As with most unsubtitled, murky films with missing key scenes and transitions—and likely some reel mix-ups—I early on tossed any attempt to understand the plot by the wayside. But Jaal contains some highly entertaining elements like good songs, including a beach romp with Helen, Johnny Walker, and a host of emaciated goris in bikinis; Nirupa Roy in her element as the disturbed, bereaved Aunty; Tarun Bose as her creepy butler; and miniature boats and flashing lighthouse lights. Mala Sinha is given full scope for the things she does best: looking terribly chic in 1960s outfits, and going berserk in her own inimitable style.
Plus, the most valiant attempt I have ever seen is made to make Biswajeet look “cool”. If it fails, at least they really, really tried.
I’ll let YOU decide.
As far as I could make out, the plot essentially combines an atmospheric Hitchcockian descent into madness with a simple murder investigation, or might have when it was first made. What’s left is mostly just scrambled nonsense.
A man called Sunder (Sujit Kumar) wrecks his boat on the rocks in a storm despite a nearby lighthouse and presumably blows up with it. He was engaged to marry the daughter of his (I think) mother’s (Nirupa Roy) best childhood friend, who passed away years ago leaving said daughter Sheila (Mala Sinha) with only her loving father (Niranjan Sharma). His mother calls Sheila’s father with the news.
He dies of a heart attack from the shock of it, and Aunty comes to take Sheila home. Up until now, Sheila has been a bright and happy girl, looking forward to her wedding, gossiping with her friends, and enjoying the sweet, sweet sartorial options of the era.
She is heartbroken at the loss of her father, and delighted to see her Aunty and move into her mansion with her. But it doesn’t take long before she begins to be creeped out by Aunty’s strange behavior, which includes giving Sheila wedding jewelry, continuing to knit baby clothes for Sunder Jr. who will now never appear, and putting dinner on the table for Sunder every night.
We begin to understand that Aunty is in serious denial over Sunder’s death. She makes Sheila go downstairs during a storm, believing that Sunder is knocking on the door. Poor unnerved Sheila, justifiably a little scared of Aunty by now too, is terrified in one of those endless scenes of wind, rain, billowing curtains, and scary music which culminates in a sudden confrontation with Ma’s Man Friday (Tarun Bose).
I am leaving out a bunch of stuff that made no sense to me, chiefly her relationship with Ma’s neighbor Shankar (Biswajeet), who is painting her portrait for some reason I don’t get (in one early scene she sees it and is pleased, and then about half an hour later she sees it again and appears to be surprised by it). One minute she’s falling for Shankar and the next she barely seems know him and I wonder what I’m missing—are there more than one of her? Is she suffering from multiple personality disorder? Or are the reels mixed up? I have no idea.
In any case, Tarun Bose is the final straw and poor Sheila now very satisfyingly goes bonkers.
Shankar half-heartedly tries to intervene as Aunty starts dressing her up as a bride, but Aunty kicks him out (although she had earlier told Sheila that he was a very nice man). Apparently Aunty has completely lost it by now too and wants Sheila to belong only to Sunder. He was either a beloved son or a megalomaniac: his portrait (the same one) is everywhere, hanging on every wall, sitting on every table, often in the same room. She talks to him, a LOT.
If I were going to hang someone’s picture on my walls and place it on every surface in my home, I’d at least try for some different angles and maybe moods.
Shankar, it seems, is also a police officer investigating Sunder’s accident. One of his subordinates tells him that Sunder’s body has been found, and there is talk of murder. Aunty weeps over his body but continues to torment Sheila into madness—and Sheila herself begins to see a burnt, scarred Sunder who is still alive.
When Shankar and Sheila spend time together she recovers from her Aunty-inspired madness, but nobody seems to think that Aunty herself might benefit from a visit to the men in white coats and Sheila continues to live with her. Aunty sends Sheila downstairs again to investigate a knock on the door and Sheila goes, although it didn’t work out so well last time. It doesn’t this time either.
What on earth is going on? Is Sunder dead or alive? If he’s dead, who killed him? Was it just an accident? Is Aunty actually crazy or is she faking it for some strange reason? Will Sheila ever regain her mental balance? And why does Shankar seems so willing to let his ladylove continue on under the roof of an insane person? Does anyone in this film have any common sense at all?
I’m not convinced this would have been any better had it been subtitled, although it would have possibly been less confusing. In any case, I didn’t really mind sitting through it for all that. Helen and Johnny Walker are tragically wasted as the CSP (they basically get mad at each other a lot and call each other “darling” in between and don’t have anything to do with the rest of the plot):
but their beach song (“Dil De De”) is good fun. I think I spotted Edwina and Ted in there alongside the skinny
drug addicts tourists.
(Edited to add, thanks Tom!):
I love the architecture, inside and out:
And I liked that the two women in this were essentially the central characters in the story, even if accidentally. Mala looked gorgeous and I thoroughly enjoyed her histrionics. Tarun Bose and lots of billowing curtains and rain added atmosphere, and Biswajeet…well, you decide. (Note screencap above: Thumb carelessly hooked into pants pocket? Check!)