Gaddaar is maybe the best Hindi film of 1973, if not the first half of the 70s, that you probably haven't seen. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems that hardly anyone has watched this. Just yesterday I was bringing it to the attention of a full-time film critic who is a self-professed lover of the 70s, so it has somehow even escaped the notice of people who spend a lot time thinking about movies. But no more! I first learned of Gaddaar a few years ago when Memsaab, yet another fellow MOSS agent, wrote it up, and I thought "Where has this been all my life?" If you look at her post, you'll see several other people making that same basic comment, which adds to my sense that somehow this movie fell into a very undeserved oblivion long ago.
Though the opening action centers on a heist, the bulk of the film focuses on the story of what happens to the gang of criminals as one of their members runs off with their loot and another shadowy figure offers to help them search if they'll cut him in on the treasure. Snow (oh right, that's why I'm writing about this!) enters the picture as the traitor is eventually tracked to hotel in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, where blocked roads, difficult terrain, and the threat of storm freeze (haha) the location of second half of the film, with the isolation and limited movement both adding to and reflecting the increasingly fevered state of everyone's desperation.
Number one on its list of strengths is the cast. The gang leader is Pran, who spends the first few minutes of the film driving around Bombay in an absolute blue whale of an American car flashing hand signals to his crew, who all respond with an eager thumbs-up.
|The gang's all here: Madan Puri, Iftekhar, Anwar Hussain, Manmohan, Ranjeet, and Ram Mohan.|
|Vinod Khanna is so fly in this movie that I have sent beta Rahul screenshots of his wardrobe with the hope of inspiring Rahul to do a similarly-attired photo shoot.|
Chasing is generally more interesting to watch than planning, and the decision to show the effects of treachery after the heist, as opposed to the lead-up to the heist itself, is a wise one, enabling the writers to explore ideas like loyalty, friendship, identity, professional ethics, ambition, and dreams. These kinds of topics, in turn, give this outstanding cast a chance to do way more than they they get to in most other films, and what a joy it is.
I can't step outside my fervent love of 70s Bollywood enough to state empirically that all these guys are brilliant actors in these roles; it could be that I'm just so excited to see them have more than four lines, or be more than a beleaguered cop or slimy rapist, that anything they do would please me. But either way, Gaddaar gives us more time with Iftekhar, who has a scene that brings tears to my eyes, and Ranjeet, for whom I actually feel a teensy bit sorry, than any other film I've seen.
Plus they all appear in an excellent qawwali as the criminals dance around the hotel celebrating their find and taunting the traitor's betrayal of their friendship now that they have him where they want him. I won't embed the video because it actually contains at least one spoiler and some foreshadowing, but if you want to watch it anyway, click here. I wish it didn't, because I would love for you all to see Vinod Khanna be a snake charmer with VAT 69 as his been and Ranjeet as his snake.
The actors do not get equal screen time, but the unraveling of Anwar Husain's character, who for reasons not clear to me dreams of opening his own circus, is almost hypotizing and not at all what I expected to see. The value he puts in his talents and ambition is paralleled in Pran's increasingly frantic insistence that he get his hands on this money, not as much for the sake of it being money as for its symbolism of victory. His character states several times that he does not make a habit of losing, and each time the metal briefcase full of cash slips from his grasp he gets closer to the edge. As Todd points out, the violence also escalates, which is a nice counterpoint to the psychological and emotional changes in the characters and makes perfect sense when you lock a bunch of criminals in a room with lots of booze and not much to do except think about their greed and the money that's just out of reach. The violence also adds to character development, as we find out who is actually a real creep (Surprise! It's not Ranjeet, for once!) and who has a conscience about the innocent bystanders in the hotel who might end up collateral damage. And from those differences arise clues to the true identity of a few of the characters and hints at how they will eventually align (or not).
Age is an interesting and, according to the subtitles, anyway, largely unspoken factor in how the criminals are depicted. Pran, Anwar, Madan, and Iftekhar act more as the brains and leaders than the younger men do, and Pran and Iftekhar in particular are written as long-standing friends who genuinely care for each other, expressed in scenes that make this movie a must-see for anyone who likes Bombay's gentlemen character actors of this period. The younger men serve a bit more as heavies, but they are not without dashes of personality.
Forty years after Gaddaar's release, it's still a taut depiction of risks of the criminal life. To make up for hackishly calling a heist movie "taut," I'll add that the script, pacing, visuals, and acting are as tight as Vinod Khanna's flares. Yeah baby! From the opening moments this movie is slightly different, despite its familiar faces. It begins with a wealthy maharaja (or so I assume, based on his pearl necklace) getting a tour of his high-tech safe from his diwan, which of course the gang is about to rob. The maharaja is played by none other than Ajit, who, if my research is accurate, wasn't quite known as one of the quintessential 70s villains just yet (and in fact Zanjeer released a week after Gaddaar), but certainly looking back on things, it's hilarious to see the stereotypical criminal mastermind as a socially respectable figure getting robbed blind.
|I've seen this wall often enough to assume it's an actual hotel. If it still exists, I hope we can have my next birthday party there.|