For the actor-filmmaker’s birth centenary, we revisit Wahan Ke Log, an early Indian sci-fi film that also celebrates 50 years in 2017.
Before Koi Mil Gaya’s Jadoo, there was NA Ansari's Wahan Ke Log
Mumbai - 29 Aug 2017 11:00 IST
Veteran actor Nisar Ahmad (NA) Ansari, born on 29 August 1917, turned director with the film Mangu (1954) starring Sheikh Mukhtar. Ansari was discovered by the thespian Prithviraj Kapoor in 1938 when he was still in university. At 21, he left his medical studies and landed his first film role in Mehboob Khan’s Aurat (1940).
Over a five-decade career, he cultivated a unique image for himself and became known as the ‘Hitchcock of India’ with his noir films. Many top stars of that era worked with Ansari on his films. His granddaughter, Hina P Ansari, wrote in an online article on Huffington Post Canada, “A 1960s cocktail party would be filled with cinematic icons who all had one thing in common: they all worked on an Ansari film. It was their training ground akin to today's Lee Strasberg's studious environment. If you wanted to really learn your stuff, then you best be working with Ansari Saheb.”
The black and white feature film Wahan Ke Log (1967) was one such film produced and directed under his banner Bundel Khand Films. Written by KB Pathak, the sci-fi film starred Pradeep Kumar, Tanuja, Johnny Walker and NA Ansari himself in a dynamic role role. He played both the esteemed Professor Chakrabarty and his no-good son, Anil.
In the film, the country has been held under siege by mysterious flying saucers who barge into the homes of India’s wealthy and take all their diamonds. There’s also the case of the country’s brightest, its scientists who are also disappearing. All this is attributed to ‘wahan ke log’ or people from Mars.
This growing problem comes to the attention of Central Intelligence who send over their best man, Rakesh (Pradeep Kumar) to investigate the matter. Rakesh and his friend, Blue Bird (Johnny Walker) who runs a detective agency come down to Bombay to find Prof Chakrabarty, who has invented a machine that can help track down ‘wahan ke log’.
Rakesh, frankly, doesn't deserve the title of super spy. He is easily distracted by a beautiful mysterious woman played by Tanuja and is forever finding himself getting into scrapes. Meanwhile, his friend Blue Bird is a downright genius, finding a way out and saving his friend.
The movie shows that Anil (Ansari) is the brains behind the operation and has help from ‘wahan ke log’. He goes around saying lines like 'survival of the fittest' while developing a laser ray that will destroy the world with the help of abducted scientists.
This was a change of genre for filmmaker Ansari. He had previously made film noir movies like Black Cat (1959), Wanted (1961), Mulzim (1963) and Zindagi Aur Maut (1965). But to be fair, sci-fi was a new genre for Indian cinema to explore. Even now, few filmmakers have attempted it.
The most popular example is Rakesh Roshan’s Koi... Mil Gaya (2003) starring Hrithik Roshan and a lovable alien named Jadoo. In 2017, Pritish Chakraborty’s upcoming comedy film Mangal Ho deals with the Indian colonization of Mars, while Chanda Mama Door Ke (2018) stars Sushant Singh Rajput and R Madhavan as astronauts.
Wahan Ke Log was made at the height of the tensions between India and China and it is heavily implied that the enemy, rather ‘wahan ke log’ is actually China. At the end, there are no little green men and the three-fingered men who come steal the diamonds are human after all.
Till the end, it seems that Anil is two steps ahead of the hapless Rakesh, until the laws of moviemaking deem it so that a villain must meet his end. It’s a shame as Anil is the more interesting character onscreen.
The rest of the cast includes Sapru as the chief, Shobhana Samarth as Rakesh’s mother and Laxmichhaya as Sophia, as a member of Anil’s syndicate. Surprisingly, despite music by C Ramachandra and lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni, the soundtrack fails to resonate.