The Great Gambler

Director: Shakti Samantha
Music: R.D. Burman; Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Year: 1979
Running Time: 2 hours 42 minutes

One year after the popular reception of “Don”, The Great Gambler attempts to emulate that success by bringing back many of the same actors and by again giving Amitabh Bachchan a dual role in this action film. Though it never quite reaches the deliriously enjoyable highs of the “Don” experience, it certainly manages to pack an enormous amount of fun into its running time. From nearly the opening scene it grabs you by the ear and leads you on a chase from India to Egypt and through the streets of Rome, Lisbon, Amsterdam and Venice. And unlike many Bollywood films, in which only the musical fantasy pieces occur in these settings, this actually has the story unfolding in these locations and at times it feels like a travel tour – the pyramids on your right, the coliseum on your left.

Jai (played by Amitabh) is a street gambler  - someone who can make “cards dance to his tunes” and who is as quick with his fists (when his father’s memory is insulted) as he is with his cards. A casino owner spots his talents and after spiffing him up a bit – brings him into his business to take easy pickings from his customers. One of these suckers works for the government and after Jai sends him into deep debt with a winning hand, the owner Rafiq blackmails him for the blueprints of a top military laser weapon that can hit any target within a fifty mile range. It turns out that there is a spy ring operating in India that sends out messages in the most Bollywood of ways – through musical dance numbers! The bad guys hire the legendary Helen to do her thing – a left hip shake means “top secret”, twist that right hip and its “50 miles”, a combination hip swing and hand movement signifies “laser weapon”.
The C.I.D. pick up that some such skulduggery is taking place and assign their best man to look into it. This is Vijay – played by none other than Amitabh again – not surprisingly an exact double of Jai. As one can imagine this will lead to confusion being piled on confusion in both their professional as well as romantic lives. Soon the spies need another dancer (as Helen pretty much only did cameos at this point in her career) and enlist the sizzling Zeenat Aman to replace her. Zeenat is clearly established as the bad girl here – dances immodestly in a night club, smokes, drinks, shows cleavage, wears a bikini and basically creates a sexual stir wherever she goes. Zeenat also turns out to be pretty handy with a gun when she needs to be. She is just plain yummy. Though she knows she is working in some illegal racquet, she is unaware that she is betraying her country with her shaking and shimmying.
It doesn’t take long for the two Amitabh’s to get mixed up. Vijay (C.I.D.) is sent to Rome to follow up on a lead, while Jai (the great gambler) gets involved in a scheme in which he impersonates his boss’s son so that he can marry the daughter of a wealthy NRI living in Lisbon – and both end up making reservations on the same plane. The bad guys get word of Vijay’s mission and plant Zeenat on the seat next to him in order to seduce him, but Vijay misses the plane and she mistakes Jai for him and he is only too willing to have a little fun before he meets his future wife. Vijay (are you keeping up with this?) catches the next plane and who should spot him in the Rome airport but Jai’s fiancee (Neetu Singh) and she of course takes him for Jai and Vijay decides to go along with this in order to find out who his double is. From this point on the film becomes a fast moving joyous grab bag of car chases, fights, murders, boat chases, ticking bombs, disguises, bad haircuts, wide collars and jumps onto moving trains – with a little time reserved for music and romance. It all concludes with another chaotic fight finale (as did “Don”) in a low budget Dr. No like island fortress off of Goa. This is great fun with a myriad of booby traps, flying bodies and kung fu fighting being thrown into the mix.
Composer R.D. Burman is considered one of the great ones, but this is probably not one of his strongest groups of songs with the exception of Do Lafzo Ki Hai which is sung on a gondola on the waterways of Venice and begins as an Italian love song and is turned into a lovely Indian love song. A couple of the others are most memorable for the heat given off by Zeenat in her mildly revealing getups. What is terrific about the film’s music though is the background score itself that changes constantly from jazzy influences to pop to Indian – it is a real pleasure to listen to.

My rating for this film: 8.0

Song 1

Song 2