I’m always on the lookout for old, offbeat Hindi films. Something without the hackneyed romances, the clashes between rich/poor, urban/rural, good/evil, the sudden breaking into song and the neat tying up of all loose ends once the regulation three hours are up. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against masala films—some of my favourite old films are masala to the spice-sodden core. But somehow a film like Kanoon, Ittefaq, Anokhi Raat, Kabuliwala or Dekh Kabira Roya, each unusual in its own way, has a certain je ne sais quoi. So does this, Nargis’s last film. There’s something a little hat ke about a film in which the romance is really quite minimal, and the strange light-and-shadow personality of a schizophrenic woman is the main focus of the plot.
Raat aur Din begins on a dark street in Calcutta, where a glamorous woman (Nargis) hails a taxi. She’s oomph personified: shimmering clingy dress slit to the knee, hair coiled high, dramatically made up eyes and a long cigarette holder. She looks a bad girl, this one, and she tells the cabbie to take her to Firpo’s. At Firpo’s, she launches into song and dance—the beautiful Dil ki girah khol do.
Dance over, the man (Feroz Khan) she’s been dancing with introduces himself as Dilip; she tells him her name’s Peggy. Dilip invites her to have a drink with him, and Peggy orders whisky (more badness shining through). Dilip tells Peggy he’d seen her a few years back in Shimla, but she denies having been in Shimla.
Just then, all hell erupts as a man called Pratap Verma (Pradeep Kumar) barges in, pulling Peggy away from Dilip and yelling that she’s not Peggy, her name’s Baruna and she’s his wife. Peggy denies this too.
Pratap and Dilip have a bit of a tiff, and by the time they surface, Peggy/Baruna’s disappeared. Pratap goes home, and Dilip finds Peggy’s handbag lying on the floor in Firpo’s. Inside the bag, he discovers a visiting card: Mrs Baruna Verma.
Dilip goes to the address on the card, in time to find Pratap threatening Baruna with a revolver. It’s been a while since the Firpo’s episode. Baruna’s woken up after a snooze, and is a completely different woman—very much the girl next door. She’s been telling Pratap she hasn’t been to Firpo’s and that she doesn’t know any Dilip, but Pratap doesn’t believe her. Dilip tells Pratap he’d seen Baruna 5-6 years ago in Shimla, but Baruna denies it—and then, in all the commotion, passes out.
Pratap takes Baruna to a psychiatrist, Dr Dey (Harindranath Chattopadhyay). Dr Dey and his assistant Dr Alvares (Anwar Hussain) discover that Baruna’s been having frequent headaches. They can’t seem to glean much else, and finally ask Pratap to help them piece together Baruna’s past. Not that Pratap can help much; but he obliges—by telling them how he met Baruna, and what’s been happening ever since.
Flashback to a hill road near Shimla, where Pratap’s car breaks down. The only habitation for miles around is the nearby home of the local contractor, so Pratap goes there to ask for shelter. The contractor’s away, but his daughter, Baruna, is hospitable and offers Pratap hot tea and food. By the time her father (K N Singh) arrives, Pratap is obviously fascinated by Baruna.
His car attended to, Pratap proceeds reluctantly to Shimla, where he’s supposed to meet Shiela, a girl his parents want him to marry. She’s away from home, and Pratap takes advantage of the situation to beat a swift retreat—back to Baruna. He proposes; she shyly tells him to “talk to Papa”, and the next we know, they’re getting married.
Pratap’s wedding elicits mixed reactions from his family, with whom he lives. His younger sister is inclined to be friends with Baruna and his father (S N Banerjee) seems ambivalent. Pratap’s mother (Leela Misra), however, is distinctly huffy. She’d wanted Pratap to marry Shiela, and thinks of Baruna as something of a usurper.
It soon becomes obvious that all is not well with Baruna. She complains of headaches…
becomes hysterical when a rock tumbles downhill while she and Pratap are at a picnic with friends…
…and dances wildly to music in the middle of the night, while the rest of the household sleeps.
By this time, Pratap’s mother is convinced Baruna is possessed. She fetches an ojha to come and do some jhaad-phoonk. This is a macabre scene, with all that tantric mumbo-jumbo—and, strangely, what I found most creepy was the audience of neighbourhood women sitting in the background, eyes riveted on the ojha.
The ojha, in his efforts to exorcise Baruna’s demons, burns her hand and Pratap (who arrives just then) is livid. He takes Baruna away to Calcutta, where they’ll live on their own.
But things don’t get much better. At a party, Baruna gets thoroughly drunk and her wild, flirtatious self surfaces. A few days later, Pratap comes home from a trip to Dhanbad to find two large bottles of liquor that he’d left in his bedroom, now empty. Baruna denies having even noticed the bottles.
Finally, one night Pratap wakes up to find Baruna gone. He goes out just in time to see her hail a taxi and go off to Firpo’s—which is where we came in.
Flashback over, and we’re now back to the present. Baruna has been admitted to Dr Dey’s Hospital. The new house surgeon, Dr Kumar (Anoop Kumar) finds himself unable to handle Baruna in her Peggy avatar—she pesters him for cigarettes, finishes off a bottle of brandy she discovers in his room, and forces him to dance with her.
Dr Kumar sneaks off and fetches the other doctors. In front of their very eyes, Peggy becomes Baruna—a Baruna sickened by the smouldering cigarette in her hand and the smell of brandy on her breath—and then, after a sudden headache, reverts to the wild Peggy.
All the while Baruna is see-sawing, Pratap is being pressurised by his mother to leave Baruna and marry that Shiela. Dr Dey and Dr Alvares haven’t been able to discover what lies behind Baruna’s schizophrenia, and Pratap himself is beginning to go to pieces…
Watch on. The truth emerges only in the last scene, and is fairly interesting.
Note: Try, if possible to avoid the Moser Baer-Indus copy of Raat aur Din: scenes have been edited so the story’s choppy; and the picture quality is bad.
What I liked about this film:
Nargis. Raat aur Din is Nargis’s film all the way, and an appropriate swansong. Her acting, both as the wild Peggy who drinks, dances, smokes and flirts as if there were no tomorrow; and as the quiet, `good’ Baruna, is excellent. Among the best scenes is the one in Dr Kumar’s room, when she dances to La Bamba, drives Dr Kumar up the wall—and then, quietening down, dissolves into Baruna. Nargis’s eyes are so expressive, you can see them change from Peggy to Baruna and back again. Nargis, by the way, won the National Film Award for Best Actress for Raat aur Din.
The music by Shankar-Jaikishan. Dil ki girah khol do and Raat aur din diya jale are probably the best known of the film’s songs, but another gem is the wonderful Awara ae mere dil, sung in two versions, one slow and the other fast.
The cameos. There are a lot of well-known faces here, even if they’re there only for a scene or two: Baby Farida as little Baruna; Sulochana Chatterjee as Baruna’s mother; and—my favourite—the lovely Laxmi Chhaya. As who, I won’t say.
The chiaroscuro. I wondered why a film made as late as 1967 was filmed in black and white, but looking back, I can’t help but agree; colour would probably not have achieved half the effect that the shadows and the light manage in Raat aur Din. Director Satyen Bose uses light and shadow—more shadow, less light—effectively throughout to reflect the shades of Baruna’s character.
What I didn’t like:
The film concentrates on Baruna to the exclusion of all the other characters, leaving them half-baked. Pratap, for instance, though he’s the hero, is confusing: in one scene, he opposes his mother to rescue Baruna from the ojha; in another, while pining for the absent Baruna, he meekly allows his mother to bully him into escorting Shiela around Calcutta. And the flip-flop continues through most of the film: if I were Baruna, I would get rid of this guy.
The medical angle of the film isn’t convincing. Yes, I know most Hindi films (or for that matter, even a lot of Hollywood) don’t do convincing hospitals, but this one’s particularly bad. Dey and Alvares talk a lot, but they don’t sound like doctors, and the ambience isn’t too medical, if you know what I mean.
There are details, digressions and distractions that don’t add any value to the film (the song at the picnic; Baruna’s initial interactions with Pratap’s mother; etc). And what on earth was Feroz Khan doing in this? He had barely a couple of scenes, and in those too he was mainly hovering in the background, completely wasted.
Raat aur Din could have done with much tighter scripting, fewer characters, and yes, fewer songs too. If you can overlook those flaws, this is an offbeat and unusual film—and Nargis is a treat to watch.
Little bit of trivia:
Although it isn’t acknowledged, Raat aur Din appears to draw from Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1962, starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery). Marnie is the story of a man who marries a girl called Marnie, only to discover that she’s schizophrenic, and that her penchant for wildness and thievery stems from her past. Interestingly enough, one of the names Marnie uses is Peggy. Coincidence?