I have loved the music from this film for a long time, especially the great song “C.A.T. Mane Billi.” The composer Ravi is one of my favorites anyway, and this is one of his best soundtracks (I also love “Yeh Raatein Yeh Mausam”). The plot skitters along rapidly with some very bizarre twists and turns, a great deal of comic relief—some of it quite politically incorrect, yay!—and moments of genuine suspense, as well. Kishore Kumar is at his loony best and Nutan’s sweet loveliness is the perfect foil. Throw in some great character actors in early roles (Madan Puri! Iftekhar! Tun Tun!) and what a treat it is.
Kishore (Kishore Kumar) is a young journalist who can’t find a job and desperately needs to support his mother (Protima Devi) and sister (Shakuntala). His father, also a journalist, has recently died, killed by the gang distributing fake medication throughout the country.
Kishore has also been engaged since childhood to Asha (Nutan); but when his mother approached Asha’s uncle to fix a date for the wedding after Kishore’s father’s death, he sent her packing. Kishore vows to get back at Asha, and also takes up gambling to make some money. His mother boots him out of the house when she is told of his new affinity for the seedy underbelly of life.
Asha is a famous swimming and diving champion. We get to see Nutan in a (very modest) swimsuit and bathing cap!
Asha is unaware that her uncle—an author named Professor Amarnath by day—is also Anantram, the ringleader of the gang distributing these bad medications. Bihari (a very young Madan Puri!) and Kishore’s friend Sohanlal work for him. Sohanlal is beginning to feel guilty about all the deaths, and wants to quit.
He has a letter incriminating Amarnath/Anantram, and promises to return it that evening. Oh alas! the trouble with the seedy underbelly is that it will not let go so easily.
Kishore arrives at Asha’s house pretending to be a journalist scheduled to interview her. She hasn’t met him since they were children, so doesn’t recognize him, and is both charmed and irritated by his antics. Then the real reporter shows up:
Kishore goes to meet some friends, who are short on funds and unable to pay for the buttermilk they are drinking. I love it! Thieves drinking buttermilk! One of them flicks the wallet from a passer-by: Kishore’s friend Sohanlal. Kishore sees Sohanlal’s name on the wallet and scolds his friend, and pockets it to return to Sohanlal.
When Sohanlal shows up at Bihari’s, he and Anantram are waiting. Sohanlal realizes then of course that his wallet containing the incriminating letter has been stolen. They tell him to return home and get it, and someone follows him in the shadows. When he reaches home, a frightened Sohanlal calls the police and says he has information on Anantram:
Sohanlal insists that Anantram is not dead but alive, and has shifted his headquarters from Delhi to Bombay. He asks Inspector Singh (Iftekhar) to come see him.
Truer words were never spoken! And also:
It’s Freddy Krueger’s Indian father! Anyway, Sohanlal is strangled and the murderer begins to ransack his home looking for the letter. Then Kishore arrives and the murderer flees, crashing into Kishore, who chases him but loses him in the dark.
We now see the murderer donning a very realistic mask over his pitted and scarred face:
He puts a monocle in one eye and voila! It’s Amarnath! Who knew that Indian cinema invented the clever lifelike latex mask way before “Mission Impossible” ever did?
Anyway, Kishore returns to Sohanlal’s house to find the police there and his friend murdered.
I love Iftekhar’s towering pagri! It is really ginormous.
The inspector is convinced that Sohanlal was telling the truth and that the “horrible face” belongs to Anantram, who must have survived the plane crash he supposedly died in. Kishore offers to help him, since his own father was murdered by Anantram.
In the meantime, Kishore’s courtship of Asha continues apace. He disguises himself as the Prince of Sangam, and goes to meet her and her uncle at dinner time, hoping for an invitation. He gets one and is introduced to the other diners:
It’s Tun Tun! (she’s still billed as Uma Devi in the credits). This is all followed by some incredibly racist antics. In any case, at some point the Prince tells Amarnath that he has a friend who needs a job, and Amarnath tells him to send the friend to him in Bombay.
We now find out from Inspector Singh and his men that it was Kishore’s father’s investigation that triggered Anantram’s flight from Delhi. There were six men on the plane that crashed whose bodies were never found; one of those men was Asha’s uncle Amarnath. As it turns out:
Anantram seized his chance, made a latex mask to look just like Amarnath and took his place. Simple!
Kishore goes to Bombay and shows up as himself at Amarnath and Asha’s to apply for the job. Kishore has no idea who Amarnath really is, he’s just after Asha. She is irritated to see him there (she seems to recognize it as stalking, unlike most heroines). Kishore does manage to tell Amarnath the whole story of the Anantram investigation (I guess Iftekhar forgot to tell him to keep his mouth shut). Amarnath sends him to work for Sevakram, a pharmacist in his employ who manufactures and markets the fake drugs.
Somewhere around this time, the subtitles begin to rush ahead of the actual action/dialogue. It’s very distracting. Aargh.
The rest of the film details how Kishore and Inspector Singh gradually figure out who Anantram is, while Anantram tries to kill them (and retrieve the stolen wallet with the incriminating letter inside). There are some plot holes, but who cares when it’s this much fun.
The water ballet:
It’s so bad (the above shots are the highlights). Most of it is more like this:
Funny in its own way, but Esther Williams it isn’t.
Kishore more than makes up for it with his fantastic footwork in “C.A.T. Mane Billi” (and Nutan is so cute once he wins her over):
The lyrics remind me of this hilarious missive I received from my nieces when they were chhoti chhoti:
Do watch Dilli Ka Thug, it’s really good!