Having watched countless Hindi films, I’ve reached the conclusion that the bulk of 50’s and 60’s cinema wouldn’t have been possible without a few stock plot elements. One of these is Divine Intervention (DI); another’s the Mysterious Motive (MM); and yet another—a popular one, this—is Just For A Song (JFAS), when the whole point of a plot element is to bring in a song.
Shakti Samanta’s Jaali Note is replete with DI, MM and JFAS. I don’t really mind this in films, as long as there’s more. Unfortunately, this is where Jaali Note falls flat on its face; there is almost nothing else. Madhubala, looking lovely, and Dev Anand disguised in a thin moustache, but that’s it.
But let’s get down to the film itself. The story begins with the visit of the moneyed Rai Bahadur (Bipin Gupta) to the Deputy Inspector General of Police (Brahm Bhardwaj) in Bombay. They discuss the recent flood of counterfeit currency in Bombay, and the cop assures Rai Bahadur that Inspector Dinesh (Dev Anand) is investigating. Soon after, news arrives that a counterfeiter is en route to the airport (this appears to be a case of DI; the police are pretty clueless otherwise). Dinesh and his men head for the airport.
A chase ensues, and the crook runs onto the railway tracks (MM—broad daylight and a train coming full tilt towards him? Why?). I don’t see him touch the train, but DI happens, and he dies, spilling a bagful of fake currency all across the tracks. A snoopy reporter, Renu (Madhubala) comes by and takes a quick photo, but Dinesh tells her off and rips the film out of her camera.
Leaving Renu to fume, Dinesh and his assistant Pandu (Om Prakash)—both disguised as social workers—go to the local jail to check on a prisoner called Banwarilal. (DI again? Why do they suspect Banwarilal of anything?). Banwarilal used to be a forger but has reformed, according to the jailor. Now he’s a saintly soul who spends his time carving wooden toys.
What he’s actually doing is carving blocks for fake currency (Duh. Notes printed from carved wood must be pretty grotty, I’m thinking). While Dinesh and Pandu watch from the jailor’s office, a visitor dressed as a pandit arrives for Banwarilal. He hands over a book—supposedly a religious one—to Banwarilal in his cell, who fumbles about with it and then returns it (why isn’t anybody checking what’s passing in and out of the jail?). Dinesh can’t see the details of the transaction, but he smells a rat. Along with Pandu, he follows the `pandit’ to the Hotel Shangrila, where the `pandit’ (his name’s Bulaqi) has a quick word with the dancer Lily (Helen). This is JFAS.
After the resultant song (Gustaqh nazar chehre se hata), Bulaqi reports to the hotel’s part-owner, Manohar (Madan Puri), who’s meeting the `distributors’ of the fake currency. Manohar suspects treachery, but drops the idea at the instigation of one of the men. Manohar obviously lives dangerously and foolishly; I can’t see why he gives up on his idea so easily. At any rate, the movie doesn’t have any explanations to offer.
A couple of days later, the police nab one of Manohar’s men, a bookie at the races, but though they interrogate him, they don’t learn much.
Next, we inexplicably switch to Dinesh’s home, where Dinesh is asking his mother (Mridula Rani) who his father is, and where (hasn’t this occurred to him earlier?). She refuses to say who he is, but tells Dinesh that his father’s been gone since Dinesh’s fifth birthday, when he (Daddy) tied a distinctive locket on a chain around Dinesh’s neck. This, as anybody who’s seen their share of films will know, is a pointer towards upcoming DI.
Dinesh’s mother also tells him that his father had run away from Dinesh’s birthday party when he heard the police had arrived. (MM again: Why’d the police come? Why did Daddy run? And since Dinesh himself is a cop now, doesn’t this make him want to find out?)
But Dinesh is intent on checking out the Shangrila—so he checks in, disguised as a prince called Kunwar Vijay Bahadur Singh. Pandu comes along as his flunkey. The same day, Renu (who’s decided the police are no good) decides to investigate the counterfeiting racket herself. Atta-girl! Anyway, she does this by checking into the Shangrila (she gets the room opposite Dinesh’s). She calls herself Beena, and she and `Prince Vijay’ soon run into each other. Dinesh recognises her as Renu, but doesn’t let on.
Though she initially suspects him of being a counterfeiter, Renu soon begins to trust Dinesh. From now on, for the next 45 minutes, there’s a JFAS every 5 or 10 minutes. Renu and Dinesh bill and coo in Victorias, on the phone, across windows, everywhere. Neither seems to be doing much investigating, and (another MM?) although he’s besotted, Dinesh doesn’t find it important to tell Renu who he actually is.
Meanwhile, Manohar suspects Dinesh of being a cop, but Vijay manages to convince him (by using fake currency to pay his hotel bill) that he’s in fact a forger. Manohar invites the `prince’ to join the gang, and things start looking up for Dinesh’s investigation, such as it is. As chance would have it (or DI?), Renu overhears Dinesh and Manohar, and accuses Dinesh of being a crook. She threatens to call the police, and Dinesh ends up in the jailhouse, in the same cell as Banwarilal.
At this point, I don’t have the energy to write any more of what happens. Let’s just say that if all crooks—and all policemen—in India acted in such a harebrained fashion, we’d probably have a lot less crime and a lot more laughs.
What I liked about this film:
Madhubala, beautiful as ever. Natch.
The song Gustaqh nazar chehre se hata: quintessential Helen!
What I didn’t like:
The story. I can forgive hackneyed, but obviously half-baked, pointless and silly is not so easy to pardon. There’s too much going on here that made me ask why—and never get an answer.
The editing. Maybe Shemaroo is to blame, and I’m willing to give the benefit of doubt where it’s due, but there was just too much jumping from one idea to the other, one scene to the other, without logical transition. Very taxing.
There are too many songs and too little story. The songs (O P Nayyar’s) are actually okay—even good—but they come so thick and fast, it’s irritating.