India 1979 colour
Director Raveekant Nagaich Writers Rajvansh, Ramesh Pant
Cast Mithun Chakraborty (Gopi, Gunmaster G9) With Ranjeeta, Jeevan, Aruna Irani
Those of you who know me are aware of my obsession with Indian pulp movies of the Sixties and Seventies. One of my all-time favourite Bollywood films is Disco Dancer (1982), a low-rent tribute to Saturday Night Fever made five years late, by which time disco had truly died the death of a thousand cuts. But no, there was Mithun Chakraborty, in wide lapels and flares, strutting his dancefloor grooves through a Bolly mangling of “Video Killed The Radio Star”: tack heaped upon glorious tack, deliriously absurd, and one movie you must see in case you dismiss an entire subcontinent’s B grade treasures. To this day, Bengal-born Mithun is a golden idol of the cinema, now in his sixties with over 250 films under his belt, and Disco Dancer is celebrated in the same way Dirty Dancing is in Western culture minus the ironic sneer. In fact a friend of mine was trapped on a bus worming its way through the Himalayas, and the only cassette on the day long journey was the soundtrack to Disco Dancer. Doug now has “I am a disco dancer (pam-pam-paddup)” etched indelibly into the memory bank, and ever the cinematic sadist, I like to pop it on the CD player whenever he’s in the room. Yes, I too have the soundtrack; it does things to me that Patrick Swayze singing “She’s Like The Wind” can never achieve.
…which is a roundabout way of saying how much I love the rat-arse end of Bollywood cinema. Imagine my joy, therefore, to discover the Disco Dancer himself was the Bollywood James Bond in a previous incarnation. Yes, that’s Mithun Chakraborty as Gunmaster G-9 In Surakksha, or “Protection”, his first smash hit and the first of two G9 adventures. As much as I love Disco Dancer, I have a horrible feeling it’s been replaced – Gunmaster G9 is pure, unadulterated, ghee-coated 100% Bolly Gold. For starters, we have the genuine article, a disco era artefact with its ghastly fashions and insidious musical atrocities intact. No sooner are the credits over, Mithun is straight into said disco number about how irresistible he is to women. As Gopi, codename G9, his satyric wanderlust is a problem to his spy career, as he just can’t seem to keep his little Gopi in his flares. “It’ll be the reason for his death,” says the Mumbai version of M, head of the CBI, as he orders G9 to investigate a dead airline pilot and missing map to a diamond mine. And the pilot is not the only Indian male in this movie to be led astray by the gorgeous but treacherous Neelam, Bollywood’s own Pussy Galore in her red boots and vinyl hotpants.
Neelam and the silver-haired gangster Hiralal are also behind the disappearance of fellow agent Jackson (no last name), whom his family believed to be dead, as his body was delivered to their front door in a crate! Believed, that is, until Gopi pries open his coffin and finds a skeleton with some elaborate plastic surgeon performed on it. His frantic search leads him and his comic disciple Kabadi to the beautifully aloof Priya – no mere conquest this time, as Gopi falls deeply and desperately in love - and to the real brains behind the criminally awful Shiv Shakti Organization. And a suitably over-the-top Bond villain he is: perched in his underwater lair, surrounded by kung fu experts and zombie butlers, Dr Shiva is a self-proclaimed genius with one eye and metal hand who declares himself more powerful than all gods, Shiva included, and intends to destroy the world – but not before he demands our hero dance for his life in a contest with the surprisingly musical Hiralal!
The first thing you notice about this Bond-on-a-hundredth-the-budget clone is its incredible array of miniatures which put Thunderbirds to shame, setting fire to toy cars and planes and throwing them off a dirt hill. What are very real are the snakes: one found in Gopi’s dinner tray, and hundreds of them in tanks, all slithering to life during a smash-em-up kung fu battle at a water snake farm. The great leveller in that particular scene, for me, is the moment when Gopi’s opponent falls into a giant vat – only to be menaced by the same rubber shark I owned as ten year old. Dr Shiva’s lair itself is a masterpiece of modernist pap, a triumph of bullshit over budget, and quite simply the most implausible Bondian villain’s lair committed to celluloid, from its glass wall showing dangerously magnified goldfish to Shiva’s wall of clunky 70s TV sets – all six of them, the wood veneer types with the chunky channel dial. This is one underwater layer whose sinking wouldn’t raise a fart bubble in a bath tub, and believe me, this is a supreme compliment.
Gunmaster G9 has everything you want in a James Bond movie. Comedy! Romance! Musical numbers! Try spotting every intentional reference to a Bond film: the underwater lair from Spy Who Loved Me/Dr No, the poison string routine from You Only Live Twice, the funeral procession from Live And Let Die, and Goldfinger’s card game via binoculars… I’m sure I missed a few too, and please let me know what you discover. Best of all, Gunmaster G9 races along like a runaway Datsun and clocks in at just over two hours with nary a dull moment – a rarity for Mumbai’s regulation three hour masala marathons.
Gunmaster G9 will return to Schlock Treatment in the near future in Wardaat from 1981. Meanwhile, settle back, put your eye patch on and your BeeGees album on 45 as we watch our favourite Bond moments forced through the Bollywood mincing machine in Gunmaster G9 In Surakksha!