Apradhi Kaun (1957)

I hold a definite opinion about judging Hindi cinema against western cinema, which is that it is basically unfair. And by unfair I do not at all mean that Hindi cinema cannot hold its own, but that it is an apples to oranges comparison and therefore pointless. Even so, there are two genres where I find it difficult not to judge: film noir and horror. Many of you know that I hate horror films, because they scare me (!) so Hindi movie “failure” on that front doesn’t bother me at all (in fact, I prefer it). However, I am a big fan of old 40s and 50s detective films and I generally feel a bit let down by Bombay’s counterparts. There is compensation in other areas (songs and general gorgeousness, e.g.) but I am hardly ever mystified; and even when I am, the plot holes and ham-fisted red herrings annoy me. I won’t even talk about dramatic expositions which come out of nowhere.

This is my long-winded way of saying that my expectations for Apradhi Kaun were fairly low, but I was pleasantly surprised. It is not perfect by any means; several times I wanted to scream at detective Rajesh (Abhi Bhattacharya) for not doing the obvious (looking for the secret door he was sure existed, for instance) but it maintained an edge-of-the-seat pace and I genuinely had no idea “who-done-it.”

And along the way I really enjoyed my first look at Abhi Bhattacharya. Although he’s not a good actor really (at least not in this) he is so dreamy I didn’t mind—think Cary Grant in Indian form!

And several others were really interesting to me too. In the wake of my post on Maryada and the comments that followed I expected a little more drama out of Mala Sinha, but she was pretty restrained and believable throughout. All this can probably be attributed to director Asit Sen (whose films are generally well-made) and producer Bimal Roy. For a 1950s era film there are surprisingly few songs (Salil Chowdhary) and the ones that are there are good fun, too—especially one pictured on the young Dhumal after he smokes some hash and sees plates and brooms dancing.

Our story opens as an older, crippled man in dirty tattered clothing arrives at a huge mansion to see its owner Shrinath (Jagirdar). This poor man is Shrinath’s elder look-alike brother Dinanath (also Jagirdar), and it is soon clear that there’s not much love lost in this family.

Dinanath argues that there was supposedly another will made by their father Jogeshwar Nath just before he died which left everything to Dinanath and their other brother Pitambar and disinherited Shrinath; Shrinath dismisses this claim with contempt. He does allow Dinanath to stay, however, since he is clearly ill and poverty-stricken.

A word here about Jagirdar: I found it hard to believe that he was the same actor in both roles—his body language, expressions, voice, manner—everything was so different! Fun fun fun for an actor, I would bet.

The other occupants of the mansion include a strange doctor (Tarun Bose, in his debut role) who is doing research at a lab which Shrinath has set up for him (and treating Shrinath for various ailments at the same time), and the estate manager whom Shrinath has just caught embezzling money. There is also a deaf and dumb servant (Dhumal) and a maid named Champa (Kammo).

As Dinanath gets settled in, Shrinath heads off to a hotel with a nightclub show starring his paramour Lily (Lillian), who dances up a flamenco-flavored storm.

This is Lillian’s debut film too, and one of only six to her credit on imdb (I’ve only seen her before in Rustom Sohrab), possibly due to her very poor Hindi skills—her accent sounds awful even to me—and complete lack of acting ability. But she can dance, and carries off tight shiny dresses well too.

Shrinath is also at the hotel to meet Rai Bahadur (Murad), and we soon discover why.

Rai Bahadur is not inclined to give Shrinath the will: he has heard that Dinanath is back in town, and wants them to bid against each other for it. Later that night Lily helps Shrinath break into Rai Bahadur’s house, and Rai Bahadur is shot in a scuffle with Shrinath—who flees, with the will. When he reaches home he summons the Doctor and the Manager and tells them that he fears for his life. He instructs his Manager to send a wire summoning a detective named Rajesh to come and see him.

The papers the next day are full of the news of Rai Bahadur’s murder, and someone else comes to detective Rajesh Kumar’s office.

Shobha (Mala Sinha) wants his help in stealing something, and to that end asks him to come with her to Jeetpur where she lives. He refuses gently, telling her that he helps the police, not thieves, and she leaves disappointed. Soon after, he receives the telegram from Shrinath’s manager.

This combined with Shobha’s visit and Rai Bahadur’s murder convince him. Accompanied by his assistant Balram he decides to pay a visit to Shrinath and find out what nefarious goings-on are taking place in Jeetpur!

Shrinath is pleased to see Rajesh when he arrives, and I am pleased to see that like all the very best evil-doers he is fond of Siamese cats!.

Rajesh is pleased to see Shobha in the house—she lives and works there as a nurse, taking care of Shrinath. Whatever she wants to steal is clearly in Shrinath’s house. We also discover that the Doctor has invented an injection (!) to cure asthma, which he plans to patent. He is willing to split profits with Shrinath, who smugly informs him that he has stolen the formula and he will not be sharing anything with the Doctor.

Later that night, when the police arrive to arrest Shrinath for Rai Bahadur’s murder it’s no surprise when they find him dead in his room with a knife in his back (and a very distressed yowling cat). Rajesh later spots Shobha sneaking into and out of the dead man’s room and confronts her—she has stolen the will that Shrinath had stolen from Rai Bahadur, but refuses to explain why.

Police Inspector Sinha—who is a friend of Rajesh’s—interviews the occupants of the house and discovers that there are quite a few motives for Shrinath’s murder, and a lot of eavesdropping going on!

He asks Rajesh to help him solve the murder, and the rest of the film follows Rajesh as he pursues a mysterious “Black Shadow Man” and tries to untangle the knot of relationships and motives, and falls in love with the enigmatic Shobha. Why did Shobha steal the will, and did she kill Shrinath to get it? Or did the Doctor, or the Manager, or Dinanath—all with pretty good motives—kill him?

It’s not a tightly scripted mystery, but it is entertaining (and I was surprised by the end, although to be fair I am generally as easily surprised as I am scared). The songs are lots of fun and not too intrusive, and though a lot of the acting is somewhat under par the characters are people you want to root for (or against, as the case may be). The picture quality is clear and sharp too, and there isn’t any abrupt editing (although we are still flogged by Shemaroo’s logo underlapping the subtitles…sigh). In short (do I ever keep anything short?) you could do worse if you are in the mood for a mystery!

Can anyone verify for me that Rajesh’s squirrelly assistant Balram is played by Paul Mahendra? He seems the likely name in the credits, but I’ve not seen him before.

Updated to add: Tarun Bose’s daughter informs me below that he is actually Kumud Tripathi, and I will never get KT mixed up with anyone again I promise. And she also tells me that Paul Mahendra is the guy playing Inspector Sinha. Thank you Shilpi!

He provides most of the hyperactive comedy as CSP support for Dhumal, who is relatively restrained thanks to being deaf and dumb:

or is he? Dhumal and Balram (and some kitchen apparatus) get a hilarious song after smoking something magical together:

I want to smoke something magical with Dhumal.

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34 Comments to “Apradhi Kaun (1957)”

  1. Is that Mahendra Paul? The face is familiar – I think he may have acted in a number of movies we have seen but can’t identify the actor.

    Good review as always Memsaab. Abhi Battacharya did act well in Asit Sen movies esp in later years as a character actor. He is handsome indeed in your screen caps.

    • The credits list a “Paul Mahendra” near the top, and he’s the only main character I can’t identify so that’s why I’m thinking it must be him. Don’t know for sure though, and imdb doesn’t list very many films for him (he seems to have died fairly young)…

      I will look out for more Abhi Bhattacharya films to see if his acting improves :D He’s nice to look at anyway!

  2. memsaab,

    I too just caught up on this. But was a little disappointed. Interesting enough but everyine seemed to think of it as a small Bimal Roy production and little else. So everything is pleasant enough without being great like star cast is good but not A grade in its time (Abhi and Mala were lesser known stars), music is nice but not Salil’s best and not brilliant, if you know what I mean. Jagirdar was great, however! But yeah Mala was bearable and I wonder if the producer diretcor were in love with Lillian who had more footage and songs than her!

    • Jagirdar was the best thing in it (although the supporting actors were good too). And Mala was fine. But Lillian, dear lord, the poor girl could NOT act her way out of a paper bag and spoke worse Hindi than I do! I did like her songs, and loved the Dhumal song—all in all I thought it was good timepass, not great by any means but solidly watchable.

  3. ahh.. looks like you discovered a gem. But you deserve it, as you are brave enough to wade through so many unknown films.

  4. My fav kind of movie! Am not a Abhi Bhattacharya fan, but I absolutely need to see it. Thank you so so much for talking about this :D Asit Sen was a good director I think.

  5. This sounds like an unusual film for Asit Sen to have directed! But fun – I’ll be looking out for it.

  6. I had seen this movie long long ago on tv, when I was in 9th std. It was an early morning show on Zee Cinema and it had no commercial breaks in between, so I didn’t even know its name. But I had liked it even then, has always remained one of my favourite mystery movies! I had just started watching Hindi movies then and didn’t even recognize the actors properly. I had totally forgotten it had Mala Sinha in it. I asked lots of people if they had seen this black-and-white movie where two brothers (totally different in character but) played by the same person, with a hope that I might discover it’s name, but in vain.
    Thank you so much for reviewing it and solving my mystery! I finally have the name of the movie and some (the-then) unknown faces. I will definitely be on a look out for this one. I so vividly remember who-killed-who but it would still be fun to watch this again.

    • Hey, always glad to help out :) It is a good watch, for sure!

    • Khamoshi was definitely uevnen. I remember some other fine scenes, even though I saw the movie decades ago. I think Waheeda in repose is the common element in many of them. Waheeda walking up the stairs, slowly, holding Meghdoot, all dressed up for her lover and stunned at the news that he is getting married, to the divine music of “Tum pukar lo”, and then walking away without histrionics, lengthening shadows in the corridoor – there’s a stillness to the picturization that makes it poignant. I wonder if it would have looked half as good in colour. Then Waheeda sitting in the car, stiff with stern resolve, as she goes to the station where RK’s girlfriend who jilted him is singing in that simpering manner (she looks as if she is making love to the mike) – Waheeda looks tired and determined. She was marvellous in that movie, I remember they make her look more and more tired till at the end she has these enormous dark circles. I am sure these moments would have died with any other actress – maybe Nutan could have done it. “Woh Shaam” is beautiful, the angles of the camera and the play of black and white are so effective as is Waheeda’s almost bemused detatchment.What an absurd premise that movie had, though, no? That men whose hearts are broken should be given a rebound affair to heal them pronto!

  7. It looks like an interesting movie and a forgotten gem.

    Incidentally, Asit Sen who was a director of this movie was different from the roly poly comedian by the same name.

    • I know they are different Asit Sens, although imdb doesn’t. They should really fix that.

      The songs are very nice, Atul, I think you’d like them!

      • Memsaab ji,
        A slight correction here.
        Asit Sen-the roly poly actor- was an assistant to Bimal roy as Asst director for 10 full years. Before taking up full time acting he had indeed directed pariwar-56 and Apradhi kaun-57 himself. However,these are attributed to the Director Asit Sen by almost everybody,without knowing this fact.
        This fact is also mentioned in Sanjit narwekar’s book ,”Eena Meena Deeka” on page 120. I know you have this book.You can see it yourself.

  8. Memsaab, I am so glad you watched this one! And even gladder that you enjoyed it!! Like you, I am a big fan of old murder mysteries and film nior, and APRADHI KAUN was right up there with those that I love the most.

    And of course you know how much I >heart< Abhi Battacharya, so it was a delight to see him in a lead role. Up to this point (I think I first watched APRADHI KAUN about a year ago) I had only noticed him in his mythological roles, which he did a LOT of. I have since seen him in some Bengali films that were quite good and now notice that he has appeared in smaller roles in lots of other films I have watched over the years.

    And Lillian…oh gosh…loved her musical numbers, but as you said she certainly lacked in the thespian arts, but she more then made up for that in the pure kitschy fun she supplies in this film. Normally, I am not a good judge of what Hindi actors are good or not (one look at my list of favorite peformers will clue you in to that right away, LOL!), but with Lillian, it was quite obvious that she must have been sleeping with someone high up! How I would love to know more about that gal!

    • Poor Lillian!!! :D She may have gotten better, I don’t remember her being so egregiously bad in Rustom Sohrab, where she played Suraiya’s lady-in-waiting type person. She is good kitschy fun here, that is an excellently charitable way to put it. Onward ho to more Abhi Bhattacharya!

      • Just saw the film.

        Well, I loved Lillian best. And Kumud Tripathi. Abhi Bhattacharya made me impatient with his detective-giri, though of course, that’s not his fault, but the script’s.

        But Liliian I thought, looked like a 50s version of Katrina Kaif, with a larger nose, but similar eyes and smile, and the same accent! And she danced well. :)

  9. A very Happy New year to you and Gemma! Here’s to movies, masti, manmani, memsaab and memsaabstory!! :-)

  10. Happy New year to you & Gemma.

    I find that you & the visitors to this site are a bit confused about the identity of Asit Sen the director & Asit Sen the actor. Apradhi Kaun was directed by Asit Sen the actor. Besides acting he also worked as assistant director in Bimal Roy Productions.Apart from Apradhi Kaun the only other film he directed was Parivaar.On the other hand Asit Sen the director has a string of successful films to his credit like Khamoshi, Safar, Anokhi Raat.

    To answer your question– Rajesh’s assistant is Kumud Tripathi while Inspector Sinha is Paul Mahendra

    • Oy. I got almost nothing right here! I didn’t know Asit Sen the actor also directed! No wonder imdb is confused :) And Balram is Kumud Tripathi??? I guess I’ve only ever seen him with a moustache, and he looks older and he looked just like the person who plays the Manager to me. *I am as confused as imdb!*

      I’ve made the corrections to my post (and my actor galleries)—thank you Shilpi for setting me straight!

  11. I remember being rather disappointed with “Apradhi Kaun.” The mystery/suspense never really engaged me – I expected a tighter plot and more zing and surprises. Ah well. Since you were reasonably pleased with “Apradhi Kaun”, you might like “Teesra Kaun” with Feroz Khan and Kalpana.

    RAs for Mala Sinha, try watching “Anpadh” or “Suhaagan.” I’m pretty sure you’ll join the Mala-haters club after viewing either film. I’ll save a seat for you.:-D
    s

    • I wasn’t disappointed because I think my expectations were fairly low…as I said, I generally don’t find that filmi noir lives up to its name. But this was better than, say, Woh Kaun Thi!

      I don’t WANT to hate Mala Sinha!! I already hate enough people! :)

  12. I saw this movie today on VCD (by Shemaroo, of course) and I liked it very much. It is definitely one of the long forgotten gems of Hindi cinema. Despite watching and reading hundreds of mysteries, I could not guess who the real culprit was. Thoroughly gripping narrative and a praiseworthy script, well-directed by Asit Sen.

    I wholeheartedly admire your description and the additional information I got from this page regarding the director and the actors, is nothing short of icing on the cake.

    Sincere thanks.

    Jitendra Mathur

  13. This is fantastic,superb!!!
    This is my first visit to this blog and I am lucky.
    I am really impressed with everything here.I know how much a person can get involved in running such a Blo
    I too am a fan of “old is Gold” and would like to occasionally contribute here from my over 50 years’ hindi film wathing and enjoying the music.

  14. Your taste in Old mystery films are absolutely dead-on as far my taste goes too, and the last one you recommended and i enjoyed was ‘Yeh raat phir na aaygi’..It was darned good..So will this be, I guess

    Waiting to catch up on this one and will let you know my view soon..

    Thanks,.
    Nagesh

  15. Yes, I managed to see the same shemaroo print of the film..As you said it it is not bad for a paisa vasool or “time-pass’ movie…Again as you said, Abhi Bhattacharya is miscast as hero..he could have been the Police Inspector or any of those inconsequential roles in this story..(How lovely had it been if the hero was Dev saab! ,,Or Shammi Kapoor! )
    Mala Sinha is picture perfect..
    The script maintains the suspense till end, but I somehow had a lingering suspicion about who was ‘ kaali chaaya’ Mystery man!…

    Now on I will ALWAYS go with your recommendations!

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