The Great Gambler is a classic Indian drama

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The Great Gambler

The Great Gambler is one of those quintessential Bollywood movies - with tons of drama, suspense and action, as well as music, song and dance, to keep fans happy. The movie has become a cult classic over the years, and most of the people involved are considered legends in Indian cinema, including the actors Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, the director Shakti Samanta and the music director R.D. Burman.

The plot follows Bachchan’s character, Jai, who is a small-time gambler trying to survive in the streets of Bombay. He can ‘make the cards dance’, in his own words, and is looking for that one big break that will make his life. When escaping from the police after a street fight one day, he runs into the local mafia boss, Ratan Das, who also runs an underground high roller casino, a place where the rich come to play casino games. He manages to convince Jai that gambling legally is a better option than risking the wrath of the police on the streets. He is dressed up to look sharp and suave, and then is put to task by Das to try and siphon off his clients’ money by beating them at various gambling games. One such client is Nath, who is a government employee working on the country’s atomic projects. He has been on a steady losing streak, but believes that his luck will turn. Of course, Das agrees with this assessment and provides him money on credit to continue gambling. When he invariably loses to Jai and is bankrupt, Das agrees to forget the debt in return for a favour.

He tells Nath to bring him the blueprints of the new superweapon the government has developed - a laser beam that can destroy any plane, ship or submarine within a 50-mile radius. Fearing for his life as well as the loss of his reputation, Nath has no choice but to comply. As this develops, we see that Das is just the front man for a huge espionage operation, where the ringleader, Saxena (Utpal Dutt), is joined by his deputies Romesh (Prem Chopra), Sethi (Roopesh Kumar) and Marconi (Sujit Kumar) in selling the country’s secrets to the highest bidder. They do so by smuggling information within film reels of the dancer Monica’s (Helen) performances.

As fate would have it, one of these reels is found by the Crime Branch, which suspects that something sinister is afoot. The head of the organization, Verma (Om Shivpuri) puts his best man in the case, Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan again). He interrogates Monica, but this is spotted by Sethi, who decides to kill her since she has too much information which could prove costly if given to the police. She manages to utter his name with her dying breath, but Sethi escapes from Vijay, and informs Saxena that while Monica has been taken care of, he is not sure if Vijay spotted him. Saxena tells him to go to Marconi in Rome and lay low for some time, and that he will be rewarded for his work, but as soon as he departs, Saxena orders Romesh to tell Marconi to kill Sethi when he arrives, since his slip up could be a liability for the entire organization.

Of course, this is just a taste of the plot - there is a lot more that goes on in this potboiler of a movie, and we would not want to give it all away. Indian films have had a fascination with ‘double roles’, where the lead actor or actress play two roles, usually of twins separated at birth or some such occurrence which led to them leaving separate lives, unknown of each other’s existence until some coincidence brings them together. The heroines have an important part to play in the story as well, while the villains are interesting, hilarious and charming in equal measure. All in all, The Great Gambler is a typical Indian drama of its time, and therefore a must-watch for fans looking for a classic from the genre.

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