With its exotic locales, scheming baddies, long-lost brothers, nonsensical plot, and smitten heroines, there is little to set this film apart from dozens of other masala movies of its era. Yet the charisma of its stars - Amitabh Bachchan in a dashing double role, and Zeenat Aman as smoking hot as ever - is enough to seat The Great Gambler solidly in the category of light, fun timepass.
Jai (Amitabh) is a gambler, a man with the power to make the cards dance for him, hired by casino owner Ratan Das (Madan Puri) to separate rich businessmen from their money. Ratan Das hatches a scheme to marry Jai to Mala (Neetu Singh), the daughter of another wealthy businessman (Iftekhar), and sends Jai to Lisbon to meet her. Jai doesn't know that Ratan Das is engineering a scheme to steal the plans for the government's powerful new defense technology and sell it to the highest bidder. His contacts in this scheme include a gang boss named Saxena (Utpal Dutt), whose henchmen Ramesh (Prem Chopra) and Marconi (Sujit Kumar) carry out his dirty work.
Meanwhile, a police officer named Vijay (also Amitabh) is hot on the trail of Saxena's gang and eager to recover the stolen secrets. Vijay is a dead ringer for Jai, of course, and when Saxena's gang realizes this they - with the help of their moll, Shabnam (Zeenat Aman) strongarm Jai into taking over Vijay's identity and helping them complete their transaction. While Jai is diverted from his journey to meet his betrothed Mala, she finds Vijay instead and - once she's mistaken him for Jai - sparks fly.
The story is much less coherent than that description, with numerous details, twists, and complexities that don't fit together and make little sense. But the plot is not where The Great Gambler's entertainment lies. It lies rather in odd scenes and fun moments, driven by Amitabh and Zeenat looking their best. The henchman Marconi, who lives in Rome, speaks Hindi with a lilting Italian accent. Jai and Vijay, once united, pull of a hysterical bamboozle in the guise of an impulsive emir and his bumbling secretary. There is a stomach-churning fight scene that takes place in a meat locker. Zeenat melts the screen with a hotter than hot belly dance in "O Rukasa mera naam". Asha Bhosle sings the plaintive "Do lafzon ki hai," gorgeously picturized on a Venetian gondola. Moments like these are the glue that holds The Great Gambler together when the plot gets too nonsensical or the chase scenes and fight scenes too repetitive.
Amitabh did not do enough with his double role - it was too difficult to tell his characters apart, unless there were some linguistic cues that escaped my rudimentary Hindi comprehension. But that didn't detract too much from the fun of watching Amitabh just do his thing. If you're a fan of his, or of Zeenat's, there are worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon than watching The Great Gambler.