I hoped for a well-plotted filmi noir story; I got a badly-plotted filmi noir story instead, but all the plot holes and suspension of disbelief requirements didn’t really matter in the face of…well, Ajit’s face! And Saroja Devi’s as well. A beautiful hero and heroine, gorgeous songs, a minimal Comic Side Plot, atmospheric cinematography and KN Singh as the villain—this was entertainment enough for me. Lovely Bela Bose has a short (albeit sadly dance-free) role too!
Ranjit Rai (Niranjan Sharma) owns a theater. The female lead in his play is giving him trouble at the behest of an influential but nefarious character by the name of Danial (KN Singh).
Rather than depend on Danial for favors, Ranjit decides to replace Nina with a girl who had auditioned for him earlier, Saroj (Saroja Devi). He sends a telegram and Saroj convinces her mother (Lalita Pawar) and sister Nanhi to let her move to Bombay, since they need the income badly. In Bombay she has an immediate run-in with a man competing with her for a taxi (very New York City of them!).
This tall, handsome man is none other than Ranjit Rai’s younger brother Ajit (Ajit), and he is quickly smitten with Saroj. She reciprocates his feelings almost as quickly, since he stalks her in true Hindi film hero fashion.
He manages to appear onstage with her one evening (a fabulous song, “Dekho Mausam Kya Bahar Hai”) which I love so much I am putting it here for you to listen to while you read on, if you want:
Unfortunately this enrages his older brother who doesn’t want Ajit to have anything to do with the theater (and by association, Saroj). He summons Saroj and fires her, although he does try let her down easy (sort of):
It smacks of “It’s not you, it’s…oh, okay, it’s you” though. Poor Saroj!
Ranjit does give her a letter of recommendation to take to a theater-owner friend of his in Nagpur named Chunnilal. He also extracts from her a promise not to see Ajit again. And as a complete non-sequitur, may I say that Ranjit has a stairway in his house that makes me think of something Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark would have dreamed up:
Meanwhile, we meet Danial again: he’s in the “import-export” business. We know what that means! Chinese associates:
and Santa figurines containing mysterious substances:
Oh oh! It turns out that Danial also knows Chunnilal (SN Banerjee), Saroj’s new employer in Nagpur. Chunnilal and Danial have had a falling-out.
Danial tells Chunnilal he will kill him, and he means it! He comes to Nagpur and shoots Chunnilal down in cold blood one evening. Unfortunately, Saroj is leaving the theater at the same moment and she sees Danial’s face very clearly as he fires.
Ajit has discovered in the meantime that his love has left Bombay. He follows hot on her heels and arrives in Nagpur just in time to discover that she is the only witness to Chunnilal’s murder, although he cannot find her. Danial has hired a goonda by the name of Sheru to kill her—she has noticed him following her, and when he shoots at her one evening she flees town.
This is where the story goes off the rails a bit: Saroj is on the run, but Danial and Sheru keep managing to find her—there’s no logic to it, though. They just show up, and are also remarkably incompetent in their attempts on her life. This makes the whole thing a lot less creepy—I am so busy trying to figure out how they know where she is and why they are so bad at murder that I forget to be scared. The same thing happens with Ajit, who is also searching for her and has “inspired” moments of clarity as to her possible whereabouts (his search is further complicated by the fact that she has promised Ranjit not to ever see him again). It could have been a lot more suspenseful all the way around than it actually ends up being, had the plotting been a bit tighter.
Anyway, eventually she winds up in Calcutta, where Ajit finally manages to track her down and promises to protect her.
But Danial—whom Ajit considers a family friend—is there too. He tricks Ajit into leaving Saroj and plants one of his henchwomen, Lily (Bela Bose), in Saroj’s house in the guise of protector.
Will Saroj survive Ajit’s absence? If she does, can Ranjit ever accept her as a sister-in-law? Watch Opera House to find out, but don’t expect it to be nail-biting. It is entertaining though, with a nice cast and Chitragupta’s lovely songs to keep you going (the pacing is brisk too, which is a blessing). I’ve previously seen Saroja Devi in Preet Na Jane Reet with Shammi and Beti Bete with Sunil Dutt, but it looks like she mostly did southern films. Ajit in his hero avatar is just as marvelous as he is later as an over-the-top villain; and of course the presence of KN Singh as the suave and sinister Danial is the icing on our Good Timepass Cake.