Ek Se Badhkar Ek
India 1976
Directed by Brij.

Two brothers, living on the street, separated as children when they run afoul of a thief's scheme, sending the older brother to jail. The younger brother, Shankar (Raaj Kumar), vows that he will always be a thorn in the side of criminals from that moment on. And so he is. He grows up to be a thief -- but a good thief -- stealing from criminals and selling their ill-gotten gains back to them. He still searches for his long lost brother, and still prays to Ganesh and wears his symbol as his brother taught him long ago.

Shankar does know one man that he considers to be his good friend, Rajesh Varma (Navin Nischol), chief of police. Rajesh is put specially in charge of protecting a recently discovered diamond, possibly dated from the period of the Mahabharata and perhaps even worn by the mythic hero Arjuna. He doesn't spend a lot of time taking care of the diamond, though, and concentrates more on his fiance, Rekha (Sharmila Tagore).

Rekha has trouble of her own, including a mother who thinks she murdered someone and is being blackmailed (though she really didn't), and her father Raja (Ashok Kumar), who was a wandering mendicant, shows up unexpectedly right when it seems Rekha's inheritance is up for grabs.

The couple discover that her father is a thief the hard way -- he steals the diamond and replaces it with a copy. Now to save face for the family, Rajesh and Rekha plan to break in and put it right back. But even after making their way through the amazingly complex alarm and trap system to make the switch, of course they are double-crossed and Rajesh becomes a fugitive from the law, and only Shankar, the mistrusted thief, can save him.

Released in 1976, filled with the glorious colors, costumes, sets, and music of the era, EK SE BADHKAR EK is much more enjoyable than it has any right to be, given the rather "B" level of the cast. Navin Nischol particularly lacks much by way of charisma. Raaj Kumar distinguishes himself by the end of the picture, though he is absent for long stretches. Of the men, the picture undoubtably belongs to the aging giant Ashok Kumar, former leading man turned character actor, a staple in Bollywood cinema since the 1930's. Here he is a duplicitous, amoral thief, striken by events in his past. He overshadows the usual expected male bonding between Raaj Kumar and Navin Nischol.

Sharmila Tagore gets to do one very sexy number in disguise at a gypsy camp (nevermind why a gypsy camp -- they always appear in Bollywood movies when the heroes need a disguise because it always precipitates a musical number and the heroines can show a lot more midriff in those gypsy outfits). But again the lead is overshadowed, this time by Helen (just one name, like Madonna), playing a vamp trying (and succeeding) to seduce Shankar. She gets to picturize the themesong "Ek Se Badhkar Ek," the most memorable song of the entire movie.

The title card of the movie gives the full title as EK SE BADHKAR EK (REVISED). This is a routine action movie from the seventies, and by routine, I mean completely insane. Blond-haired big-sideburn villains wildly improbable family relationships, huge money heists, a rampaging elephant, several certainly fatal moves that our cool hero uses to get out of tight spots, the movie has it all in the action department, but comes up lacking in heart. The melodrama falls slack instead of pulling the story taut. But not every film has to be touching to be entertaining. A true "popcorn" film.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on November 06, 2005.

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