In 1970, the year in which Dev Anand played a double agent in Prem Pujari and a doctor torn between his wife and an actress in Tere Mere Sapne, he got top billing in the Indo-Filipino-American production The Evil Within. Also known as Passport to Danger (1970), the James Bond-inspired crime thriller was directed by leading Filipino director Lamberto V Avellana and distributed by 20th Century Fox. Avellana’s best-known films include crime drama Anak Dalita (1956) and the romance Badjao (1957). However, the English-language The Evil Within went unnoticed in America, was not released in India and landed up in a dubbed version in the Philippines.
The movie’s multi-racial cast and crew includes several familiar Indian faces, including Zeenat Aman, Prem Nath, Iftekhar, MB Shetty and even Jagdish Raaj. Renowned cinematographer Fali Mistry, who lensed such Indian classics as Amrapali, Nagin and Guide, shot The Evil Within. Had the movie turned out be even halfway good, it might just have boosted Anand’s prospects beyond Hindi cinema. The Indian version of Guide, starring Anand and Waheeda Rehman, had only a limited Stateside release in 1965, where it received poor reviews. The Evil Within suffered the same fate, as did several other international collaborations such as the Indo-Iranian movie Subah-O-Shaam (1972) and the Indo-Soviet movie Ajooba (1991).
Anand plays special agent Dev Varma, who teams up with Rod Stevens (American actor Rod Perry) to finish off an opium syndicate. In the opening scenes, an assassin called Fat Man (enthusiastically played by Allen Fitzpatrick) slays the enemies of the syndicate’s head, the grandly named Princess Kamar Souria, played by Vietnamese actress Kieu Chinh, who later appeared in The Joy Luck Club in 1993.
Other gang members, especially Hanif (played by Iftekhar), want to wrest control from the princess. The roster of shady characters includes the India-hating Rita (Zeenat Aman), who is on Hanif’s payroll, and who is the daughter of a judge named Krishna (Prem Nath).
Hanif tries to use Dev Varma to get to Rita, but in a twist straight out of a Hindi potboiler, she falls for Dev’s charms. There are shades of Dashiell Hammet’s novel Red Harvest in Judge Krishna’s attempts to end the syndicate by making its members fight among themselves.
According to the Upperstall website, Aman had already been cast in her debut role in Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna, which was released in 1971. The Evil Within became a trial run for Aman to get acquainted with the camera.
The other Indian actors include Bipin Gupta as Souria’s uncle Sayid, Vimal Ahuja as her half-brother Akbar, action director and beloved 1970s villain MB Shetty as one of the hoodlums, and Hindi cinema’s favourite police inspector Jagdish Raaj as a palace guard. Karan Johar’s father, Yash Johar, who later set up Dharma Productions, served as a production controller for The Evil Within.
Another familiar face for followers of world cinema is Tita Munoz as Hanif’s wife, Amal. Munoz appears in Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild (1990) as Leslie Cheung’s mother. There’s even a lesbian love triangle between Princess Souria, the young wife of her uncle Sayid, and Amal, which probably rattled the Indian censors since they didn’t clear the movie for a release. The Evil Within was later dubbed and released in the Philippines.
Major portions of the movie were shot in and around Udaipur, where the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983) was later filmed. Anand’s onscreen partner Rod Perry made his acting debut in The Evil Within, and he went on to become a Blaxpoitation legend, appearing in such movies as The Black Godfather (1974) and The Black Gestapo (1975) and the popular American television series S.W.A.T.
Despite exotic locations and lethal leading ladies, The Evil Within lacks the impressive gadgetry and smooth villains from the Bond universe. There is no denying that Dev Anand is extremely effective as a dapper and dashing spy, but he fares poorly during the sensuous scenes, in which he rather woodenly kisses both Aman and Kieu Chinh on the lips. The Evil Within fails to emerge from under the shadows of its legendary lead, and it has become a cult title only because of its rarity.