My mother came to stay with me for a few days last week and we watched some Hindi fillums together. She did not fall asleep during this, and it’s no mean feat for a movie to keep Mom awake through its entirety I can tell you. (She also stayed mostly awake through Chashme Buddoor and Hum Tum, although she didn’t care for Teesri Manzil, forcing me to wonder briefly if I might have been switched at birth with her real baby.)
In any case there is plenty in Hulchul to keep anybody’s eyes wide open, starting with the credits and fabulous title music (RD Burman).
The music (which is mostly instrumental, and just FAB) and clothes alone are enough to make this watchable, but it’s also a very stylish mystery-comedy that riffs on stereotypical filmi types and the foibles of human nature. And by stylish, I mean blinged-out and blinding beyond control and filled with eye-candy.
Writer-director-producer-actor OP Ralhan plays Peter, a working guy who overhears a conversation between two lovers one night on his dinner break beneath a bridge.
Unwilling to involve himself in a police investigation that will bring unwanted attention to him, his adoptive mother (Tun Tun) and fiancee Kitty (Helen), he decides instead to telephone the current wife of this Mahesh Jetley to warn her. There are three Mahesh Jetleys in the phone directory and, not knowing which one the intended victim might be, Peter duly plants the seeds of suspicion in the minds of all three formerly blissfully happy ladies.
First up is loving housewife Laxmi (Anjali Kadam), whose husband Mahesh (!) (Prem Chopra), works at a modeling agency and keeps a photograph of his protege Neena (Zeenat Aman in her first Hindi film) tucked away in his wallet.
The next Mrs. Jetley is an older invalid named Padma (Sardar Akhtar, whom I am thrilled to see—she was an actress in the 30s and 40s, and married Mehboob Khan). Padma is confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk, and her husband Mahesh (!) (Madan Puri) is a doctor-scientist with a pretty young assistant. When Peter calls, Padma is telling a pair of friends that she hopes to die soon and relieve her poor devoted husband of his duties caring for her. After she hears what Peter has to say, she’s not so sure.
The third and final Mrs. Jetley to receive Peter’s call is a beautiful and well-known movie actress. Seema (Sonia Sahni, whom I think was married to OP Ralhan at one point, especially given her opening line below—or was it IS Johar, for some reason I get them mixed up) has married a penniless and unemployed but handsome man named Mahesh (!) (Kabir Bedi, who actually isn’t that handsome in this and appears to be one of those men who look much better with facial hair).
In the wake of Peter’s call, Laxmi sets off for the club that her husband frequents and is met with a dismaying sight. I have to say that Zeenat and Prem Chopra ripping up the dance floor is a wonderful giggle for me though.
Seema ponders on her husband’s well-known popularity with the ladies:
And poor Padma watches from the laboratory doorway as her husband and his pretty assistant kill a little white rabbit with an injection (oh! the humanity!).
Kabir-Mahesh becomes enraged when gossip of Seema’s affair with her favorite director Mr. Kumar (Ramesh Deo) is repeated in front of him at a gambling club. He and Seema are obviously a very passionate pair and prone to jealousy on both sides, although that does not explain why they have covered a staircase wall with the pelts of a hundred or so teddy bears and another one with steampunk gadgets.
Kabir-Mahesh is puzzled by his wife’s strangely distant behavior, especially when she freaks out after he puts some saccharine drops in her coffee (it’s the latest “thing” from a doctor friend, he tells her). She pours the hot liquid out of her window when he isn’t looking, and we hear the sounds of a yowling cat.
Madan-Puri-Mahesh returns home and is shocked when his wife fights him off as he tries to give her the nightly injection for her hip that he’s been giving her for years. The commotion brings their kids running too.
PC-Mahesh’s wife Laxmi pretends to be sleeping when he gets home after his night of dancing and tries to romance her.
The worried Peter goes home to his adoptive mother Mrs. D’Costa and her daughter Kitty, a dancer. Peter and Kitty are engaged to be married in two weeks, but that doesn’t stop Mrs. D’Costa from being a very vigilant Ma. I am of course thrilled to see Tun Tun and Helen.
It also amuses me that Helen smirks at Tun Tun’s antics too.
The next morning Peter decides to investigate the three Jetley couples further, and Seema discovers to her horror that her cat has died. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that maybe she shouldn’t have poured hot coffee on it, and the maid telling her it had been sick for four days doesn’t help either.
Meanwhile, PC-Mahesh and Laxmi are on their way to visit Laxmi’s sister and her husband (Chandrashekhar), and PC-Mahesh is driving like a madman. I wonder how either Seema or Laxmi are surviving their husbands’ taste in clothing, and if that’s not enough surely the weight of Laxmi’s extra hair alone might kill her. I would also rethink the whole wearing-a-scarf-like-a-tempting-noose around my neck thing if I thought my husband wanted to be rid of me.
Peter continues to feed Padma’s paranoia after he overhears Madan-Puri-Mahesh talking with his assistant about Padma’s sudden refusal to accept her hip injections:
while Seema seeks the help of her director and mentor Kumar, and Laxmi resigns herself to her fate like a good bhaartiya naari.
As the women begin to lose it and their husbands continue to behave suspiciously, Peter confides everything to Kitty and she embarks with him on an investigation into the three Mahesh Jetleys. Will they be able to save the wife marked for murder? IS there one marked for murder? Are ALL of them? As the plot thickens and the sartorial splendor begins to hurt my eyes, I am positively riveted by the twists and turns and totally invested in the characters.
Plus there is so much more to love: a long and crazy Helen song and dance about something earnest like “war is bad” and “we are all same to same but different”; and the finest fashion shoot outside of Khoon Bhari Maang that I’ve ever seen.
Amrish Puri makes an appearance as a prosecutor and according to the credits Ranjeet is in there somewhere too, although I haven’t been able to find him. In any case, it’s a wonderful cast.
Zeenat is lovely and SO YOUNG:
and there are things I want in just about every scene. Sigh. (Watch it, it’s oodles of fun.)