Blackmail is one of those films I really want to like more than I do. One of my favorite directors in Vijay Anand, one of my favorite stars in Dharmendra, a gentle and sensitively portrayed romance - there's really no reason I shouldn't adore this movie. And yet, the whole seems to me less than the sum of its parts, and I can't put my finger on why.
Kailash (Dharmendra) is the business manager of a power plant. Shy and earnest, he has long nursed his love for Asha (Rakhee), his childhood friend and the daughter of Mehta (Iftekhar), who happens to own a rival company. Kailash's best friend Jeevan (Shatrughan Sinha) works for Mehta, and - unknown to Kailash - is all but engaged to her. But, when Kailash's uncle, Professor Khurana (Madan Puri), develops a solar-powered battery that promises to make them a fortune - not to mention put Mehta out of business - Jeevan starts scheming. He machinates to get Kailash and Asha married - only to drive a wedge between them, in hopes of manipulating them to get his hands on the blueprints for the battery.
The unquestionable strength of Blackmail is its sweet, mature portrayal of the romance between Kailash and Asha as it grows, both before and after their marriage. Asha's conscience struggles as her developing feelings for Kailash challenge her commitment to Jeevan, and Rakhee's performance conveys Asha's internal conflict very sensitively. Kailash's nervous shyness is sweet, too, and contrasts intriguingly with Dharmendra's remarkable masculinity. (Indeed Dharmendra, who is quite good at this sort of tender romance, is at times too masculine for me in this role - I kept finding myself aware of his thick, enormous hands, his square body and shoulders. Viewers who like that sort of thing would, I think, find Kailash utterly perfect.)
The romance is expressed most perfectly in two of Blackmail's superb songs. The first is the lovely "Pal pal dil ke paas," which draws on a delightfully unusual device for its picturization. Kailash has written Asha many love letters over the years, but only finally finds the courage to give them to her, all at once in a bundle, before fleeing in a fit of bashfulness. The song shows Asha reading the letters, falling slowly in love with Kailash as the poetry of his words reaches her - and reaches us, as the words of his letters are the words of the song. The second splendidly romantic song, "Mile mile do badan," occurs during the film's climax, after Jeevan engineers Asha and Kailash's estrangement. Fleeing from the bad guys - the rift between them not yet nearly reconciled - the couple takes refuge in a woodpile, and there, with armed enemies swarming around in search of them, they provide one of the most satisfyingly steamy song picturizations you'll ever see in a Hindi film.
For all the delicacy of the romance, though, the rest of Blackmail just isn't very memorable - and is at times marred by touches of ridiculous that undermine the better parts of the movie. The international crime syndicate that Jeevan works for is pointlessly absurd, headed by a creepy, fey "Italian" called Antonio (Kuljit). Banter about the "formula" - as the film's characters call the battery blueprints - lends the movie a masala air that isn't really appropriate to the tenderness of the main story. (Though the "filmi science" grates a little throughout, it's offset by some marvelous machinery scenes during the film's credits, which for all I know were shot inside a real power plant.) And despite a groovy outfit or two on Rakhee, the movie doesn't offer anywhere near the overwhelming mod style of some of Vijay Anand's others.
On reflection, though, I think I am being hard on Blackmail. For sure it has its weaknesses, but they are less bad than the better parts are good, and should be amply offset. For sure Rakhee is not my favorite star, but her performance hit the right notes for Blackmail's best aspect, the mature and delicate romance. I think, in time, I'll forget what is forgettable in Blackmail, and let the exquisite sweetness of "Pal pal dil ke paas" linger.