Asit Sen directed some of my favourite films, including Mamta and Safar. I’ve just added another to the list: Anokhi Raat. I’d wanted to see this film for two reasons: one, it stars Sanjeev Kumar, who’s one of my favourite actors. Two, it features the classic Oh re taal mile nadi ke jal mein: a beautifully lyrical song in more ways than one. By the end, I had plenty more reasons to label it a great film. Read on.
Baldev Singh `Baldeva’ (Sanjeev Kumar) is a chowkidar at a dak bungalow. He’s a sweet, simple soul, a welcome mat over whom everybody except his friend Naubat (Mukri) rides roughshod. Baldeva’s sweetheart is the shy village belle Gopa (Zahida), whom he’s dreaming of marrying.
Cut to a huge mansion, where a despondent servant, Ram Das (Anwar Hussain) hangs price labels on dozens of objets d’art before going to the front gate. Here, he hangs up a notice that there’ll be an auction on November 2nd. Ram Das then heads indoors, where the daughter of the house, Rama (Zahida again, in a chic urban avatar) is trying to bear up with imminent destitution.
Rama lives with her crippled grandfather (Badriprasad). Six years earlier, Rama’s father had borrowed money from a certain Madan. Rama’s father’s dead now, and Madan (Tarun Bose) is demanding repayment, along with interest. There’s no way Rana and her grandpa can pay, so everything they own is going to be auctioned off, the proceeds going to Madan.
Madan’s in the mansion, along with his lawyer (Brahm Bhardwaj). Madan’s a widower and has children; he also has his eye on Rama, and tells Rama’s grandfather that he’ll waive off the debt if Rama will marry him. Rama’s grandfather refuses outright. But Rama realises she doesn’t have much choice, so she agrees to marry Madan.
Shortly after, a car arrives with a couple: the elderly Rai Saheb and his young wife Prema (Aruna Irani). Rai Saheb is a friend of Madan’s and wanted to bid for some of the items in the (now cancelled) auction. When Prema discovers Rama’s going to marry Madan, she’s sarcastic and bitter.
Meanwhile, a huge storm’s built up. It’s pouring and there’s thunder and lightning. Rama, ever the gracious hostess, invites Madan, the lawyer, Rai Saheb and Prema to stay for dinner.
Just then, another unexpected guest arrives: an artist-cum-singer (Parikshit Sahni, billed as Ajay Sahni). He’s very wet and asks for shelter. Madan senses the subtle attraction between the artist and Rama, and instantly goes on the offensive.
But Rama insists the artist stay on. When he refuses to have dinner for free, Prema persuades him to sing for his supper. What follows is the soulful Mile na phool toh kaanton se dosti kar li.
The storm’s showing no signs of abating, and finally Madan bullies Rama into letting Rai Saheb and Prema stay the night. But he draws the line at entertaining the artist too, and boots the young man out.
The front door’s just about closed behind the artist when another lot of unexpected guests arrive: a fearsome dacoit and his gang. The people in the house recognise the dacoit as the notorious and much wanted Baldeva Daku, who supposedly murdered his wife and since then has been on a killing spree. Yes, it’s good, sweet Baldeva—but fierce, bitter and not very nice now.
The artist realises he’s left a satchel behind in Rama’s house and returns, to find himself in the midst of Baldeva’s gang. The dacoits demand food, and as the night passes, Baldeva starts discovering more about the people in this strange drama being enacted.
How did Prema end up married to somebody twice her age and obviously not a doting husband? Is there a way out of Rama’s predicament? Most important, whatever happened to Baldeva and Gopa?
A wonderful film, an unusual combination of suspense and human drama. Worth watching!
What I liked about this film:
Sanjeev Kumar is (as always) a first-rate actor, who does a great job of portraying the many nuances of Baldeva’s character. Parikshit Sahni’s still a little raw (forgivable; this was his first film) but makes up for it by being very handsome!
The music is superb. My favourite song is Oh re taal mile… but another great one is the lovely Mahalon ka raja mila, ke rani beti raaj karegi. This, by the way, was composer Roshan’s swan song: the film’s dedicated to him.
The story’s a sensitive, intelligent one. And, in a refreshing change from the usual masala movie, this one doesn’t have all the ends neatly tied up at the end.
One last thing: very easy on the eyes. The black and white is crisp and clean, the cinematography excellent. It did, after all, win a Filmfare award for Kamal Bose.
What I didn’t like:
The switch from Baldeva’s story in the beginning to Rama’s story is a little jarring. I thought it was too abrupt; it took me a while to adjust, because Rama, after all, is a spitting image of Gopa.