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.