Opera House (1961)

opera_house

I hoped for a well-plotted filmi noir story; I got a badly-plotted filmi noir story instead, but all the plot holes and suspension of disbelief requirements didn’t really matter in the face of…well, Ajit’s face! And Saroja Devi’s as well. A beautiful hero and heroine, gorgeous songs, a minimal Comic Side Plot, atmospheric cinematography and KN Singh as the villain—this was entertainment enough for me. Lovely Bela Bose has a short (albeit sadly dance-free) role too!

Ranjit Rai (Niranjan Sharma) owns a theater. The female lead in his play is giving him trouble at the behest of an influential but nefarious character by the name of Danial (KN Singh).

oh_ranjitrai

Rather than depend on Danial for favors, Ranjit decides to replace Nina with a girl who had auditioned for him earlier, Saroj (Saroja Devi). He sends a telegram and Saroj convinces her mother (Lalita Pawar) and sister Nanhi to let her move to Bombay, since they need the income badly. In Bombay she has an immediate run-in with a man competing with her for a taxi (very New York City of them!).

oh_taxi

This tall, handsome man is none other than Ranjit Rai’s younger brother Ajit (Ajit), and he is quickly smitten with Saroj. She reciprocates his feelings almost as quickly, since he stalks her in true Hindi film hero fashion.

oh_flirting

He manages to appear onstage with her one evening (a fabulous song, “Dekho Mausam Kya Bahar Hai”) which I love so much I am putting it here for you to listen to while you read on, if you want:

oh_ajit

Unfortunately this enrages his older brother who doesn’t want Ajit to have anything to do with the theater (and by association, Saroj). He summons Saroj and fires her, although he does try let her down easy (sort of):

oh_easyletdown

It smacks of “It’s not you, it’s…oh, okay, it’s you” though. Poor Saroj!

Ranjit does give her a letter of recommendation to take to a theater-owner friend of his in Nagpur named Chunnilal. He also extracts from her a promise not to see Ajit again. And as a complete non-sequitur, may I say that Ranjit has a stairway in his house that makes me think of something Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark would have dreamed up:

oh_stairway

Meanwhile, we meet Danial again: he’s in the “import-export” business. We know what that means! Chinese associates:

oh_wong

and Santa figurines containing mysterious substances:

oh_santa

oh_cocaine

Oh oh! It turns out that Danial also knows Chunnilal (SN Banerjee), Saroj’s new employer in Nagpur. Chunnilal and Danial have had a falling-out.

oh_chunilal

Danial tells Chunnilal he will kill him, and he means it! He comes to Nagpur and shoots Chunnilal down in cold blood one evening. Unfortunately, Saroj is leaving the theater at the same moment and she sees Danial’s face very clearly as he fires.

oh_witness

oh_danial2

Ajit has discovered in the meantime that his love has left Bombay. He follows hot on her heels and arrives in Nagpur just in time to discover that she is the only witness to Chunnilal’s murder, although he cannot find her. Danial has hired a goonda by the name of Sheru to kill her—she has noticed him following her, and when he shoots at her one evening she flees town.

This is where the story goes off the rails a bit: Saroj is on the run, but Danial and Sheru keep managing to find her—there’s no logic to it, though. They just show up, and are also remarkably incompetent in their attempts on her life. This makes the whole thing a lot less creepy—I am so busy trying to figure out how they know where she is and why they are so bad at murder that I forget to be scared. The same thing happens with Ajit, who is also searching for her and has “inspired” moments of clarity as to her possible whereabouts (his search is further complicated by the fact that she has promised Ranjit not to ever see him again). It could have been a lot more suspenseful all the way around than it actually ends up being, had the plotting been a bit tighter.

Anyway, eventually she winds up in Calcutta, where Ajit finally manages to track her down and promises to protect her.

oh_afterme

But Danial—whom Ajit considers a family friend—is there too. He tricks Ajit into leaving Saroj and plants one of his henchwomen, Lily (Bela Bose),┬áin Saroj’s house in the guise of protector.

oh_belabose

Will Saroj survive Ajit’s absence? If she does, can Ranjit ever accept her as a sister-in-law? Watch Opera House to find out, but don’t expect it to be nail-biting. It is entertaining though, with a nice cast and Chitragupta’s lovely songs to keep you going (the pacing is brisk too, which is a blessing). I’ve previously seen Saroja Devi in Preet Na Jane Reet with Shammi and Beti Bete with Sunil Dutt, but it looks like she mostly did southern films. Ajit in his hero avatar is just as marvelous as he is later as an over-the-top villain; and of course the presence of KN Singh as the suave and sinister Danial is the icing on our Good Timepass Cake.

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37 Comments to “Opera House (1961)”

  1. She looks a bit like Vyjayantimala, specially with the sunglasses on. Definitely sounds like a good timpepass. Isn’t Mr. Wong really cute?

    • She reminded me many times throughout of Vyjayantimala…Mr. Wong even looked like he might actually be Chinese but I think I like Madan Puri as Mr. Wong better :-D

  2. Memsaab – Saroja Devi was a very famous South Indian actress esp tamil films.

  3. Saroja is the “wooed” subject of my favourite Rajendra Kumar song: “Teri pyaari pyaari surat ko, kissi ki nazar na lagge”. Chasme Badoor.

  4. I was completely unaware of Ajit’s history as a leading man. Consider my mind blown. Also: I love how Chinese guys in old Bollywood movies are always named Mr. Wong.

    • Oh Ajit was a very handsome leading man in the 50s into the early 60s (remember Shikari?)…

      Yes, they are always Mr. Wong, and they are always bad guys :)

  5. Ajit was acting as a hero since early 1950s. He acted as hero for nearly a deacde before turning a bad guy.

    Then there were bad guys who turned over a new leaf and turned heroes, viz Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha.

    Then there was Pran, the dreaded villain of 1950s and 60s who started playing character roles from mid 1960s onwards.

  6. That’s really classy, memsaab. To be listening to the film’s song while reading its review.
    As usual your reviews help me to a great extent in making up my mind whether to buy the DVD or not, and I think I will.

  7. Is this the film with that dialogue;
    ‘Lily, don’t be silly.’ seeing there is a Lily in the film.

    • I’m glad you liked the song :) All the ones from this were really lovely. Bela Bose plays the Lily character, but I don’t remember that particular dialogue in this one (Helen played a lot of girls named Lily too!)…

  8. I meant – it was a classy *act* of yours to have the song playing as the background music for the review. :-)

    The song was lovely too.

  9. Something to add to the Vyjayanthimala comparisons :) … In the film New Delhi (1956), Vyjayanthimala’s character first meets Kishore Kumar’s character when they have a run-in competing for a taxi.

    Is this “very New York City”? I’ve lived in New York City most of my life, but the first thing I thought of when I read about this scene was New Delhi. :)

    And wow, Saroja Devi really does look like Vyjayanthimala in some of those screen caps. It’s a closer resemblance than I remember in other places.

  10. Memsaab – i would love to see “Prince” – Shammi and Vyjanthimala are paired together. I have seen a song on a hindi songs DVD featuring Shammi & Rajendarnath with a group of girls including Vyjanthimala. The song is very well ppicturised and i think Vyjanthi and Shammi make a fantastic pair – the song is “thandi thandi hawa mein dil lag jaye hai re jawaani diwani” I am presuming this song is from Prince. Have u seen this movie?

    • Prince is a wonderful movie, it also has a Helen-Vyjayanthimala dance-off which is just superb. And the Shammi-Rajendranath dost is hilarious in it. Yes, the “Thandi thandi hawa” song is from Prince…Do watch it!!!

  11. Richard,

    New Delhi, wow cool! Wonderful memories of that movie. Vijanthi as a “classy” southern belle acting like an equally hefty Punjabi kuddi. So true to life too – someone should make the same movie but make Kishore’s character a Muslim – I know from personal experience that no “sane” houseowner rents his house out to Muslims nowadays. Plus the climax where Kishore’s father’s community lets him down badly was just toooo good!

  12. I thought the Lily don’t be silly was a 80s TV show, Karamchand. Of course, Ajit was truly famous for the whole series of lines with Mona, sona etc.

    I don’t seem to have come across this movie, though, need to see it sometime.

    One time-honoured tradition of Chinese baddies having stringy droopy moustaches had evidently not started when this movie was released : )

    Did I mention the review was good ? Oh well, I must have forgotten.
    –> Forgets and leaves so can come back later.

  13. Ajit as hero, K. N. Singh as villain and the SONGS (had no idea that Balma maane na was from this one – I’ve loved it forever!) – guess I have to see it, bad noir or not!

    I think the actor playing Chunnilal is S. N. Banerjee – he played Deepti Naval’s Uncle in Kissi Se Na Kehna. The actor playing Ranjit Rai is also very familiar but I cant remember where else I’ve seen him.

    • I think you are right about SN Banerjee—thank you! It was driving me crazy! Ranjit Rai is much less familiar although I’m sure I’ve seen him too…

  14. Yes memsaab – the Vyjanthi – Helen dance number with shammi in between is also there on the same DVD. The song is Mukabla humsey na karo. Awesome number and a treat to have both Helen and Vyjanthih dancing together. I read some where that Helen has recounted her joy in dancing with Vyjanthi.

    I wish I could find this movie down under! alas very hard to find old movies. I will try in India (if i remember during my visit)

  15. I maintain Ajit was one of handsomest guys on the silver screen. So what if he could not act. Loads of girls are admired for their looks, why not guys.

    The classical dance Balma mane na was good. Bela Bose didnt get time to get ‘properly’ vampy — her role was too short.

    • I’m right there with you on the handsome Ajit. Even as a villain he was handsome, and absolutely hilarious in my opinion. One of my favorites! And wish Bela had gotten to dance, too :(

  16. I always thought, that they meant bombay’s opera house!
    The staircase is great. The shot had me wondering if it was V. K. Murthy behind the cameras.

  17. Great music by Chitragupta. Lata sounds so sweet in ‘Sona na sitaron ka hai kehna’. Even the Lata-Mukesh duet ‘Dekho mausam kya bahaar hai’ has a classy feel to it. Ajit is unconvincing in the song picturisations, what carries him through is his voice and persona. Saroja Devi is good in the dance sequences.

  18. Just saw this post. The scene in which they hail a cab, new york style, was shot near Churchgate. The building in the background is the headquarters of the oil company Esso (Standard Oil) completed barely a year ago, in 1960 in the modernist style which Bombay’s architects were much enamored of at the time. Lovely architecture in and around the area, which you must see when you come dear Memsaab

  19. Ayn Rand fans are still out there ! I was in the middle of watching this movie ( only because I have loved the songs forever ), I was looking for the full cast, when I found your review. I have always enjoyed your write ups !

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