While reading Shilpi’s first post about her father Tarun Bose I realized that I had never yet seen Kohraa, a remake of Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca.” One of the benefits of my poor memory is that although I’ve read the book and seen the Hollywood film version, I couldn’t really remember how it all ended. This helped keep me attentive, although honestly this version too is so well done that I would have been anyway. From the opening scene until the screen went black at the end, I was positively riveted. It’s a faithful (if uncredited) adaptation of a story well-suited for an Indian setting. The wealthy Maxim de Winter is easily transformed into Raja Amit Singh (Biswajeet even sports Laurence Olivier’s pencil-thin mouche) and his mansion Manderley into a sprawling seaside haveli full of wind-swept rooms. Waheeda Rehman is absolutely perfect as the timid orphaned bride who finds herself up against a formidable enemy in housekeeper Dai Maa (Lalita Pawar at her awesome best!).
I am not going to dwell on the plot much, since probably most of you are familiar with it already (and if you aren’t, acquaint yourself with it immediately in whatever form you prefer!). But what a production this is! Biren Nag directed; his mega-stellar abilities as an art director (Chaudhvin Ka Chand, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, CID, Tere Ghar Ke Samne among others) are fully showcased here too (he also directed Bees Saal Baad which I have shamefully neglected to see yet).
If you are going to use miniatures in a bid to spare yourself problems with logistics or budget, this is the way to do it:
Complement these with finely detailed sets and interiors and the result is a visual winner, from the lavish haveli and rustic tin-ceilinged bungalow:
to the busy police station. It begs the question: “Are you understaffed, Inspector?”
(Replace those stacks of files with Hindi movie dvds, and you might be in my living room.)
With a story as dependent on atmosphere as this one is, it helps that the lighting and ambient effects are just right too.
Day-night continuity issues have no place in this film! The settings are interspersed with outdoor locations—waves crashing against rocks—when required, too, and everything is beautifully photographed.
But even an excellent story backed by superb sets, lighting and cinematography can fall flat without good performances. Good-looking but hollow wears thin quickly, na?
No fear of that here: the acting is tremendous, and the actors play off one another just beautifully as well. It is truly an ensemble effort. Even the much-maligned-by-me Biswajeet comes through, especially in a scene where he stops his desperately troubled wife Rajeshwari (Waheeda) from making a huge mistake. It is the culmination of a long sequence and it’s pivotal: Amit finally understands (he has been a mostly absent and clueless husband thus far) how very terrified and confused his beloved wife is. Waheeda nails it—and so does Biswajeet.
Chills ran down my spine, they really did.
The only problem with casting Waheeda in the role of second wife is that constant references (and by inference, comparisons) to first wife Poonam’s beauty are made. There is no power on earth that can convince me she was more beautiful than Waheeda (we never actually see Poonam’s face in flashbacks). It is simply impossible to out-beautiful Waheeda.
And as naive, kind-hearted, insecure Rajeshwari, Waheeda is completely believable without descending into irritating victim territory. Even my sticky black heart of tar is moved with worry on her behalf. This film really belongs to her and to Lalita Pawar as the intimidating housekeeper Dai Maa. Again, hers is a performance with enough shading that Dai Maa is real, not a caricature. She is an implacable—and seemingly invincible—enemy to poor Raj, but her obsessive devotion to her late first mistress renders her human and even sympathetic at times.
Biswajeet doesn’t have much to do, but he is more than adequate for what is required of him. Apart from the scene I described above, he epitomizes a self-absorbed and tragic figure, plagued by memories of his first wife and distracted and busy enough that he doesn’t much notice the deteriorating condition of his new one. On the rare occasion when he does perceive her pain, he tries uncomfortably to soothe her but is soon drawn away again.
These three are the main characters, and they are ably supported first of all by Tarun Bose as crazy caretaker and keeper of secrets Ramesh.
Ramesh may be nuts but I love seeing Mr. Bose unfettered by Spare Hair and makeup…he looks young and handsome, and anyway I kind of like crazy.
Abhi Bhattacharya is hilariously if aptly (and possibly unintentionally, although everything else about this movie is done with care) gothic.
“Your honor, I vant to object! If you do not sustain my objection I vill drink all your bloood!”
And the music…my goodness, the music. Hemant Kumar’s soundtrack is quite simply beautiful. The songs are haunting and blend perfectly into the story, especially the lovely and creepy “Jhoom Jhoom Dhalti Raat.” My favorite though is the brightly lilting love song “Rah Bani Khud Manzil.”
Altogether, I can’t think of anything negative to say about this one. It is beautifully done, it is suspenseful, it is just superb. I loved it, and look forward to forgetting how it ends so I can watch it with renewed eagerness once again some day.