Let’s say you’re a film maker in the Hindi cinema of the late 1960s. You’ve set your heart on making a thriller. You have some money, but not enough to be able to hope to churn out something with Shammi Kapoor, set in Europe. You see all these glittering films—Teesri Manzil, An Evening in Paris, Jewel Thief—being released, and it irks you. If they can do it, why can’t you? So one day you gird up your loins, and inspired by all of these, and all the James Bond movies you can lay your hands upon, you set out to make your own thriller.
You cannot afford Shammi Kapoor [or is he perhaps too discerning to agree after he’s read the script?], so you settle for Biswajeet instead. You don’t have the budget to shoot abroad, but that doesn’t matter. You will make do by bringing abroad here to India, by plonking a bronze wig onto Biswajeet and having him pretend to be a Parisian named Robbie for much of the film.
But I am getting ahead of myself and probably leaving behind many of my readers who’re wondering what Kahin Din Kahin Raat is all about. So, to start at the very beginning, as Maria would say.
Kahin Din Kahin Raat begins with an aeroplane [which changes between shots from a jet to what looks like one of those really rickety two-seater planes]. Full of obviously contraband material packed in crates, the plane lands somewhere in the countryside, and immediately two lots of people set off to meet it. One lot consists of the goons, who go in a truck to transfer the contraband. The other is a bunch of policemen.
There’s an encounter, the police helicopter bursts into flames [with a single shot from a rifle. Wow!], and the goons’ truck, in trying to get away, falls down a cliff and ends up in another ball of fire.
There is now a very brief scene in which we are introduced to a CID inspector, Suraj (Biswajeet), who announces that he’s had enough of this. He’s going to find out who’s at the bottom of this.
We next see Suraj, now wearing a bronze wig and a suit, getting into the Agra-Delhi train at Agra. On the train, he bumps into Helen (Helen, in pale blue-grey contacts). They get chatting, and he informs her that his name is Robbie, and that he’s got a ‘business in Paris’. He doesn’t say what business, but informs her that he likes to come to India twice a year or so. All of this in a patently false firang accent, but Helen doesn’t seem to mind.
Shortly after, some cops enter the train carriage and start searching all the men, no explanations offered. Before they can get to him, Robbie pulls out a little cylinder from his pocket, tells Helen that it’s a fine new perfume, and gifts it to her. She refuses, but he insists, and eventually shoves it into her bag. When the cops reach him, they aren’t able to find anything on Robbie…
… but Helen, when she checks into her hotel room in Delhi (a hotel, by the way, whose assistant to the Assistant Manager is played by Johnny Walker), opens the ‘perfume bottle’ to find this:
Helen is by now besotted by Robbie [Seriously? Where are your eyes, girl? Are those contacts opaque? Or have those bits of transparent plastic dazzled you so completely?]. She decides this is a good opportunity to do him a good turn.
That evening, therefore, when Robbie is [for no reason that I can fathom] beaten up by a bunch of goons who form part of the gang of which Helen too is a member, Helen puts in a word with the main goon, Jack (Manmohan). Look, she tells him. Look at these diamonds. A man who’s so enterprising, who could so easily slip this past the cops, must be part of our enterprise.
Jack agrees, and having been introduced to Robbie by Helen, asks Robbie if he’s up to doing some work for them. Robbie jumps at the suggestion, and is told that his assignment is to bump off somebody named Baadshah, a gang member who’s been jailed by the cops. Why kill him, asks Robbie, and suggests that it would be better to simply help Baadshah escape. He can do that? Jack asks, astonished [he obviously thinks it’s easier to get in, kill, and get out, all unnoticed, than to help someone escape—unless Jack couldn’t care less if Robbie can’t get out after doing the killing].
Robbie says he can, and does. He and Baadshah shake off the cops and hide behind the Purana Qila. Robbie goes off to a telephone booth to make a phone call to Jack to let him know mission accomplished, but finds the booth occupied [this is an inept lot of crooks, if you ask me, if they’re depending upon a public telephone for communications].
When the woman (Sapna, billed as ‘Year’s Sweet Seventeen’) who’s in the booth finally puts the phone down and emerges, Robbie recognizes her. His soulmate, his love, Poonam [yes, well. Those two matching bronze wigs do look as if they came from the same source, don’t they?]
She initially refuses to recognize him, then—just as he’s going off, calls him back, and admits that yes, she did see through his disguise [the women in this film have horribly bad eyesight, if you ask me. Anyone who took so much time to see through a shoddy wig needs a vision test]. They were sweethearts back in college.
This allows for a flashback just long enough to fit in a song, and then we’re back to the telephone booth, where Poonam tells Robbie (or Suraj, as she knows him) to come over to her house the next day. They must renew their acquaintance. Robbie agrees happily and when Poonam has gone, makes his phone call. Jack, in turn, phones his boss, a mysterious (only for the next few minutes) woman, who tells him that a car will come to pick up Robbie and Baadshah from behind the Purana Qila.
Things move quickly now [that is one thing that can be said for Kahin Din Kahin Raat: its pace, no matter how lunatic, never slows down]. A woman is driving the car that arrives at the spot, and though he can’t see her face, Robbie gets suspicious. We can see her face, so it is a bit surprising to find that this is, indeed, Poonam. She says nothing, drops them off and goes home, to throw herself down on the bed and weep a bucket of tears.
Meanwhile, Robbie sees the reception Baadshah gets. The grande dame (Nadira) of the gang, someone whom Jack calls Ma’am and Baadshah calls May-dumb, appears. She slaps Baadshah a few times, and ignoring his pleas for mercy, has him hauled off to be ‘attended to’.
Next time we meet this female, she’s sitting at the breakfast table, dressed in sari etc, and being nasty to Poonam, who has had the gall to tell her that she won’t be doing any more of May-dumb’s work [no, Poonam doesn’t call her that, but it’s such a delightful appellation that I think I’ll adopt it for the rest of this review]. May-dumb is furious and threatens Poonam: if Poonam won’t do her bidding, it’ll be curtains for Poonam’s father. A weepy Poonam can do nothing but slink away, chastised and helpless.
We now see more of May-dumb, whose partner in crime is her lover Pran (Pran). Between them, they’ve taken May-dumb’s husband captive and are using him to keep Poonam, who is May-dumb’s stepdaughter, doing work for them. [Why two people who can hire n number of goons to work for them think it’s important to have a reluctant and therefore dangerous female drive getaway cars is beyond me]. May-dumb leads the ultimate double life: as the white-clad, demure widow of a wealthy man, she donates large sums to charity:
… and as May-dumb, she is the very picture of dissipated and debauched older womanhood. Her husband Seth Raj Kishore (Bipin Gupta) is kept captive in a cellar, where Pran and May-dumb periodically go, to persuade him to tell them where the ‘box of diamonds’ is kept.
Meanwhile, Suraj/Robbie, remembering his promise to come visit Poonam at her home, manages to get out of the goons’ lair where he’s holed up. Helen helps him in this (because he wants to go out for a while, even if he doesn’t tell her why). She follows him on the sly, though.
Poonam and Suraj/Robbie, when they begin talking, get pretty angry. They accuse each other of being criminals, and this doesn’t get resolved. Poonam doesn’t tell him why she’s being chauffeur to the thugs, and Suraj/Robbie doesn’t explain that he’s actually an undercover cop. They part, with much resentful weeping on both sides [and from Helen, who has only heard snatches of this conversation, enough to assure her that Robbie and Poonam are devoted to each other].
And that, basically, is the set-up. Our hero soon finds himself battling an array of forces, ranging from a woman scientist who has invented poisonous fake fingernails:
An owl that’s escaped from the menagerie that doubles as said scientist’s lab:
A quartet of bumbling and utterly unfunny private detectives (including Asit Sen, Mohan Choti, and Ram Avtar), who are more hindrance than help:
And just general mayhem.
Having said which, I shall end with a single sentence [since I cannot bring myself to even try and list all that I found irritating about Kahin Din Kahin Raat, and there seems little point in mentioning that a couple of OP Nayyar’s songs for this film aren’t bad].
Watch at your own peril: you have been warned.