Kangan (1959)

This is a terrific filmi noir murder mystery. The subtitles are excellent! The acting is first-class, the story is interesting and moves along at a good pace, and the characters and relationships draw you in and make you care what happens.

And if you’ve been wanting to see Nirupa Roy as a heroine instead of a mother, here’s your chance!

The film begins on her wedding day; she plays Karuna, who is marrying a CID inspector, Sharad Das (Ashok Kumar). Sharad’s sister Kamla (Purnima) is a close friend of Karuna’s and has arrived to help her get dressed for the big event. Kamla is distressed to see a man delivering a letter through the window of Karuna’s room. It is from an unscrupulous character named Ramesh (Iftekhar) with whom she had had an affair before her marriage to an army Captain (Jagdish Raj).

He is now blackmailing her with the love letters she had written him, threatening to expose her and ruin her marriage. She is terrified, and Karuna consoles her by saying she will go retrieve the letters from Ramesh, who is at a nearby hotel. She throws on a shawl over her finery and off she goes. At the hotel, she gives her name as “K” to the hotel manager and goes up to Ramesh’s room.

I know some of you will be as thrilled to see Iftekhar as I am. Anyhow, as expected, he asks for money in exchange for the letters. She offers him her ornaments since she has no money and he says she has something else she could give him too (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). He grabs her and when she resists, he tells her that he’ll keep the letters then; and call on her in the future whenever he wants. Desperation grows on her face as she realizes what it will be like to have her family’s honor in his hands.

As he turns his back on her and puts the letters into a drawer, she grabs a heavy clock off the wall and bashes him on the head with it. Her shawl is caught in the desk drawer when she takes the letters out, and as she frees herself and prepares to leave the room, someone knocks on the door. Karuna goes out via the window and returns home, where the baraat has just arrived, and marries Sharad.

I adore Ashok Kumar. In his marvelously witty and gossipy book “Stars from Another Sky,” Saadat Hasan Manto writes about “Dadamoni” and the numerous beautiful women who threw themselves at him. Manto says that he was too shy to respond:

“Courage he certainly lacked, which was a good thing for his marriage. I am sure his wife Shobha was happy over her husband’s timidity, praying that he would never lose it.”

But I digress. The wedding reception features a wonderful song and dance from a young and stunningly beautiful Helen:

Karuna is welcomed into the Das family bosom. It’s a warm and bustling household: the married servants Gopal and Gopi (Bhagwan and Shammi) bicker constantly; Sharad and Kamla’s brother little Munna (Daisy Irani) is mischievous; father-in-law Barrister Mohan Das (Nasir Hussain) is kind; and of course now-sisters Karuna and Kamla are fast friends.

Domestic bliss is interrupted all too soon, however. The superintendent of Police (who is also Mohan Das’ best friend) calls Sharad in to investigate a murder—Ramesh’s body has been found.

Kamla frets. Karuna tells her that she didn’t mean to kill Ramesh, but that if she had not gotten the letters back she could never have faced her new family. She’s pretty philosophical about it all.

I cheer. No weeping, self-sacrificing bahu-beti here! Besides, Kamla cries enough for both of them. Karuna says she will confess, but Kamla begs her not to or else her reputation will be ruined. Kamla’s husband drags her off home soon enough, though, and we are spared.

Sharad makes some progress early on. He discovers from the Hotel Manager that a beautiful woman named “K” came to see Ramesh shortly before his murder, and the Manager assures him that he will recognize her if he sees her again. In Ramesh’s room, the murder weapon—clearly the heavy clock—has fingerprints on it, and a torn piece of shawl is stuck in the desk drawer. There is also a handkerchief embroidered with the initial K.

Karuna continues to bond with her father-in-law and Munna.

Her serenity begins to unravel as Sharad talks more and more about the case though. When her father brings her the shawl she had worn on that fateful day, she freaks a little. Soon after, Sharad and Mohan Das are discussing the case at breakfast and Sharad shakes his head over a woman—a goddess!—committing such a crime. Karuna points out that it could have been accidental.

Karuna replies that maybe he was a man who deserved to die; that maybe he besmirched her honor and that of those she loved, and she launches into a tirade.

Sharad is surprised by her vehemence; Mohan Das and I love it and agree wholeheartedly. Anyway, Sharad is not making much progress on the case and the superintendent closes it. Relief washes over Karuna despite her husband’s distress at ruining his perfect case-solving record. But it’s short-lived.

The Hotel Manager is invited to a party at the Das house and of course recognizes Karuna when he sees her. He tells Sharad about it not knowing that she is Sharad’s wife. When he realizes the blunder he backs off, but Sharad is now curious. He begins his investigation anew—and of course all clues point to Karuna, except one. But it’s enough, and he tells the superintendent what he has discovered.

When they go to arrest her, Mohan Das is indignant.

What will happen? Will Kamla’s—and thus the family’s—dirty laundry be aired out in public? Will Karuna hang for murder? Watch Kangan to find out. It’s classic!

Minor spoiler below!
One more favorite moment occurs after Kamla’s relationship with the victim is revealed. Her husband asks her if she sent Ramesh the letters before or after their marriage; she tells him “before,” and he says:

Hooray for the captain!

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13 Comments to “Kangan (1959)”

  1. I should watch more films starring Ashok Kumar and this film seems like a great way to start – more about the story and acting and less about the action, fancy sets and props.

  2. I highly recommend it :-)

    I think Ashok Kumar was a really gifted actor, and he’s great in this.

  3. Wow! Ashok Kumar and Nirupa Roy – never knew about this film! What a great find, Memsaab. Have to look out for it – am always up for anything with Dadamoni in the lead. :-)

    From the story it sounds like this one was remade as Uljhan (1975) starring Sanjeev Kumar and Sulakshna Pandit.

  4. I 2nd Bollyviewer- Wow- and double wow.

    I am digging the fact that Kamla’s husband was actually portrayed as open-minded enough, and Nirupa was fiesty! Who would have thunk….thanks, and I’d so love to see this!

  5. I was trembling along with Kamla when she faced her husband, fearing that I would get so pissed off by the scene that the film would be ruined for me! I almost fell off my chair at his response.

    Really liked this film on many levels. Nirupa rocked.

    Will have to look for Uljhan and see if it measures up!

  6. heh – finally a movie I’ve seen :-) I love Dadamoni!
    and Nirupa Roy wasn’t bad looking as a heroine, was she?
    Love the protrayal of all the characters.

    M

  7. She’s very pretty—but even here she has a motherly quality about her. Not at all a bad thing! It’s no wonder Kamla confides in her and asks for her help. She’s just a steady and reassuring presence (dare I say…docile?). I have a friend who is like that too.

    One of my favorite scenes (minor spoiler alert again) is when Ashok asks her about the handkerchief, and she says it isn’t hers and then teases him about having another woman. It’s so cute, and they are so sweet together.

  8. Have 2 get my hands on this movie… esp lookin at ur recomendation, and at Ashok Kumar!! Just adore him!!

  9. Have just finished seeing this movie and have now read the review. Excellent review, Greta, you’ve not given away any of the suspense elements.

    I liked the movie overall. The story moves along at a decent pace, though I could have done without the CSP of Bhagwan and Shammi. Also, I found Daisy Irani a tad irritating. I guess it was not her fault – she was just a little kid, it was more the role she had to play. Why do directors make kids play irritating roles?

    But these are minor elements that do not take away from an otherwise interesting movie. Ashok Kumar and Nirupa Roy do a very good job as newly-wed husband and wife, with the teasing and suspicion scenes nicely portrayed. The character actors like Tiwari, Jagdish Raj and Iftikhar do a decent job too.

    I occasionally got reminded of “Ye Raaste Hain Pyar Ke” with Sunil Dutt and Leela Naidu, esp in the suspicion scenes.

    But yes, like somebody has commented above, the storyline has some similarities with Uljhan.

  10. Trivia for you,memsaab(I think you already knew it)
    “phir bhi”
    “PURNIMA” who starred in “KANGAN” is aunt of hindi film director MAHESH BHATT & grand monther of “EMRAN HASHMI”(current famous hindi film hero)

  11. Uljhan it is, all the way through – Ranjeet played the baddie in that one and Ashok Kumar played the father-in-law and Sulakshana Pandit was Karuna. Farida Jalal played Kamla’s role. Great songs and I remember asking my mother why Lata Mangeshkar would playback for Sulakshana, when the latter sang well too. My mother just sighed.

  12. Yes, I have seen “Uljhan” but not “Kangan”. Uljhan is the exact carbon copy of this movie right till the point where the shawl gets stuck in the drawer. In Uljhan, Aruna Irani is the real assassin. If I am not mistaken, the character of Sulakshana Pandit was also called “Karuna”. Sanjeev Kumar played the hero. It was a big success.
    In one of her earlier interviews Sulakshana recalled – Lata had told her, ” You only focus on your acting; if you try to sing, you will lose the acting opportunities as well.”
    Being the neice of Pandit Jasraj, this was a difficult proposition for the singer-actress who was trained in music and was introduced as a playback singer in 1968 in “Door Gagan Ki Chaon Mein” where she lip synched for Tanuja

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