite enchanted by Rita nonetheless.
So enchanted, in fact, that he gifts her a diamond necklace. Which, while Raj is putting it on for Rita, is the impetus that Baanke, who’s standing by, needs. The juxtaposition of woman and diamond necklace refreshes his memory, and he immediately tells Sohan Lal who Rita is.
And he does, without even listening to what his father has to say. Raj catches up with Rita as she’s driving off, and Rita tells him that it’s best they break up: she isn’t as wealthy as he is, his father will always disapprove of her, and their relationship can go no further. Raj, as she expects [this poor man is so predictable], denies this all, and—to prove his undying love—suggests they get married, at once.
They do, and Sohan Lal, when faced with his bahu, has no option but to accept her. And Raj’s new bride, now that she is Sohan Lal’s ghar ki laaj—all the honour of his name and household rests on her shoulders—can get around to making sure that his name is mud. And Raj, naïve and puzzled when he asks Rita why she’s behaving thus if she loves him, has the bitter truth flung in his face: She doesn’t love him, never has. She married him as a part of her vendetta.
What I liked about this film:
Intequam is pretty representative of the somewhat better class of 60s masala film: stylish, with an interesting (if occasionally melodramatic) plot, a slim secondary romance (the characters of Rajinder Nath and Helen), a second woman (Anju Mahendru in a short role as Indu, who loves Raj) and a satisfying hotchpotch of angst, anger, romance—and revenge. Sadhna, while not as gorgeous as she was in Waqt or Mere Mehboob, is still beautiful. Sanjay Khan is boyishly good-looking, and actually quite convincing as the amiable young man who falls in love with a woman whose agenda is quite different.
The character development of the principal characters—Rita and Raj in particular—is interesting. Raj is caught between his love for his father and his love for the wife who’s out to avenge herself. Rita is too dear to give up for the sake of family honour; he cannot bring himself to hate her, even if she lives in her own home and refuses to have anything to do with him.
On the other hand, his love for his father means that Raj is ashamed and embarrassed to see Sohan Lal being demeaned by Rita. It makes him try to reason with Rita, even to get coldly angry with her. … and yet, Raj sees the injustice in how Rita was treated by Sohan Lal. He cannot undo what Sohan Lal did, and he cannot see Sohan Lal pay.
And there is Rita, who is embittered and angry and refuses to give up on her quest to destroy all that Sohan Lal holds dear: his prestige and name. Yet, because she has no enmity with Raj—he has only been a pawn in her plot—she is fair: she does not target him. An incongruity that is a little unusual for Hindi cinema, where a ‘destroy-the-entire-family’ vengeance is rather more common.
All in all, a pair of good character studies and enough shades of grey to make them intriguing.
Some of the songs (music by Laxmikant-Pyarelal). Especially Geet tere saaz ka; the two daaru songs (Kaise rahoon chup ke maine pee hee kya hai and Jo unki tamanna hai barbaad ho jaa) and the two club songs: Aa jaan-e-jaan and Mehfil soyi, aisa koi, both fine examples of how well Lata could match Asha when it came to sultry night club songs.
What I didn’t like about this film:
[Besides some very imaginative, convenient and totally OTT use of white mice in one crucial scene]
While it builds up the motive for revenge—and even takes the revenge plot quite far along—Intequam doesn’t have the guts to go the whole hog. It was, of course, unusual to have a female protagonist hell-bent on revenge back in those days, but Intequam succumbs to the pressure of the more usual tropes and standards that ruled the silver screen.
Barring that, however, this was a film I enjoyed. It’s entertaining, and it has a somewhat offbeat premise that makes it worth watching.
Intequam is available for viewing on Youtube, here. This, however, is a badly edited version. Not bad enough to leave you wondering what happened, but it does have odd skips and jumps which can be jarring.