Jaali Note (1960)

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.

Dev Anand and Madhubala in Jaali Note

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.

Dinesh at 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.

Dinesh and Renu have an argument

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.

Dinesh and Pandu meet Banwarilal

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.

Gustaqh nazar chehre se hata

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.

The interrogation of the bookie

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?)

Dinesh's mother tells some, but not all

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.

Dinesh meets Renu

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.

Dinesh and Renu

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.

Dinesh, jailed with 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.

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10 thoughts on “Jaali Note (1960)

  1. Hmmm. I liked this film. Thought it was a lovely noir experience (I mean, Helen!) ;-) I love love love the songs, so I didn’t mind that there were so many of them, until I had trouble finding them and had to rip them from the DVD myself.

  2. Ya, this was a bit of a let down. I was very enthusiastic about another Dev-Madhubala pairing (their Kaala Paani was so good…) but this just didnt deliver on the promise. The songs are lovely though – especially Chaand zard zard hai and of course, Gustakh nazar. And for Dev-Madhubala I can still revisit! lol I havent seen any of their other films together – are they any good?

  3. memsaab: Ah, well. Let’s agree to disagree :). My favourite Hindi noir film is CID, and somehow I like that sooo much, everything pales in comparison!

    bollyviewer: I like Kaala Paani too! So much nicer – and Nalini Jaywant was so good too. I’m not sure Dev Anand and Madhubala did any other films together; but if they did, I’m game to watch!

  4. According to imdb they did 8 films together (including one that is named Madhubala!) – and I believe I have at least one of them (Nirala – didnt know Madhubala was there) in my collection. Need to check it out!

  5. Hey, thanks for that. I checked up imdb too – I didn’t know Madhubala was in Sharabi too – that must’ve been her last film, I think. I’ve heard of Armaan and Madhubala, but must confess I’ve not seen any of the others, or even heard of them. Now I know what to put on my wishlist for my birthday!

  6. Oh, CID 909 is the one with Feroz Khan and Mumtaz in it, isn’t it? :). Dhadka toh hoga dil zaroor, and Yaar baadshah…I want to see that one too, but haven’t been able to get hold of it! Do review it soon – I’ll be looking forward to reading all about it.

  7. I actually liked this film as I like the genre , ‘noir’, Such films are rare as well. whenever I watch ‘Aar Paar’ I think It as the best film that Dev never did! Guru Dutt was very good though in that.

    • Noir is one of my favourite genres too, but somehow Jaali Note just didn’t appeal to me – when it comes to Dev Anand’s noir films, I far prefer CID or Kaala Paani. Much better scripted, and with a more taut storyline.

  8. Jaali Note is entertaining and Dev and Madhubala as refreshing and entertaining as ever. The Story and Dialogue by writer Vrajendra Gaur deserves accolades. This crime thriller was written in 1960 and is thrilling for its time.

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