I think this film was subtitled by someone with narcolepsy who kept suddenly falling asleep and upon awakening would simply continue working without going back to see what he had missed. Only about a third to half of the dialogue is subtitled, so I am not sure if my finding the plot difficult to follow was my fault, the narcoleptic subtitler’s fault, or the filmmaker’s fault. In any case, despite this handicap I found this highly entertaining. First of all, the Shankar Jaikishan songs are beautiful (although much of the background music is from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf—which is not a bad thing); secondly, it’s one of Nutan’s first films and she is lovely; and her hero is Nasir Khan (Dilip Kumar’s brother) in the first leading role I have seen him in. It also succeeds pretty well as an atmospheric mystery-suspense-thriller (it was given an “A” certificate by the censors).
According to Shammi Kapoor in this Screen interview:
I was friends with Nutan since childhood because of my father’s friendship with her mother Shobhana Samarth. I remember escorting Nutan—she was not yet 18 then—to the premiere of her adult film Nagina as heroine and she was actually not allowed in as she was underage!
Srinath (Nasir Khan) is the son of Shyamlal, a man who disappeared 12 years earlier after being accused of murdering a woman. Srinath’s mother is steadfast in her belief that he is both innocent and still alive, and she is resisting pressure to divide his property (a huge beautiful house on the beach no doubt ripped down years ago for a high-rise of some sort) from her in-laws. She is very striking in a gaunt but large-boned kind of way—does anyone know who she is (not Anwaribai, apparently)?
She begs Srinath to find his father, and he sets off. On his train journey a man is murdered and a mysterious woman flees the scene. Srinath chases her into the bathroom, where she denies knowing anything and begs him to save her honor.
She disappears after the train is stopped and the police board it, and they arrest Srinath on suspicion of the murder. He is cleared eventually by the train conductor, whose daughter Lily (Mohana) catches the attention of Srinath’s friend Dixit (Gope). We are treated to a fabulous 40s-style swing dance by the catchy name of “My Dearo Dearo Mummy Nahin” which I have to rewind and play over a few times before I can move on.
I’ve only seen Mohana before in Insaniyat—she is lovely, with a flashing smile and dimples, and I think Gope is awfully cute too.
The song is totally fab and Tom happens to have uploaded it!
Srinath plans to search for evidence of his father’s innocence in an old and reputedly haunted house nearby. The dialogue isn’t subtitled, but he talks about a Nagmani (which turns out to be some sort of magic ring) and says that Shyamlal was accused of murdering the mistress of the house. He doesn’t seem too worried about the rumors of a violent bhoot which swirl about the place.
The spooky mansion is owned and occupied by a mysterious and sketchy character by the name of Raiji (Bipin Gupta) and his ginormous mute servant Gunga. When Raiji becomes suspicious of his visitor’s motives, he sets Gunga after Srinath and much chasing, skulking and breaking down of doors ensues. Srinath eventually finds his way to a rooftop chamber belonging to a mysterious woman, who doesn’t talk or let him see her, but points him to a secret escape passage with a finger adorned by what I assume is the Nagmani ring referred to earlier.
I manage to deduce that Raiji’s wife was the woman whom Shyamlal is accused of murdering. And surprise! Raiji’s daughter (and the mysterious ring wearer) is Mukta (Nutan)—that same girl Srinath had met on the train. He finds time to romance her as he embarks on an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with Raiji, looking for clues to Shyamlal’s fate. I love Nutan’s and Nasir’s chemistry; they are sweet and cute together.
Mukta has only recently returned to the house, to her father’s displeasure. After her mother’s murder she grew up with her grandfather, but has missed her father. She is an unhappy sort but seems to have a knack for skulking about—perhaps it’s bred into those born in creepy havelis.
She soon discovers a man chained in the dungeon of her father’s house and tries to rescue him; it is Shyamlal, and Raiji has kept him there for the past 12 years. Shyamlal also has a Nagmani ring which he keeps hidden under his thin mattress although Raiji and Gunga don’t think to look there. They seem to prefer the “I’ll kill you if you don’t hand it over” tactic.
To further complicate matters, a nasty man named Nihal (Hiralal) now appears looking for the Nagmani ring as well, and he also wants to marry Mukta. Raiji moves Shyamlal to a new hiding place after he finds out that Mukta has seen him. This is one of the best things ever—it’s a banyan tree whose trunk is the entrance to an underground dungeon.
There must be banyan tree hideouts all over India! Or if not, there should be! As Srinath gets closer to the truth (I think) Raiji has him killed, or so he and Mukta believe. And when he returns to the mansion, he begins to believe that Mukta is in cahoots with her father.
Will Shyamlal be found? Will his innocence be proved, and will he be reunited with his wife and son? Can Mukta and Srinath find love despite the many obstacles? What is Nihal’s role in all this? What is the Nagmani and why are people willing to kill for it?
There is lots of good stuff in here, even if I never do find out the answers to some of those questions (well, only the last one—but maybe it’s something that all Indians know, and someone here will share it with me). The love songs are very pretty albeit a bit mournful, although my favorite two tunes are those picturized on Gope and Mohana. Here is the other one, “Humse Koyi Pyar Karoji”:
Gotta love it! Even Hiralal enjoys himself—and look how handsome he was: hero handsome, in my opinion!
I could have wished for better subtitles (or at least more of them) and I am pretty sure scenes were missing too (the flow was very choppy), but even so I recommend this film. Nutan and Nasir are especially good together, and I want to see more Nasir Khan! He is a sweeter, kinder version of Dilip. His playback singing too is done by CH Atma, whose voice has a lovely quality—can anyone tell me more about him?
Lots of questions in this post! I await your answers.