Khamosh (1985)

Vidhu Vinod Chopra wrote, directed and produced this intriguing murder mystery, which takes place in northeast India on location with a Hindi film unit. Shabana Azmi, Amol Palekar and Soni Razdan all play themselves, and there is much gentle poking-of-fun at the Hindi movie world—changes to the script midstream, casting couch propositions, artist rivalries and insecurities. The “filmi insider” ambiance adds a whole new dimension to this stylish whodunit.

As the murders pile up, the twists and turns of the story are surprising, and everyone becomes a suspect. I love murder mysteries, especially of the British-village variety, and this feels just like that, only with a setting that I find even more engaging, and characters who are also real people. So much fun!

We meet members of the cast and crew as they film on the banks of a rushing river. Shabana and Amol are the stars, with Soni playing Shabana’s character’s sister who has committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree.

Take after retake after retake culminates in mutiny on Soni’s part and after the director Chandran (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) has a brainstorm (instead of suicide, Soni’s character will, ominously, be murdered) they pack up for the day.

That evening the producer, Dayal (Ajit Vachhani) throws a party at the hotel where they are all staying to celebrate Shabana’s recent National Award and Amol’s burgeoning political career.

As the poor script writer scribbles away in a corner, we gain some insight into the relationships within the unit. Soni asks Amol to lobby on her behalf with Dayal for the starring part in Dayal’s next film, which doesn’t go over well with Leela (Sushma Seth), a character actress harboring starry aspirations for her own daughter Meenu. Dayal’s drug-addicted brother Kuku (Pankaj Kapur in a creepy, creepy role) has a crush on Soni and resents Dayal’s advances towards her, which to be fair she doesn’t exactly welcome either, despite her career insecurities.

She gives him a tight slap, and storms off. As Dayal shouts threats at her (he’s drunk) the director hurries after her with the script changes in hand. He asks her to rehearse for the next day’s shoot, which she does—so loudly that Amol finally knocks on her door to ask her to rehearse in the boathouse away from the guest rooms where people are trying to sleep.

In the boathouse, when her pleas for help become real rather than rehearsed, nobody notices.

The next day filming resumes, and someone is sent to look for her when she doesn’t show up on set. She is eventually spotted, however, by Shabana—hanging from the same tree in defiance of the new script. She’s really dead, this time, though. Her death is written off by the police as suicide, and Soni is cremated with her fellow thespians looking on.

Several days later, however, a man (Naseeruddin Shah) arrives by bus and goes straight to the police station, where he asks the officer on duty questions about Soni’s death.

He seems unconvinced on the verdict of suicide and sets off for the hotel; the police officer calls to warn the hotel manager that a CID inspector is on the way. Word spreads quickly (via a weird staff member who steals things from the guests’ rooms while they are out) to the film unit. It’s not long before the CID inspector has visitors bringing gossip.

That night, he follows Shabana after she passes under his window. In the morning he walks to the set with Amol and Shabana, and she says she slept all night. Amol tells him that Soni was rehearsing in the boat house the night of her death. On set, the dark side of the glamour world comes to light. They are filming the rape scene of Meenu, and the director, producer and male crew members sit back and enjoy the show. As Meenu grows more and more distressed, Shabana gets angry and asks why the director doesn’t shout “Cut.” When one guy tells her that they are “making a woman of her” Shabana slaps him, hard.

Ooh, enemies are being made left and right! Meenu is in tears, crying that she doesn’t want to be an actress. Her pushy mother drags her back to their room and lectures her about her bright future.

This is overheard by our friendly CID inspector too. As the guests are called for dinner, Kuku shoots up and passes out; Shabana jokes with Amol about not knowing “anything about politics” and the unitwala whom she had slapped that afternoon washes blood off his hands into a white sink. After dinner, Shabana showers as the film “Psycho” plays on TV; a shadowy figure stands outside the shower watching her.

The book by her bedside is “The Godfather.” She slides in and picks up a magazine, then feels something sticky on her hand—blood. Her screams bring the CID inspector, Amol, Dayal and several others to her room; they find a beheaded chicken in her bed. Later the CID inspector sees Shabana again, walking in the night.

She’s sleepwalking; Chandran tells him that the whole unit knows that she does it, especially when she’s under stress. The next day he gets the keys for all the rooms from the Hotel Manager and begins methodically searching the film unit members’ rooms. He finds a single earring hidden under the mattress in Leela’s room, and when he later searches the boathouse he finds the matching earring next to some burnt snippets of Soni’s dialogue script.

Shabana identifies the earrings as Soni’s and confirms that she was wearing them the night she died. She sees the burnt pieces of dialogue and remembers that Soni was screaming in English, whereas the script is all Hindi.

At dinner that night he shows the earrings to Leela, who is visibly shaken. Before he can get anything out of her, though, the police arrive to arrest him for impersonating a CID officer!

At the station Colonel Bakshi (his real name) points out that he never said he was a CID officer, but that everyone—starting with the police—made assumptions. He said nothing because it made his poking around easier. He is Soni’s brother, and had received a very cheerful letter from her the day she died; he is positive she wouldn’t have committed suicide. He shows the police the earrings, and they set off for the hotel to question Leela.

At the hotel, Leela is waiting for Dayal in the boathouse. I shout “Meet him in the lobby!” but she pays no attention.

Surprise! She is murdered too. Who has killed her? Dayal? One of the other unit members? A hotel staffer? Or maybe a random crazy stranger? Will anyone else be killed? (Here’s a hint: yes.)

Watch Khamosh to find out the resolution of this mystery. It’s not perfect; but it is really engrossing and atmospheric. I was actually scared, although—granted—I am easily scared (however, not usually by Hindi films). The acting is great, especially Naseer’s and there’s a lot of humor sprinkled throughout the thrills. It’s paced well (about 90 minutes), and is full of surprises too. And it’s a lot of fun to see what goes on behind the scenes on a location shoot.

Watch for Sudhir Mishra (director of Chameli, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, and Khoya Khoya Chand among others); he plays one of the cameramen on the unit.

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27 Comments to “Khamosh (1985)”

  1. I looooove this movie. Its so Agatha Christie in India! One of the few Bollywood murder mysteries where the identity of the murderer is really a surprise and the action onscreen keeps you biting your nails in suspense (that happened to me even on re-watches!).

    Wish VVChopra would make some more like this. The only other one of his that comes close to being a mystery/thriller is Saza-e-Maut but even that isnt as good as Khamosh.

  2. Ah, this sounds like something I’d like. I’ve always admitted to being biased towards well made crime/mystery movies – Teesri Manzil (well, that had plenty going for it other than the murder! – Shammi and Asha and Helen not the least), CID, Ittefaq, Woh Kaun Thi, Dhund… and now this. I must add it to my must-see list.

  3. This is such a good movie. I like murder mysteries with this type of convoluted plot. I also tried to use it to get my Bollywood-resistant father interested but, alas, it didn’t work.

  4. bollyviewer: I was totally surprised by the ending, and I’m usually not. And I loved the ending, too!!! I really liked VVC’s Parinda as well, although gangster-type films are not really my cup of tea. But it was so stylish (like this one) with good acting, good story, etc.

    madhu: Yes you must see it :-) The whole slipping in-and-out of reality (with stars playing themselves but others—like Naseer and Sushma Seth—as characters) is really interesting.

    Gebruss: I wonder how much of it not working was just stubbornness on his part or how much it helps with this to be familiar with Hindi cinema. Ah well. His loss! :-)

  5. You can watch this film again, even when you know the ending. Because of the layers of filmi references, I think. It’s one of my favourites. And there are so many scenes that I still remember vividly.

  6. Yes, it’s a well-made film when you come right down to it. I love Shabana and Amol on the rocks by the rushing river: “Nilofer!” “Vijay!” “Nilofer!”

    The filmi references were just too funny.

  7. Hi Memsaab,
    Like your blog

  8. this movie looks wicked, i love the behind the scenes bollywood movies, and i do love me some Shabana, but i think i’ll buy it coz Naseer’s mush looks glorious!

  9. That first screencap is quite creepy. I’m not used to that in my Hindi films! Still, the insider jokes might make this a want-to-watch for my list.

  10. I love this movie! I share your passion for the British-village type mysteries and I agree, this one’s very much in that mold.

    Have you seen that Rajesh Khanna movie where he’s an escaped convict who gets caught up in a murder mystery? Ittefaq I think it was called.

  11. Rum: Shabana is lovely, and very good, and Naseer rules over everything ;-)

    ajnabi: Me neither! In fact, I never watch American thrillers but Hindi thrillers don’t generally frighten me. This was a *little* scary, but very entertaining. I do recommend it even for the squeamish like me!

  12. Amrita: Yes, I liked Ittefaq very much, he was in it with Nanda I think. Great film, also quite suspenseful!

  13. I LOVE this movie- its perhaps the only murder mystery i have seen about 5 times- they were all so fabulous!- and so young :) and I love it when Naseer gets all spy/police/military-style :D

  14. He was kind of hot in this ;-)

  15. I also love to see mysterious movies.Interesting story.Why don’t u put an Amal Palekar Pic?

  16. You’re right! I didn’t do a screen shot of Amol! My bad. Sorry.

  17. Wowww…whatta coincidence I saw Khamosh on 1st Oct and was planning to write something on the film…

  18. oh good! Maybe YOU can provide a screen shot of Amol Palekar since I’m too lazy to go back and do it myself ;-)

  19. I like this move too! Just one correction – the actual film and the film-within-the-film were both located in Kashmir, which is north India, not northeast. The female costumes for the film, the boathouse, the river springing down rocky slopes, and the wooden buildings were all distinctly Kashmiri. That might have been some sort of reference too, since VVC apparently grew up in Kashmir.

  20. Oooh Anonymous, thank you for the correction. It is definitely not northeast, I am always mixing up east and west. I meant Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh or one of those regions, and you are probably right that it’s Kashmir. Thanks!!

  21. nice movie and a nice murder mystery, feeling like watching this movie.

  22. isn’t the location, where they shot the movie Pahalgam? I remember hearing the name in the movie some 20 years back as I saw the movie on Doordarshan!

    Thanks memsaab for this excellent (no hyperbole here) blog!
    makes a good reading!

  23. Yes, the hotel where they all stay is the Hotel Pahalgam.

    I’m glad you like my blog, keep visiting :-) Do you live in Graz? Because my sister and her husband live there! (except my sister is here for a year in grad school)…

  24. Who can forget Sadashiv’s famous line:
    “Suicide is Suicide, but Murder is MURDER!”

    as he changes the script from a suicide to a murder…

  25. Correction… that should be as Sadashiv says it..

    soosaed

  26. I saw the film when it came out – and was not very impressed. I was and am a Die Hard Agatha Christie fan – I had already devoured almost all her books when I saw this film – and I couldn’t care less for this ‘wannabe’. I can only recall clearly the Psycho style shower scene and have totally forgotten the ending. I do remember that I did not care for the film- I was not into analysing films then – just saw 3 to 4 films a week in halls as past time! I could plainly see it was the art house soldiers thumbing their nose at the ‘masala films’ and reliving their favourite scenes the genre. And Shabana and Naseer could be just too full of themselves. I like them more now and feel their talents are being wasted. I guess I would be more kinder to the film if I saw it now.

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