Jaal (1967)

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!)

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58 Comments to “Jaal (1967)”

  1. In Biswajeet finally cool. That is indeed a question as important as the one asked sometime back which was- Can Mithun really Dance ? :)

    I am sure there are/ were fans of both, who would actually reply in the affirmative. :)

    It is a wonderful review, as always. What I like about Mala Sinha is what I have read about her elsewhere in the past (in this blog) as well as others. For instance, Baburao Patel calling her well upholstered. And when she was in school unde her real name Alda Sinha, she was teased by her classmate as Dalda, which was a popular brand of vegetable oil in India at that time, and that caused her to change her name to a safe one like Mala. :)

    When one says “Jaal”, one remembers a movie of 1950s by this name. “Jaal” (1967) is an obscure movie in comparison and rightly so. This movie has a few nice songs in it, but they are wasted here, as I could see.

  2. I thought you were reviewing Devsaab’s Jaal too, so I was doubly disappointed when I realised it was Biswajeet. Come to think of it, put Biswajeet and Mala Sinha in a movie together and it’s a guarantee that I won’t watch it. :)

    I *loved* your captions! And I voted ‘No’ of course. Biswajeet will always be an (unsuccessful) Shammi Kapoor wannabe to me. But I must admit that he is often prettier than his heroines. He certainly used more makeup!

  3. I saw this one ages back, and don’t remember anything of it, except that it confused me no end – and that Mala Sinha, at least, looked lovely. And I’d seen it on Doordarshan, so I’m guessing that either the reels have been mixed up for the past 20-25 years, in every single copy distributed, or the film really doesn’t make sense. I have a feeling it’s the latter. :-(

    • Okay good, I am glad it wasn’t just me. I do think there may be some reels out of place…some things just appeared with no context at all preceeding—and you are no doubt right that it has just been perpetrated through carelessness/indifference :)

  4. So this isn’t a remake of the older ‘Jaal’, starring Dev Anand and Geeta Bali (and with some wonderful SDB tunes)?

    As for Biswajeet, he’s… just… pathetic. Period.

  5. Ha ha, lovely review!

    I know I’ve often been called a “softie” for going easy in situations like this but I just cannot bring myself to take the extreme position of saying that Biswajeet can NEVER be cool! :-)

    So I’ve voted for “valiant effort” – and surely that isn’t misplaced here? Come on, all those checkboxes ticked! Surely that’s got to count for SOMETHING? Ok, even with all this, he isn’t going to come within a mile of Shammi but it’s not for want of trying, is it? ;-)

    As for the movie, it sounds like a decent mystery story. Although whether this is intentional (as per storyline) or accidental (due to reel mix-ups) is open to question. But if dustedoff says she got confused (and she saw it on TV), then it is most likely one of those stories where the story-writer quite literally lost the plot. :-)

    Come to think of it, I can remember a fair number of mystery stories in the 60s. There was Bees Saal Baad and Kohra with Biswajeet, Teesri Manzil with Shammi, Aamne Samne with Shashi, Shart with Sanjay Khan, Baazi and Kab Kyon Aur Kahan with Dharam, Ittefaq with Rajesh. And of course Woh Kaun Thi, Gumnaam and Anita with Manoj. Then there were the movies where the identity of the “boss” was kept a secret till the very end. Like Kismat. In fact the early 70s had their share of mystery stories like Buddha Mil Gaya and Dhund. Most of them are a decent watch, if only for the paranoid hero/heroine scenes. ;-)

    Anyway, I’m digressing. Biswajeet and Mala Sinha were quite a combo in those days – I remember seeing a lot of their movies as a young boy without remembering the names of their movies. In those days we would get just one movie to watch a week in our club – and whenever it was a Biswajeet-Mala Sinha movie, my sisters (who were all Shashi fans) would let out a big sigh. Biswajeet was bad enough – but with Mala Sinha the movie was often insufferable. They did have one massive hit though – Do Kaliyaan. I think this one of the biggest hits of the year, surprising everybody.

    Thanks for this review, Greta. Not sure my rambling comment says it appropriately enough but I did love this review. :-)

  6. Thank you for the review Greta ji,

    I liked this movie purely for its nostalgic value and the good music.
    I love two songs of this film:
    “Akela hoon main humsafar dhoondtha hoon-Mohammed rafi
    “Mere zindigi ke chiraag ko”-lata mangeshkar

    regards

  7. A ha ha! Another beaut from you Memsaab, love it!

    Like Raja, I’ll go with valiant effort too for Biswajit. Got to give kudos for trying.

    Mala Sinha does look glamorous and managed to do so right up to the time when she stopped playing leading lady well into the 70s. I do like Mala when she’s allowed to be happy before the story arc for her inevitably descends into major drama and she obliges us EVERY time by playing it to the hilt. I also like that despite not coming from the usual Punjabi, Bengali, South Indian core stock of leads, as a Nepali (though brought up in Calcutta, getting her break in Bengali films, etc.) she was such a major success in that era particularly as racist sentiments were quite pervasive then and up till much later, sadly indeed even now. She had spunk and it showed! My kinda gal though not quite my kinda actor :-)

  8. Awwww Biswajeet is cute. I voted for him, dint have the heart not to.

  9. Mala Sinha does look chic in this film, though there are times when she doesn’t quite carry off western clothes. Thanks squarecutal, for the Dalda story. She may have been called Dalda too for being chubby (kids were often called that), apart from the Alda angle of course. :)

    I’m changing my mind a little bit about Biswajeet, watching him these days in a film called ‘Do Dil’ where he is actually cute. But cool, hmmm, hmmm.

    Sujit Kumar’s photo belongs to the days when people had only a few photos to their name, hence we could excuse the lack of varied angles and moods.

    I agree with you, that this may be a good film to watch, despite everything ….

    • He is cute in Do Dil…he is generally cute, just not terribly compelling as a hero. Mala looked fabulous in her western clothes and billowing white nightgown :) I hear you on the photo thing, but surely then ONE copy in each room would be more than enough? :D Loved the overkill of it all.

  10. At first glance I thought huh? it’s ‘jaal’ and yet it isn’t?
    Like many my first thought was of course Dev Geeta starrer.

    I love Mala, and I don’t dislike Biswajeet.
    We can’t…must ‘not’… have another Shammi, Dilip etc so I voted for him for being him in his own style.
    I’ve been trying to work out the jaal involving the accident, nirupa’s madness etc etc and think I have fairly guessed what’s going on LOL!!

    • It is one of those films to watch for the style, the songs, the ambiance…not the story :)

      • >It is one of those films to watch for the style, the songs, the ambianceā€¦not the story :)

        I watch *all* old films just for that alone :)
        Its the ambience, songs, good hindi/urdu language, graceful heroines that I look for, which I get from the films of 50s, 60s and sometimes earlier or even a little later than 60s.

  11. Poor thing Biswajeet, I really feel sorry for him. But it is surely a valiant effort! Biswajeet is Biswajeet,w e don’t really want him to be anything other than that, do we?

    Somehow reading your review makes me want to go out and search for this film. I surely would regret it, but one has to be mad at times, eh?

  12. I rather enjoyed this movie even though as you note, it’s seriously confused (there are definitely reels out of order and missing scenes). Despite the lack of a sensible plot and any real sense of menance, the movie is nicely atmospheric thanks to the FABULOUS architecture (I want Aunty’s house!) and the seaside locale. Even Biswajit and Mala didn’t bother me much…they didn’t add anything to the movie, but they didn’t detract or distract either. I got a kick out of watching Nirupa play kooky Aunty and Helen with her pigtails was adorable. All in all, this “Jaal” was a fun watch.

    • LOVED those houses (I liked Biswajeet’s even more) and all the crashing waves :) It was a fun watch and perfectly exemplifies why I love this era’s movies. So much to look at, so little need to make sense of it!

  13. I had forgotten all about Biswajeet! I remember making a lot of fun of my mother and the women of her generation for liking men like Biswajeet and Joy Mukherjee (he is another one of those ‘can never be cool’ people in my opinion).

  14. As I started to read the review, the poll cropped up and I actually considered voting `valiant effort’ and then went on to vainly look for the spoiler. Seems a reel mixed up case? But good to see Nirupa Roy play a different kind of distraught.
    Mala Sinha has a lovely, symmetrical face, this truth being hammered into my mind after I watched a song in Anpadh, where she’s dressed in black, and yes, she always did her best, in every role.
    But like others above have noted, this leading pair in a movie meant okay-to-miss-on-a-Sunday-evening, which is what I seem to have done.
    Trust you to try and sincerely attempt to make sense of it all. My drooping spirits are revived for now and thanks are due because honestly, when I saw Jaal, I wondered if it was the one with the `Breakdance’ song – the Rekha-Mithun starrer, but then I saw the year of release and had to find out more.

  15. Never heard of this film. Poor Biswajit. He is ok where somebody has to be the ‘good guy’ (sing songs, make lovey dovey eyes, – he does a nice ‘pensive’ look too – spout a few – only a few – high faulting dialogue, and do nothing more. Anything more dashing would be inviting disaster :D.) Mala in the hands of good Directors IS good (e.g. Guru Dutt) otherwise she has the tendency to go OTT and make me cringe. Some of her caps above are good.

    Certainly the elements are interesting and it could have been made into a good story – but most probably the writer/director lost it and made a hodge podge. Anyway it gave you the chance to write a fun review. Sadly you got an unsub-titled copy :( Next time collar an Indian off the street to watch it with you :)

  16. Part of what I liked about this as I said was that Mala and Nirupa’s roles were the most central, basically, and I think Biswajeet being the “hero” contributed to that :) It would be very interesting to see a properly made version of this, I am not willing to blame the writers or directors for the plot disaster yet :)

  17. Just saw the Rafi song on Youtube. It does look intriguing. Mala looks positively audrey hepburn petite. And Biswajit did a half strip :-) So Memsaab you should have given him a thumbs up for that :D

  18. Enjoyed reading everyone’s comments on this lost, um, ‘gem’ but please folks, enough with the smiley faces already – lol

  19. Mala Sinha I believe had thrown quite a few tantrums during her hey dey but still she managed to hold onto her own like Waheeda Rehman. It is a pity that she didn’t act after her last movie in 1993 – Khel and Radha Ka Sangam.But she was very protective about her daughter. Wonder where her daughter Pratibha Sinha vanished ? I have had the opportunity to see her in Ruparel College, Matunga where her daughter studied and you won’t believe that she was very simple and did not have any starry airs. So it was difficult to believe it was the same actress who is supposed to have thrown tantrums. As someone has written, Guru Dutt brought out the best in her in “Pyasa” and some of her movies with Dev Anand were eminently watchable.

  20. Enjoyable review as always, Memsaab. I’m sure a lot of people share your sentiment about Biswajeet. I think what kept him going was that he starred in some hugely popular movies in the 60s. Mala too looks well upholstered. I had not known much about this ‘Jaal’ unlike some its more popular namesakes, but I suppose it was like many other movies of its time providing a little bit of everything.

  21. Mala sinha & Biswajeet are a “No go” for me. Hence i will give this movie a miss. Thoroughly enjoyed ur write up!

  22. Love Love your new Header ! But surely that’s not Helen’s hand.

  23. Oh I didn`t noticed the change of Header.

    Greta ji, the New Header is very nice.

    Whether the actors featured in the header are ajit,Rajendernath,Dhumal,Helen?????

    Another question:(CRAZY me…please don`t laugh at me for these questions)

    From which movie, you extracted the above screencaps of actors??
    I can usually identify most of the movies of Helenji`s.(That`s overconfidence!!!)

    But this time I am unable to identify the movies, whether rajendernathji`s screencap from private photoshoot.

    Let me guess!!!!!!!
    Ajit`s screencap from “Yaadon ki baraat”
    Dhumal`s screencap from “Gumnaam”
    Helenji`s screencap from “Tum haseen Main jawaan” or “Hungama”

    And the logo “Salaam Memsaab” also look like hindi movie title imprint.Whether that`s from Asrani, Zarina wahaab`s movie “Salaam Memsaab”??

    regards and lot`s of love
    prakash

  24. I love you guys! Thanks for making a game out of the new header :) I suddenly realized that I had all these caps of magnifying glasses—they always make me laugh. From left to right it is Ajit (Yaadon Ki Baaraat), Rajendranath (Saazish), Dhumal (Anita) and Helen (with Rajendranath’s hand, also from Saazish) :) And the Salaam Memsaab title is from the lp cover of the movie by the same name, starring Asrani and Zarina :)

    • Greta ji

      You don`t know how much I love your writings.
      I translate all the things written by you to my mother(while we are doing our kitchen work), who is not well versed with English and both of us enjoy this particular conversation very much.(Whenever she is not happy with my cleaning and other kitchen works, she yells at me to do the work properly. But I just change the topic and start speaking about you ” Aaj Memsaab ne aisa likh diya, vaisa likh diya” and automatically she will transported into her younger days and stars to speak about her version of the movies she watched in her heydays.

      God bless you.

      regards

      • This is one of my favorite comments ever :D Maybe you can start a blog about her version of the movies she watched! Hugs to her and bless both of you.

        • Greta ji
          Thanks for your words.

          Mom also conveyed her warm regards and best wishes for you and your family.

          regards
          prakash and prakash`s mom Sunitha

    • I was looking for Dharmendra in the header and was consoled by the fact that most of the pictures were from his movies. :-)

  25. Mum’s sudden loss has badly affected my health, as the days go by and the fact that she is not going to come back ever again sinks in I just break down.Why the sob story well that is the reason I am not so active on the internet, I find it difficult to sit in front of the computer, today I decided to check my mail and saw the latest update from your blog, the moment I saw Jaal 1967 I knew this was dad’s Jaal. Today is dad’s birthday I was planning to launch his blog cum website today. Jaal was going to feature in it and this what I was planning to write about the film;
    This was a flop film but for dad it was a bit interesting though his role was not very exceptional, well the interesting part was he wore several costumes, he had told me the exact number but I do not remember. That apart he had no dialogue in this film excepting one word “main” meaning ‘I’. There is another memory which comes flooding back after decades as I go through your post, this film was shot in Goa and dad was away for several days, mum fell seriously during this time— the only time I saw her so ill– she was in great pain and yet she managed to cook delicious stuff for us with a bit of help from the house help. I remember dad rushing to Bombay on hearing of mum’s illness,but I remember he could not stay back for too long as the unit was waiting for him in Goa. Now I guess they are both happy somewhere up there together. And yes I too love the songs of Jaal.

    • (((Hugs Shilpi)))

      I know how hard it is…it will become more bearable with time :( If you listen, you’ll know she is still with you too and will always be. I wish I could do something to help—but you know where I am if you need a virtual shoulder to cry on. Thanks for sharing that story about your Dad—I feel sure I would have really liked both your parents so much as I’ve gotten to know them through you. And your Dad is great in this even without words: his lurking and general demeanor add greatly to the atmosphere of menace :)

      Take your time with his website, we are all looking forward to it though!

    • May his soul rest in peace. A very touching update, Shilpi.

  26. Thank you so much for your kind and comforting words Greta.

  27. I’ve just been watching a Rajendra Kumar film and wondering what it is about him that I do not understand. Obviously you don’t become known for jubilees if no one finds you appealing, but maybe it’s lost to time and cultural differences. Biswajeet falls into the same category for me – I don’t get why he’s famous…or even an actor. BUT: OH THE CLOTHES!!! Excellent find if just for costuming!

  28. Please go throu’ a website called cineplot. There is reference to greta’s blog. plus have so many articles and interviews with yester year actors – even the ones who were never written about.

    Finally, we knew about the 70’s bomb shell Faryal and her interview was too good. She has expressed her views forthright about the film industry, the way top heroines treated the character artistes (sharmila tagore and asha parekh in particular). It is a delightful read. It was sad to read the way Premanth tried to act fresh with her,

    Faryal as per wiki currently lives in Israel.

    • I do look at cineplot, it’s got a lot of information about the period in cinema that I love :) I’m honored that I’m mentioned in it, haven’t seen that though…

  29. I laughed so hard that my belly hurts. Thank you memsaab, what a fun way to spend a snowy Sunday.
    I took the Biswajeet cool test, simply because I know him from Bengali films where he was always the second banana roles. I voted “valiant effort” as he looks so different from his bengali film roles.

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