By the end of this film I felt really sorry for anyone who might have been dependent on the Indian police—as portrayed here—for any kind of aid in 1974. I’m surprised that the censor board didn’t demand an upfront apology from the producers. I am almost positive that the intent was exactly opposite, too, but as the film hurtles forward, the plot increasingly unravels with sad results. It’s too bad, because otherwise it is an unusual story (apparently a remake of The Desperate Hours starring Humphrey Bogart) with a lot going for it: a psychological drama about a family of four held hostage for 36 hours (ghante) by three increasingly desperate bank robbers on the run.
36 Ghante comes *this close* to being a really good film, but is sabotaged by inattention to some important details. (Here’s my disclaimer: as with all Hindi cinema, it could be that poor editing after the fact—by the dvd manufacturer for instance—is partially responsible for the story problems, but I will probably never know for sure.)
The movie opens on a dark night as men pile money from a bank vault into a red satchel while a nervous woman waits in a car outside.
As the three robbers emerge from the bank they toss the bag into her car. As she drives off, a guard sounds the alarm; he is shot and the three men flee—but are soon surrounded by the police and forced to surrender (so far, so good, Bombay police!). The trio’s leader Himmat (Sunil Dutt) is already known to the police, as is his girlfriend Kamini; the police search Kamini’s house for the missing money, but find nothing.
The next morning the three robbers break out of Central Jail, fleeing on foot, and word goes out to nearby police headquarters. On the road, the three escapees stop a driver (Jankidas) and steal his car. Soon after that, they take the clothes from three men to replace their prison outfits. Meanwhile, Jankidas makes his way to the nearest police station, where he tells Inspector Wadekar (Ramesh Deo) what has happened. Wadekar puts two and two together, and Jankidas confirms.
Given the license plate number and description of the car, Wadekar sets up police barricades on the roads going out of Bombay.
Thwarted by one such roadblock, Himmat and his two cohorts Ajit (Ranjeet) and Dilawar Khan (a totally OTT Danny Denzongpa) pull off into a quiet neighborhood to rethink their strategy and find a place to hole up while they figure out what to do next.
This “fine” house is occupied by a good family; we know that because they are doing their morning prayers when we meet them, with a lovely bhajan called “Rakhiyo Nazar Shri Ram” (music is by Sapan Chakravorty and lyrics by the eminent Sahir Ludhianvi).
Ashok Roy (Raaj Kumar) is the editor of a major newspaper. He is happily married to Deepa (Mala Sinha) (I love this little exchange when she teases him about his natty suit):
and they have a little boy named Raju (Master Alankar). Ashok’s younger as-yet-unmarried sister Naina (a very young and nervous Parveen Babi) lives with them too. While Ajit scouts the premises I notice that servants are apparently not part of the household and I like Deepa right away for having windows as dirty (or dirtier! really!) than mine.
Thus it is that after the family all go off on their daily routines—Raja to school, Naina out with boyfriend Vijay (Vijay Arora) and Ashok to the office—Deepa is left alone in the house. Poor, poor, Deepa! This is just what our miscreants have been waiting for.
They park Jankidas’ stolen car in the garage to hide it and settle in with Deepa, who is pleasingly if stupidly rebellious and uncooperative and even tries to use Ashok’s hidden pistol to get them out (but sadly they take it from her). By now word has spread via radio about the three dangerous convicts, and Ashok calls to warn her to keep the door locked and not open it to strangers. Too late!
Himmat now calls girlfriend Kamini.
He asks her to bring the satchel of money from the bank robbery to Bombay, and to call him at the Roy’s house when she gets there so that they can arrange to meet.
Police Inspector Wadekar reports in to the Commissioner (1930s singing star Surendra Nath—Mehboob Khan’s go-to hero in that era). Wadekar tells the Commissioner that the convicts have somehow escaped the dragnet on the roads.
He then proceeds to tell the Commissioner that the escapees will surely try to contact Himmat’s girlfriend Kamini in Pune. The Commissioner is obviously exasperated at this piece of news and orders Wadekar to get the Poona police to tap her phone (too late!) and to set up a watch on her house, which of course they should have done already. The Pune police, led by Inspector Mathur (Jagdish Raj) have already searched Kamini’s house for the loot, but have been unaware that her cohorts had earlier escaped. I roll my eyes at the lack of communication and general incompetence.
Kamini sets off for Bombay in a sporty little yellow car and a very mod outfit (after retrieving her bag from a hotel room ceiling). Mathur and his men follow her, but lose her after she almost hits a vegetable vendor and an out-of-the-loop traffic cop sets off after her. The last thing Kamini wants is to be pulled over, of course, so she pulls into an apartment complex, parks her car there and disappears.
It doesn’t occur to Mathur and his men when they show up minutes later that Kamini might be observing them from inside. She is, of course, and quickly realizes that she’s being trailed for more than just a traffic violation.
At the Roy house, Deepa is getting to know the three men holding her hostage a little better. Himmat is definitely in charge, and he has some basic decency. He won’t allow crazy “beast” Dilawar to abuse her hospitality, for instance. Dilawar himself is a weird character—Danny clearly had some fun creating him, but it doesn’t really work. His appearance is Planet of the Apes (neck up) meets Godspell (neck down), and I think his crazed giggle and volatile childishness is supposed to instil fear—but it just annoys me.
Ajit, the third member of this small gang, is basically an order-taker. He backs up Himmat (who is his older brother) without question and helps him keep Dilawar under a modicum of control. (Plus, you know, he’s hot.)
They are all tense, and it only gets worse as the family members currently outside the house go happily about their lives. Naina’s boyfriend Vijay calls Deepa to let her know that his parents will be visiting later in the evening to formally fix their wedding. Deepa tries to dissuade Vijay from sending his parents THAT evening, but he doesn’t listen.
Not so easy for Deepa to do, since her “plans” are holding a gun to her head. Shortly afterwards, Vijay drops Naina at home. She comes in and Himmat—who is now having tea—introduces himself as “Himmat Chacha” and offers her a sandwich while Deepa looks on, frozen. Naina’s blissful ignorance is short-lived, however, when she switches on the television and is confronted by a news bulletin.
Ashok arrives home next and is puzzled and irritated when he can’t open the garage door to put his car away.
He is sweetly horrified to discover that poor Deepa has been alone with three armed convicts since shortly after he left that morning, and when Raju comes home and is clearly scared by the strangers in his home, Ashok makes Himmat an offer: he’ll give them the money that Kamini is bringing if they promise to just leave immediately.
Himmat’s response makes me laugh out loud, even though I feel great empathy with Ashok at the same time:
Ashok persists, saying that he will take out a loan. Himmat’s response to this is delusional, and unfortunately probably completely free of any intentional irony.
Really? You don’t live on freebies, Himmat? Stealing other people’s money isn’t…getting it for free? If killing people who are in your way is hard work, then okay: I guess you work hard. But “earning” a living is stretching it a bit. I roll my eyes again (it’s happening more and more often).
The evening begins (I’ve forgotten to count the hours) and everyone waits for Kamini’s call. Dilawar gets drunk (on Ashok’s Scotch—freebie alert!) and Himmat sends the restless family upstairs to their rooms (this also makes me laugh: how paternal of him!).
Ajit is wistful:
Things are about to get complicated, though, as the outside world intrudes. Naina has plans to go to a party with Vijay, and Vijay’s parents are on their way to see Deepa and Ashok and fix their son’s wedding with Naina. Plus Kamini finally calls. She is stuck in Pune, with the police still watching her car and isn’t going to make it to Bombay by midnight.
When night turns into day again, too, Raju will be expected at school and Ashok at work. What do the remaining hours in this situation hold for everyone involved?
The plot threads become more and more complicated as the clock ticks away. There are many things which are well done and interesting: Himmat’s psychological battle with Ashok Roy (Sunil Dutt and Raaj Kumar have some good material to work with and take advantage of it); the different ways in which each family member deals with the stress; and the hardship individuals allowed to venture out of the house face, unable to ask for help, knowing that loved ones behind are still held hostage.
(This is one of those crazy sets I’ve seen everywhere!)
The seventies style is groovilicious too: Ranjeet-Mala-Parveen’s outfits; Sunil Dutt’s shaggy hair; Sonia Sahni’s everything.
I had thought that particular color combination was invented by preppies in the eighties, but of course the Indians beat them to it!
Overall, though, there are problems which I just can’t overlook: besides Dilawar’s ridiculous masala-worthy act (so out of place here), the track which should have added tension and interest by following a parallel police investigation falls flat because of their total incompetence. For instance, Wadekar asks Deepa (through a note) at one point to give them a signal if there are intruders in the house—and she gives it.
Yay, right? Nope. No follow-up!
I feel your pain, Commissioner sahab.
Plus I would have liked to see a bit more background on how Himmat and Ajit (I don’t care about Dilawar) ended up being bank robbers and murderers. The lip-service paid to their better instincts and motivations (“we don’t take freebies”) along with a thirty-second look back at their childhood was simply not enough to make me care or be able to contextualize their transgressions, and for the film to succeed for me it was necessary that I should (well, I always care about Ranjeet but that’s another matter altogether).
In any case, it is an interesting film worth a watch, even if it’s not completely successful. There are very few songs: the nice bhajan I mention, plus a couple of other fairly unremarkable ones (not Sahir-worthy, in my opinion) and a fairly tawdry musical number. If you want the music—it seems difficult to find!—my pal PC over at Third Floor Music has just posted the soundtrack (after waiting patiently for me to stop babbling on about the movie itself). It’s there along with the much more awesome soundtrack from Kalicharan too. Enjoy!