This Mehmood movie is a total hoot. I can’t believe I hadn’t seen it before, although I have seen all the songs and the songs really are the film. They dominate a story which deftly blends horror and comedy, managing to be suspenseful and funny—not a combination I’d think would be easy to balance. It doesn’t always work smoothly, but is so much fun that it doesn’t matter.
I sometimes complain about the “entirely too much of Mehmood” phenomenon that blights a lot of mid-sixties Hindi cinema, but here he seems mostly content to be part of a great ensemble cast that includes the maestro behind the fabulous music, Panchamda himself. Possibly it helps that he directed as well, which may have kept him too busy to hog center stage: he clearly worked very hard on crafting this! The romance with heroine Tanuja is tepid, but again it doesn’t matter: romance is not the point. Plus she is lovely as usual, and such a good actress that it’s always a treat to see her.
She plays Rekha, who has grown up in a household comprised of her father and his two brothers. Her father (Moni Chatterjee) is the eldest; the other two include mad Ramu (Nana Palsikar) and Shyamlal (Nasir Hussain). They live in the family mansion, which has a lurid history. The brothers’ uncle was murdered fifty years earlier, and his wife then disappeared with their son—this unfortunate threesome’s portrait still hangs on the wall. And indeed, everything associated with the haveli is creepy. Ramu is terrified of the servants, and I don’t blame him one bit. The housekeeper Lakhiya resembles a zombie, and the gardener sports a rictus of protruding teeth and a crazed glare.
Even the postman who comes to deliver a telegram to Rekha’s father, informing him of her impending arrival (she’s been away at school), is creepy.
On his way to pick up Rekha from the airport, her father is killed when his car crashes into a guardrail. She is met by Shyamlal, who had gone to the airport directly from his office, and they wait for him for some time before driving home. On arrival, they are given the grim news of his murder by Inspector Sawant (Jagdish Raj). When poor crazy Ramu is murdered later that night, Shyamlal and Rekha have reason to be worried and the Inspector suggests that they shift to their apartment in the city for the time being.
Safely established in Bombay, Shyamlal calls up Rekha’s girlfriends and asks them to take her out and cheer her up. Thank goodness he does, because they goad her into accompanying them to a song competition which Rekha has apparently won for some years running.
I say thank goodness because this gives us some very solid entertainment in the form of two songs and a high-tech Applause Meter.
Maybe that should be Appppplaaaussseee Meetteeerrr.
Rekha sings first, the very pretty “O Mere Pyar Aa Jaa” which gains her a score of 95 on the AP.
It’s the highest score ever at the competition—but it’s not over yet. A gang of boys from the Youth Club, led by Mohan (Mehmood) have something even more special to offer: the Twist (“Aao Twist Karein”)!
This culminates in the usual Frenzy of Fabulousness, with everyone except a pouting Rekha on their feet by the end in a bone-jarring exhibition. The Applause Meter explodes, and I rewind to watch the whole thing again. There is nothing—nothing!—on earth like the Hindi Movie Twist.
But Mohan feels bad that he has cut Rekha’s nose and stolen her thunder, so to speak, and he is pretty smitten with her too.
She is sadly not a great sport about it either, and in true Hindi heroine fashion snubs him royally when he tries to make it up to her. She also ends up in her family’s haveli with her gaggle of girlfriends one night after their car gets stuck in the rain, and they are horrified to see evidence that someone (or something) is occupying Rekha’s locked room in her absence.
She now begins to get threatening phone calls from a man who says she’s going to be dead soon, and she and Mohan are finally brought together one day when he picks her up and dusts her off after someone pushes her in front of a double-decker bus. Thoroughly frightened by now, Rekha confides in him about the death threats and the rumors in the village about her family home being haunted. Mohan tells her that his Youth Club was formed to help others.
We find evidence of their helpful spirit first-hand in the scene which prompted me to finally snag this film. Terence “Ted” Lyons told me that he played the drunk who breaks the violin belonging to a poor blind beggar, prompting Mohan and his friends to intervene and leading to a “West Side Story” type of gang dance-off to the tune of another beautiful song: “Jago Sonewaalon Suno.” Here’s the famous Ted! I think he is so handsome:
and here’s an unfortunate (but funny) subtitle-gone-wrong from the song (“log”=people in Hindi, but this translator preferred the more direct approach):
The song itself is really poignant, a plea for action in the face of indifference (still relevant!).
In any case, hooray for the Youth Club! They further endear themselves to me when, realizing that Mohan has fallen hard for the lovely Rekha, they vote unanimously to strike off the top rule(s) in the Youth Club’s charter.
Mohan himself has become suspicious of Shyamlal, Rekha’s uncle, and so have the police. As Rekha continues to receive menacing phone calls (never in her uncle’s presence, though) and becomes more and more terrified, Mohan decides to investigate the “haunted” haveli. Youth Club members put their names in a hat for the honor of accompanying him, and the unhappy “winner” is Stocky (Rahul Dev Burman).
What follows is probably the best song and dance sequence involving skeletons and the Twist EVER. Okay, also maybe the only one, but that’s irrelevant. What matters is that you find it online and watch it, NOW.
Who is behind the murders of Rekha’s father and crazy Uncle Ramu? Is it Shyamlal? Why is she being threatened? Can Mohan and his friends help save her? Will the police be any use at all, for once (actually: yes! Yay Jagdish Raj!)?
The story is a bit uneven at times, but moves along at a good clip. Tanuja is wonderful as the increasingly terrified Rekha and just absolutely gorgeous. Mehmood and his friends are lots of fun too, and made me laugh on more than one occasion. (What is it with Mehmood and his penchant for drag? Discuss!)
But this film is really all about the songs. They are gems, every single one, and the dancing and choreography (courtesy of Suresh Bhatt) is just fantastic. It simply does not get any better!
More eye candy:
I think the “Aao Twist Karein” song may be another Ted Lyons extravaganza, although I’ll have to verify that with the Man himself since there’s no band name on the drumset. But the guitarist second from the left I’ve seen with him before, and the drummer—although hard to really see since he’s in constant enthusiastic motion—looks like him. (Updated to add: his son informs me that it is not him on the drums, although he says that the instruments probably all belonged to Mr. Lyons as they were difficult to come by back then, and he often lent/hired them out to people.)
Speaking of which, Terence sent me a recent photograph to share with you all. He is still so handsome, with the same smile! And I will be eternally grateful that he prompted me to get this film—I love it!