“Yeh jo public hai yeh sab jaanti hai”— these lines from a hit song in the Rajesh Khanna-starrer Roti aptly describe the success of Surakksha at the box office. Despite being a low budget flick, with no prominent production house to back it and a relatively new (albeit talented) star cast, Surakksha managed to hold its own against a formidable onslaught of films, including major Amitabh Bachchan releases — Mr. Natwarlal and Suhaag — besides Rishi Kapoor and Jayaprada’s Sargam and the laugh riot Gol Maal, and features in the top ten grossers of 1979. Although it is difficult to pinpoint what led to the film’s impressive performance at the box office, the presence of Mithun Chakraborty can safely be considered as one possible reason. Front benchers identified and somehow connected with the dark skinned, lanky leading man, wearing white bell-bottoms as he cavorted with damsels, fought the goons singlehandedly and drove cars equipped with high octane weapons, catapulting him from the fringes to the centre-stage of masala cinema.
The other reason could be the story.
Long before films like Ek Tha Tiger, based on espionage rings woven around Indian investigating agencies, especially CBI, crossed the now Rs.100 crs holy grail, the genre, ‘inspired’ by the James Bond franchise, had seen a precursor in Surakksha. Ravikant Nagaich, who, almost a decade before Surakksha had given Jeetendra’s career a redoubtable boost with Farz, again hit the bull’s eye at the box office with Surakksha. The director showed high risk taking capacity by choosing Mithun to essay the role of a secret service agent, considering that till then the actor was known primarily for his debut film, the Mrinal Sen directed Mrigaya, for which he won his first of the three National Awards for Best Actor.
It is not that Nagaich was acting entirely on charity, as Surakksha had none of the trappings or support of a big production house.
Now, almost forty years after Mrigaya, one feels sad that an actor of the calibre of Mithun, in later years, reduced himself to working in only B- and C-grade films. The current generation of audience will know him as a judge in sundry television reality shows or occasionally, when he comes forth with commendable ease as a character actor. How one wishes to see vintage Mithun showcase his prowess as a thespian.
The story of Surakksha, credited to Rajvansh, is about an anti-national, well oiled terror network (Shiv Shakti Organisation) that thrives with the avowed aim to strike terror in the country. Its nefarious designs of can be stopped only by the single minded heroics of one officer (Gopi-Mithun, also known by his code name, Gun master G-9) of the CBI. A series of misplaced incidents raises the hackles of G-9. As he embarks on his mission, his path is crossed by Priya (Ranjeeta) who feels that Gopi is the person behind the killing of her father.
Once the customary ill-fated encounters are over, the two start working together to get to the bottom of SSO, an endeavour which leads them first to Hiralal (Jeevan) and his henchmen operating from a high tech base and finally to Doctor Shiva (K. Balaji). Interspersed are car chases, fight sequences, dances, dimly lit interiors and even a robot that Doctor Shiva operates from a switch on his artificial right hand (inducing more humour than awe). Finally, the motherland is saved from machinations of evil, conspiring men.
Ranjeeta, who had vowed the camera with her seamless grace and poise in films like Laila Majnu, Ankhiyon Ke Jharokon se and Pati Patni aur Woh looks surprisingly lacklustre and out of sync, with neither passion nor expression. Even in song sequences she is grossly out of step with Mithun (who was to gain prominence as a dancing actor in years to come). The blame will have to be shared by B. Hiralal, the chorographer, for failing to elicit a good performance, at least from the leading lady (although Mithun, with his trademark steps performs much better).
Although Bappi Lahiri had made a mark as music composer by this time, none of the numbers in Surakksha created any sensation, or had a long term impact on listeners. The support cast of Aruna Irani, Prema Narayan and Suresh Oberoi did not have much to offer, and though Jagdeep, as Khabri, a police informer, tries to provide comic relief, it can only be said to be avoidable.
Even if the dialogues by V.D. Puranik are uninspiring, editing by Shyam Mukherjee erratic and cinematography by the director himself only average, despite these flaws, the makers — and the all knowing public — had the last laugh.
Director: Ravikant Nagaich
Cast: Mithun Chakraborty, Ranjeeta, Jeevan, Jagdeep, Iftekhar, Aruna Irani, Prema Narayan, Tej Sapru, Balaji, Suresh Oberoi
Dialogue: V.D. Puranik
Screenplay: Ramesh Pant
Music director: Bappi Lahiri
Lyricist: Farooq Kaiser and Ramesh Pant
Box office status: Successful
Trivia: The low budget film featured in the top ten grossers of 1979 despite competition from Mr. Natwarlal, Suhaag, Sargam and Gol Maal.