This is a film I’ve known about for many years now: I first heard about it on Greta’s blog, and have since been in two minds about whether to watch it or not. It sounded too nutty to miss (aliens toting laser rays and stealing diamonds? NA Ansari in a double role and Nilofer in a bad wig? Tanuja as ghost-who-sings?), but from my previous experiences of films directed by NA Ansari, I’ve realized that after a while, the madness of the script, the plethora of plot holes and the sheer pointlessness of much of what’s happening, can become very tedious.
But this is considered somewhat of a cult film, and one of the very few early Hindi films that had an element of sci-fi in it. So, if just for that (I like sci fi as a genre), I decided to watch Wahan ke Log.
This begins with a scene where a very wealthy man, sitting by himself in his home, has been reading the newspaper. The headlines are all about some aliens from Mars who’ve been targeting wealthy Indians and stealing diamonds. Not gold, not silver or currency, diamonds. They aren’t even going to any other country, just India (well, why not. If Hollywood can turn out so many alien invasion films where the aliens seem to attack only the US, why should we be any different?)
Even as sethji is scoffing at the notion of aliens etc, a flying saucer appears in the sky outside and, on the wall of Sethji’s room, something rather like a speaker suddenly appears too. This issues a ‘Get out your diamonds at midnight’ announcement, and goes on to warn Sethji that if he tells the police, it will be curtains for him. When the speaker falls off the wall (spent?), Sethji phones the cop.
A little before midnight, a scientist named Sinha arrives at Sethji’s home, saying he’s come to help. The police have surrounded Sethji’s home, and nothing will happen. There are no Martians, nothing. Even in the midst of these assurances, a flying saucer appears, hovering behind the apartment blocks nearby. Sethji and Sinha have just stood up when a woman appears, seemingly out of thin air (like that speaker from before).
She tells Sinha she’s an agent of the Martians, and when Sinha tries to pull a gun on her, he’s zapped by a tacky-looking weapon wielded by some weird three-fingered, scaly-skinned hand that appears out of nowhere and belongs to no-one present.
Sinha is badly jolted and the woman tells him that she’s come, too, to take scientists like him; they’re needed by the Martians. Sinha totters away, and the woman turns to Sethji, admonishing him for having called the cops. For that, Sethji too gets a blast from the weapon, though this particular shot is more lethal than the one that targeted Sinha. Sethi’s ribcage is briefly illuminated, and then, thud, Sethji cops it, while the claw-like hand retrieves the box of diamonds and presumably goes off with it and the woman.
Shortly after, elsewhere, a man and woman on a date have a hurried conversation. He’s a cop, and she is worried that her ‘syndicate’ will kill him for that. The syndicate seems to know everything about where she goes and who she meets, what she says and what she does. She also calmly points out that the huge pendant on the chain around her neck is a symbol of her fealty to the syndicate. (Anyone with half a neuron in their heads would put two and two together and realize just how the syndicate spies on her, but not this miss).
To cut a long story short, the mysterious syndicate blows up the female and the man minutes later. Boom.
Then, in quick succession, we’re introduced to the other dramatis personae. There is the chief of police (DK Sapru) in Delhi, who has been given various bits of information and is busy collating them all and drawing his own conclusions. The Sethji who was killed by (supposedly) Martians at the beginning was killed, say Forensics, by a laser ray on which the handprints are of a hand with three digits! (How the laser ray could have handprints on it beats me. Or if they mean the weapon in question, why did the Martians leave it behind? Very forgetful). Then, there’s the cop and his girlfriend who’ve just been killed.
Something fishy there, decides the cop, and he calls in secret agent Rakesh (Pradeep Kumar) to go to Bombay, where a famous scientist named Professor Chakravarty (NA Ansari, in white wig and beard) has his laboratory. The professor has invented a machine through which he is sure to be able to figure out the identity of the ‘Martians’. (That’s a vague term if I ever heard one).
Bond-style, Rakesh is given a clever gadget to help him in his mission: the chief hands him a pen which, though it can also write in the conventional way, with ink, when it’s twisted around, begins to write with invisible ink. For hidden messages which you might need to get across to us, he explains (this is the sort of stuff that would appeal to my seven-year old, who adores the Famous Five). Even better, that pen can act as a pistol. It carries only one shot, but so what. It can kill.
Rakesh ropes in a good friend, Neelkanth (Johnny Walker), who is the owner and chief PI of the Blue Bird Private Detective Agency. Neelkanth (whom Rakesh affectionately calls ‘Birdie’) has another gadget in hand: something which, when attached to a wall, can enable you to hear conversations in the room beyond the wall. (This, when I was a child, was improvised with two paper cups and a length of string. Birdie has been had. Or Birdie is, indeed, a birdbrain).
But before they can set off for Bombay, Rakesh encounters a beautiful and rather taciturn young woman (Tanuja) who pops up out of nowhere, sings two lines of a song at Tughlaqabad Fort, and vanishes after having addressed him by name. Rakesh is fascinated (how does she know his name? How does she disappear so suddenly?), but duty calls, and he goes off to Bombay.
As the chief has instructed him, he’s to masquerade as a Prince Ranvir Singh while in Bombay.
Barely has Rakesh emerged from the airport, than a man comes forward, saying he’s come to receive him. Rakesh suspects this is a baddie, and knocks him out, to discover that he was right: the man was wearing a shoulder holster and was just drawing a gun on Rakesh. Two other men turn up and tell Rakesh they’re cops, and he should go; they’ll handle this.
Meanwhile, the two men outside the airport have killed the man. They were all of the same gang, see, and that’s what they do to people who muck up. A better idea of just what Rakesh, Birdie, and the other good guys are up against may be had by one of the frequent glimpses of the man who sits at the head of this lot: Professor Chakravarty’s rotten son, Anil Chakravarty (also NA Ansari, minus the facial hair and wig). Anil, along with his girlfriend Margaret (Nilofer) faff around in their laboratory, where there are blinking lights, lots of buttons, and motion sensors to activate pretty much everything.
There’s more. There are fake nails which are used as message devices. There are scientists being kidnapped or won over, from all across the world, who have been forced (or enticed) into the service of the Martians. Who of course dash about in flying saucers, zap anybody who opposes them, and are nuts about diamonds.
There’s Sophia (Bela Bose), one of Anil’s gang members, who tries to lure Rakesh by booking a hotel room next to him. (She later turns out to be a dancer at the hotel, which makes me wonder why she’s got a room on the guest floors).
There are the gadgets! And the super laser ray, which will pulverize everybody within a 1,000 km radius! And Neelkanth and his men, switching disguises like there’s no tomorrow! Plus, there’s the mysterious woman (whom Rakesh, despite being up to his eye balls in Anil+Martians+Margaret+Sophia+goons, seems to have plenty of time to romance, while trying to fend off his mother’s attempts to get him married to a girl he’s been promised to since childhood or something).
And this is barely the tip of the iceberg.
NA Ansari is one of those film makers about whom I feel one can unequivocally say that he made films for the love of them: true love, after all, is unconditional, and it is the passion which counts, not the finesse of the finished product. Yes, there are directors like Satyajit Ray or Bimal Roy or Hrishikesh Mukherjee, whose love for their chosen medium of expression does shine through in the painstaking attention to detail in their cinema; but, perhaps in a different way, so too does Ansari’s love for cinema come through in his work.
True, in most of his films, you can barely see the plot for the holes, but the plot itself usually has this zany charm to it, as if Ansari wanted to bung in every single thriller/romance trope he’d ever come across in Hollywood and Bollywood, all into every single film. Never mind if it wasn’t completely thought out, never mind if it didn’t make much sense. The fun was in having it there.
This philosophy is reflected in Wahan ke Log as well. The fake fingernails, the gadgetry, the rogue scientist with his glamorous women (there’s a good bit of Bond homage here), the mysterious woman with whom the hero has a romance. The way all the baddies go about trying to kill pretty much everybody else, even their own colleagues, for no apparent reason.
The result is always the sort of film that’s so frenetic, so complicated and fast-paced that it’s well-nigh impossible to write a coherent scene-by-scene synopsis of it (which is why I have never reviewed an NA Ansari film on this blog so far). I, at least, in all the times I’ve watched his films, have ended up feeling like someone hit me with one of those laser rays.
But however slipshod the scripting department was, much of the rest of the crew and cast could be depended upon. Not for NA Ansari the B-grade actors and music directors: some fairly major actors, including Pradeep Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Shakila, Ajit, Tanuja and Johnny Walker, acted in his films, and the music was composed by directors like C Ramachandra, Ravi, and N Dutta.
Not great cinema, but if you can get past the frantic nuttiness, at least entertaining—if often in an unintentional way.
What I liked about this film:
The music, by C Ramachandra. While they were not especially popular, there were several songs here that were quite pleasant. My favourites were the oft-repeated Aawaaz meri sunkar ik baar chale aana; Zindagi ka nasha halka-halka suroor; and Tum kitni khoobsoorat ho.
And, the prettiness of Tanuja. Such a shame she doesn’t get to do very much in the film.
What I didn’t like:
The plot holes (some of which I’ve mentioned above), and the utterly illogical things that happen. Why do so many people in Anil Chakravarty’s gang go about killing everybody else at the drop of a hat? And why do they often find such convoluted ways of getting rid of people? How come this entire thing about Martians attacking wealthy Indians to steal diamonds doesn’t seem to have caused a flutter anywhere? How come everybody is going their way, dancing, singing, swimming, partying, etc, while flying saucers whizz about above them?
And much, much more.
But, I suppose one must give credit where it’s due: at least there’s an entertaining and rather novel premise here, so what if it depends upon the victims being utterly dumb and the police being incompetent. When it comes to combining sci fi (no matter how dodgy) with crime thriller and patriotism, Wahan ke Log does manage to be at least in a class by itself. I honestly can’t say I’ve seen this before.
(Wahan ke Log can be watched on several websites, including with hard-coded English subtitles on archive.org, here).