Jailor (1958)

This is one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen. Some parts of it left me with rounded eyes and a “WTF” bubble over my head, and some of it just made me angry; all of it left me feeling like I had just sat through ten years’ worth of Ekta Mata serial plotting in just two hours. My impression is that Sohrab Modi had some serious personal problems at the time he made this, and brought them all on set with him. His Jailor is a deranged man in need of medication and a padded cell, for his own sake and that of those around him. It’s dark, bewildering, and messy, and made me want to run screaming.

Madan Mohan’s music is beautiful, in particular the haunting “Life is Like a Punishment” (as “Bas Ek Saza Hi To Hai Zindagi” is subtitled). And Geeta Bali eventually enters like a breath of fresh air (as she is meant to). Plus, a court ruling that is actually rational, and the Indian Stevie Wonder!

But still: bas ek saza hi to hai yeh fillum.

Dilip (Sohrab Modi) is a Jailor by profession, a man with an imposing voice and scarred face. He lives with his wife Kanwal (Kamini Kaushal) and their daughter Bali (Daisy Irani) in a home that greatly resembles a mausoleum. He and Kanwal dote on their little girl, but their own relationship is strained. Kanwal is spoiled and bored, and irritated by the constraints that Dilip tries to impose on her late nights at clubs and parties.

Despite his unhappy marriage, Dilip is respected at work and kindly towards the prisoners (nicer to them in fact than he is to his wife, although I think we are supposed to feel that it’s her fault). On his way there one morning, he stops a young man (?) from committing suicide. In desperation the man has stolen 200 Rs from his employer, and now he is afraid that his blind sister—whom he loves more than life—will find out. Dilip points out the obvious flaw in his thinking.

He gives the young man 200 Rs. and tells him to return it before his employer discovers that the money is gone. At the prison, one of the guards (Uma Dutt) is chastizing the prisoners for singing (the lovely aforementioned “Bas Ek Saza Hi To Hai Zindagi”). Dilip defuses the situation and saves the guard’s face by saying that of course the prisoners can sing, but they should get the guard’s permission first.

Elsewhere the young man is caught as he tries to return his employer’s money, and arrested. And Kanwal frets at home, waiting for Dr. Ramesh (Abhi Bhattacharya)—the man she loved before she got married—to come and see her. When he does, she begs him to rescue her from her desperate unhappiness. Ramesh is somewhat reluctant but finally agrees. When Dilip returns home to find her gone, servant Bansi tells him that Kanwal left with the Doctor. Worried that she is ill, Dilip calls Ramesh’s house and Kanwal tells him she is never coming back.

Infuriated, he grabs his pistol—but before he can leave the house his daughter comes running. Realizing that if he kills Kanwal young Bali will be left with nobody, he does the next best thing (NOT). I roll my eyes and feel a sense of impending doom.

And indeed, we are now flogged interminably with examples of how Kanwal’s perfidy has destroyed her husband. He yells at the guards and is cruel to the prisoners, who now include Prem, the young suicidal man. This abrupt about-face in character makes Dilip scary and unstable and turns the tide of my sympathies to Kanwal. I don’t think this was the intent, but it was my natural reaction.

Kanwal and Ramesh are having a tough time of it too, as society judges them and finds them morally lacking…over and over and over again. They try hard to maintain their cheer, but it wears them down. We do get a fun song and dance courtesy of Lillian to break the monotony—it’s not really enough.

Eventually our steady stream of mid-level misery is amped up to high by a car accident which blinds Ramesh and scars Kanwal—a scar which mirrors that of her husband, making him positively gleeful when he comes to get her.

His cruelty continues after he takes Kanwal home. He locks her up in a downstairs room, refusing to let her see Bali who is still mourning her mother’s “death.”

Meanwhile blind Ramesh is wandering the streets until he stumbles into a temple, where the beautiful—and also blind—Chhaya (Geeta Bali) is singing a lovely bhajan (“Mujh Hi Mein Chhup Kar”).

He starts singing with her (it is really a gorgeous Asha-Rafi duet) (and it’s pretty clear to me that he’s singing to her and not to God, as she is). It’s love at first sound for both.

They bond further over their shared blindness, and Ramesh assures her that he will be staying in the temple itself since he no longer has a home (I guess because he’s a sinner, and his blindness has done his profession as a doctor no favors). She is pleased to hear it, but an eavesdropping local named Choudhary (Nana Palsikar) who wants Chhaya for himself is furious.

At home, Dilip continues to torture Kanwal. He brings home a photograph album of handsome men for her to “judge” and continues to taunt her despite her chastened and humble state. She begs him for forgiveness, but he is a bitter, bitter man.

I think some of the speeches that he makes defending his attitude are badly subtitled, because they seem rambling and disjointed to me. But his actions make no sense either; his behavior in general is completely deplorable. His old housekeeper Jamuna (Protima Devi) and servant Bansi plead with him for some mercy, but he is implacable.

In town, Choudhary has decided to punish the priest for sheltering Ramesh, and to that end holds a dance performance next to the temple. People naturally are drawn to the dance—but Ramesh saves the day (and their souls) by singing another impassioned bhajan. At the end even the sinful dance troupe are entering the temple with folded hands. Chhaya is thrilled by Ramesh’s voice and by his goodness.

Forgiveness is still in short supply in Dilip’s household, and now Bali falls ill. Events escalate rapidly as Kanwal begs Dilip to let her see Bali and he continues to refuse. When he eventually relents, it is too late: Kanwal has killed herself (a scene which is cut from the film, creating great confusion for a few minutes). Bali then dies as well, and he is left with two funeral pyres. I don’t feel in the least sorry for him, and I’m glad to see Bali go too: she was one of those shrill, bratty children that results from no discipline and a surfeit of indulgence.

The Jailor himself reacts to all this tragedy by suddenly returning to his Kind Dilip self, acting like he was never anything different. I am not the only one who thinks this is completely psycho.

Ramesh and Chhaya are separated by Choudhary’s jealous machinations. And now that Dilip is being nice to people again, he bails out young Prem the would-be suicide. Prem arrives home to find his sister—our Chhaya—being attacked by Choudhary. He kills Choudhary and then runs to Dilip’s house to turn himself in (without even speaking to Chhaya first).

He asks Dilip to please take care of his blind, helpless sister and goes willingly back to jail.

So the Jailor takes pretty Chhaya under his wing and soon falls for her sweet nature and beauty. He takes her to an eye surgeon, who says he can restore her vision. But Chhaya—as much as she likes Kind Dilip (she hasn’t met Cruel Dilip)—is pining for her Ramesh. Where is he? Will she find him? Will the Jailor go insane again when he discovers whom Chhaya loves? Will Chhaya be horrified at the sight of Dilip’s ugly face?

If you really want to know, ask me. Don’t sit through Jailor unless you enjoy being tortured by a maniacal bi-polar hero and a bunch of suffering people trying to convey a message that makes no sense. I do highly recommend the songs, and Geeta managed to transcend the dreck she was in here, as she always did. But it’s not enough to save this punishment of a movie.

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39 Comments to “Jailor (1958)”

  1. HAHAHAHAH!! That “I can’t understand anything” screencap needs to become part of every bollylover’s online arsenal. I plan to write a review of Veer centered around it.

  2. No one wants to come and see Veer with me and I am slightly afraid of seeing it alone…
    Thanks Memsaab for saving me from the need to see Jailor!

  3. Ha ha!!! I love the reviews I am reading of Veer. I most def. have to see it. Although I fear it too. But as a lover of Mard and Dharamveer I feel it is my duty.

  4. Thats too bad. I LOVE Sohrab Modi and the songs of this film. Guess Modi’s forte was period drama, not family drama! So the “wrongful” wife dies a bad end, paying for her “misdeeds” while her partner in crime will obviously get a new love interest (Geeta Bali), right? But how does the jailer end up in prison himself (assuming that it is Modi in the last screencap)?

    • No it isn’t Modi in that last cap. It’s one of the prisoners (who sings the lovely punishment song).

      The only thing that made this even slightly bearable were the songs and the fact that Geeta and Abhi B. end up together. But it was a truly painful journey there, and not worth sitting through.


  5. Jailor falls in the what bollyviewer calls “following a good song into a bad film” category.:-) I hated it. It’s an ode to misogyny and not in an entertaining way like “Pati Patni” either. I watched another Sohrab Modi film not too long ago, “Mera Ghar Mere Bacche” which had the same infuriating father/husband knows best message as Jailor. Ugh.

    • Yes, I really hated this too (in case you couldn’t tell). Made me really angry in places. I had the distinct feeling that Sohrab Modi was trying to get back at womankind for some wrong he felt had been done to him. But—no sympathy!

  6. Ok…that was one scary convoluted story!!!

    An what was “Reddy Pappy Lally Paappy Lally Reddy” ???? hahaha

  7. When I saw this a kid I was bewildered so was my langotia yaar, what hit us, we dont know, but I will see it once again… in 2016 in Dec LOL… so much to see.. and let us see if I still have same feeling ! Recall songs yeah.. this one ? was in it besides how many more.. was it 10 ???

    ham pyaar mein jalnewaalon ko chain kahaan hai aaraam kahaan by Lata, still a gem.


  8. Haha.. cant stop laughing!! Thnx for writin up.. was searchin 4 this movie, bt now, wil never watch it!!

  9. I too have often felt that ” I cannot understand anything” in more than one situation! Seriously though, you write so well that you made the complex plot easy to follow and interesting to read.

  10. Sorry, in the above comment I didn”t mean to be anonymous.

  11. This surely is not one of Sohrab Modi’s strongest films.But when I saw it some twenty years back, I atleast didn’t hate it.
    It sure was revolutionary in that time to show a leading lady call her lover to save her up from her husband’s place. Quit eunlike the other sati savitris in films like bhabhi and Co.
    AND I think Sohrab Modi’s character was mean to be grey!
    Though I am curious how I would react to the film now!

    • He was just plain psychotic! Black and white sitting next to each other does not equal gray. You have to mix them together for that. Poorly written, poorly acted, poorly directed!

      I liked that she had the courage to escape—except of course then she was made to pay for it dearly. Ugh.

  12. That’s cruel, Mem! I mean it is the jailor’s wife who is having an affair with her ex-boyfriend, which pretty much explains the husband’s psychotic behaviour and does not sound unrealisitc either. Though obviously it would have been ideal if a divorce case were filed instead of prisoning/torturing the lady. Not surprisingly then, I am not that angry at the lead character (presumably keeping with the filmmaker’s intent), afterall it is him who suffered by falling for the wrong woman time and again and, what could be much worse, got dumped twice against the same other smooth talker type.

    BTW, what happens of the doctor’s sight? And poor jailor, does he kill himself? I would have, in his shoes! ;-)

    • Ahhhh….NO.

      Abusive behavior is not excusable no matter what anyone else is doing. He was quite simply portrayed as a crazy man and the woman was blamed for it. That is just WRONG. Plenty of people are deserted by their spouses and don’t go nuts and mistreat everyone around them!

      I am not sure that was the intent anyway, although the film is so muddled that I was left wondering WHAT the intent was. It never became clear to me.

      SPOILER: He is still blind at the end of the film and the jailor is still alive. Who knows what happens after that :) END SPOILER

      • SPOILER: Have just seen the movie. Unless there are two endings, in the version I have just seen Abhi B. gets back his eyesight and the doctor dies. Or maybe that’s the ending I wanted. :-) No, I’m pretty sure that’s the ending I just saw. END SPOILER.

  13. In that ‘My every word is bad’ still, Sohrab Modi reminds me of Mr Spock. Now only if someone used tweezers on his.

  14. “are having a tough time of it too, as society judges them and finds them morally lacking…over and over and over again. They try hard to maintain their cheer, but it wears them down.”

    These words reminded me of Anna and Vronsky.

    Thanks for the review Memsaab.

  15. I cannot find any links for the song “bas ek saza hi to hai zindagi”. Any idea about its link ?

  16. Have just seen this movie. Did not know you had reviewed it and warned the whole world off it. :-)

    Anyway, I went through the torture myself. And when I read your review, I was nodding all the way. :-)

    Daisy Irani as the kid was super-irritating. Spoilt brat, I thought. And then I read what your review says about her.

    I quote
    “I don’t feel in the least sorry for him, and I’m glad to see Bali go too: she was one of those shrill, bratty children that results from no discipline and a surfeit of indulgence.”

    I know it does not sound nice but I sort of agree with you on this too.

    I must say in the very beginning I had a bit of sympathy for Sohrab’s character. He seemed a good man, kind to that thief, kind to the guys in his prison.

    But the moment he locked Kamini Kaushal in that room, he lost all my sympathy. I was like “What????” He locks his wife in a room at home. She is not allowed to come out, not allowed to even see her (irritating) kid. And all this when she is really repentant. It defies all logic.

    Geeta Bali is easily the bright spot of the movie (though I did not really like her playing blind). The songs are good too. Like you say, that “bas ek sazaa hi” song is quite pleasant.

    I saw the name of Raj Kumar in the credits and looked for him in the movie but could not find him. Maybe he had a blink-and-you-miss-him role, maybe the scenes with him got cut out, maybe I had switched off so much that I missed him altogether.

    Or, it could also be that he quietly refused to act in the movie at the last minute but everybody, including Sohrab Modi, was so confused that nobody noticed. Not sure he would want to be associated with this movie anyway.

    Or maybe, it is just a different Raj Kumar. It is quite a common name.

    Once in a while, I need to see such movies. To remind me of how good movies like “Pukar” and “Sikandar” are.

    Maybe Sohrad Modi should have stuck to historicals. This family drama stuff does not seem to be his cup of tea. In this he totally loses the plot, figuratively and literally.

  17. It makes sense for Kamini Kaushal to reject Sohrab. He’s fricking 61 when this movie came out! (maybe the film should have explained how this marriage came to be!)

    Trivia: this is a remake of Modi’s 1938 film Jailor

  18. Hi Memsaab…I am a writer of old Hindi Film Music, and came across your site about a month back. To put it mildly, I am so impressed with your style and content (and the humour that backs up your reviews), that I really have no words to express my gratitude for your work. My next book has to do with film lyrics and is tentatively titled From Riches To Rags, The story of songwriting in Hindi Cinema. The book was originally scheduled for release in April-May, but tied up as it often is to many situations in films, it will now have to wait maybe 3 more months, thanks to your amazing critiques:)
    Sometimes I laugh uncontrollably, as in your Jailor 1958 piece, whose “some parts left me with a…WTF bubble over my head”. May your tribe increase!

    • Aww, you just made my day Manek :) Thank you, and do let me know when your book comes out, I would love to read it! I am woefully ignorant about song lyrics and would love to remedy it as much as I can.

      • Sure…this will take a few months, and I will need you to tell me where to send you a copy. I will also be quoting from some of your reviews, with credits and footnotes to your links. Thanks in advance :)
        Btw, do you know about an American lady called Amy Catlin Jairazbhoy? She is a musicologist at UCLA and spends maybe 4 months each year in India, doing her hub-and-spoke from Mumbai, where she is these days too. Like you, she is amazing too.

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