Some weeks back, I and a blog reader were reminiscing about the good old days of Doordarshan, and ended up agreeing that Doordarshan and its penchant for old Hindi cinema had an important part to play in our love for this period of cinema. For me, at least, Doordarshan was the introduction to the cinema of the 50s and 60s: by the time I was old enough to be able to really make sense of cinema, my father had been posted to Srinagar, and the sole movie hall there was too dangerous to visit: it stood in Laal Chowk, in the heart of town, where every other day there was violence of some sort or the other.
So we stayed at home and watched just about everything Doordarshan cared to show. And a lot of it was old cinema.
Shart was one of those films I first began watching on Doordarshan. Barely a few minutes into the film, the electricity went kaput, but by then something sufficiently intriguing had happened for me to want to watch it again. I remember waiting for years before this film appeared again—this time on one of those many channels that had emerged sometime during the early 90s.
I liked the film back then, but over the years I’d forgotten much of it. Time for a rewatch, I decided, if only to see whether it merited a rewatch.
Shart is aptly named, because it centres around Raj (Sanjay Khan), who is always eager to bet on just about anything. He goes about with a bunch of friends, one of whom, Kailash, is always on the lookout for opportunities to have a wager with Raj [Kailash keeps losing, so I cannot see why he continues to bet]. For instance, when the film starts, Kailash bets that Raj won’t be able to walk up to a passing girl and hug her without getting slapped in return.
Raj is quick to take up the bet, and even quicker to approach the girl, Pinky (Kumud Chhugani), who’s walking along with her father (Hiralal). Raj hugs Pinky, mumbling about his sister, and when she tugs herself out of his grasp, he pretends to be surprised. I mistook you for my long-lost sister, he tells her, and apologizes for this error. Pinky and her father are taken in, and console Raj. Pinky even goes so far as to tell Raj to come and meet her, she will be the sister he has lost.
They part ways, and a smug Raj comes back to his friends to gather in the moolah he’s earned. He soon takes on another bet—to get himself a date with a pretty girl (Mumtaz) they see beside a swimming pool, and Raj succeeds here too. It’s only later, when he’s waltzed off with her, that the friends who made the bet get to know that this is none other than Sapna, Raj’s girlfriend, whom he’ll be getting married to, soon. [For once, a hero doesn’t get the girl merely by singing a song].
Raj and his friends [none of whom seem to have anything better to do than spend all their time in clubs and restaurants] are at a restaurant when a sad-looking pal arrives to tell them that a mutual friend, Peter, has copped it. It’s a convoluted story, about how Peter’s girlfriend died, and Peter was so heartbroken that he went to her grave at night, to light a candle… and died.
This tale, told in a monotone that sounds more bored than unhappy, makes one of the pals come up with an idea for another bet [these guys are macabre, and not very good friends to poor dead Peter]: if Raj will go to the cemetery at midnight, and light a candle… bet he can’t do that!
And Raj, being just as stone-heart [a word I came across in a recent novel I read, and have decided to espouse], takes up the challenge. At midnight, clutching a wreath in one hand and a candle in the other, he goes into the cemetery [which is crowded with crosses, each covered over with graffiti-like RIPs that look as if some passing chaiwallah was given a piece of black chalk and told to go about scrawling those three letters everywhere. And I mean everywhere].
Raj has barely laid the wreath at the foot of one of these crosses when a large group arrives, choirboys and chanting priest and all. [A funeral at midnight? In all my four decades and more of being a Christian—and having attended many funerals—I’ve never seen this]. The coffin is open [another thing I haven’t seen], and Raj, who has a taste for the macabre, peeps in as the pall-bearers pass him.
Horrors! It’s Pinky. Her sobbing father, whom Raj collars and asks what happened, only sobs all the more and says that Pinky’s dead. Yes, of course. As if Raj couldn’t tell.
Anyway, Pinky’s coffin is nailed, and lowered into the grave, and so on and so forth.
Pinky safely interred, Raj goes back home, lies down in bed [all without even turning on the light, or taking off his shoes, or doing the dozen other things most people would normally do before turning in for the night]… and discovers that there’s someone lying on the bed already! He turns on the light [about time] and finds it is Pinky. An alive Pinky [though she’s looking pretty dazed]. What the—! She gets up, but when Raj—by now a bundle of nerves—tries to get her to say what happened, she lurches forward and faints.
Just then, there’s an almighty banging at the door, and a flustered Raj, going to open it, finds Pinky’s father standing outside. The old gentleman says he’s been missing Pinky so much, and he’s so miserable, blah blah—and through the open door, someone shoots him dead, cutting short his misery. Raj, by now even more panic-stricken than before, only notices that the killer is smoking a pipe. The man races off, and Raj [no Einstein, this] immediately picks up the pistol that’s been dropped there. He’s busy handling it and getting his fingerprints all over it, when he remembers Pinky.
So Raj races off inside the bedroom—to discover that Pinky has now vanished.
Meanwhile, a shady-looking character, whom we see only from the back [there are plenty of those in Shart], hops into a phone booth and calls the cops. The police, led by Inspector Rajan (Rajan Haksar) arrive so quickly that Raj barely has time to shin down a pipe and run. There’s a chase. Raj manages to abandon his car and take shelter behind a parked jeep. The cops are easily hoodwinked, and Raj then realizes that the man in the jeep—who has his back to Raj—is smoking a pipe. What the—! This isn’t good.
But it is, after all. Because the man turns around, and Raj finds that this is an old friend: Johnny alias Mr Malhotra (Rajendranath). Johnny when he’s with his Anglo-Indian girlfriend, Mr Malhotra when he’s with his Punjabi girlfriend (Shammi), this man’s a two-timer whose comic side plot is completely unnecessary and irritating.
Johnny offers to take Raj back home, but Raj refuses; the police are bound to be watching his house. Instead, he asks to be dropped off at the house of another friend of theirs, Ramesh (Ramesh Deo).
Ramesh is helpful and supportive—and he gives Raj a bit of advice, based on Raj’s telling him about the murderer smoking a pipe, and Johnny smoking a pipe: that Johnny isn’t to be trusted. He’s up to no good.
While Ramesh and Raj are chatting, there’s the sudden whine of a police siren, and they look down from the balcony to see Inspector Rajan and his men running towards the house. It’s that nasty piece of work, Johnny! He’s the one who’s informed the police. Ramesh gives Raj his car keys and tells him to scoot—which Raj does, gladly.
Raj lands up at the only safe haven he can think of, his girlfriend Sapna’s home. Sapna lives with her uncle (whom Raj is leery of meeting; he knows that Uncle doesn’t like him and disapproves of Sapna’s relationship with him). Uncle, thankfully, isn’t around, and a delighted Sapna makes Raj sit at the dining table with her to have breakfast. Raj is all jittery and unable to contribute much to Sapna’s effervescent chatter, when his gaze goes to a sideboard, on which sits a photograph of Sapna with another girl.
Pinky again! Raj is so aghast, he can hardly believe his eyes. His goggling, of course, attracts Sapna’s attention. When he asks who that is, Sapna is understandably miffed; but she tells him that this is Pinky, her old friend. Raj is too befuddled to ask the most pertinent questions [Did you know Pinky died, and rose again, Christ-like? Do you know her Daddy got bumped off? Do you know where Pinky might be found now?] and Sapna is too suspicious, for the conversation to proceed much further.
Soon enough, Raj sees Pinky again—at a club where he and Sapna go for an evening’s entertainment [for someone who’s on the run from the police, Raj seems pretty nonchalant about being seen in public]. A dancer is performing on stage, and after some preliminary wiggling and shaking, when she turns around, Raj sees that it’s Pinky. Sapna sees too, and sees Raj’s reaction, and whatever bit of manaaoing Raj had done to lull her suspicions goes down the drain.
The show over, Raj rushes to the green room, only to discover that Pinky’s already changed and left. He follows her down into the street, grabs her, and tries to get her to tell him who it was that murdered her father [why he thinks she should know, I don’t know]. Pinky is busy trying to fend him off when somebody—an unseen somebody—comes up from the back and gives Raj a hefty whack across the head with a stick. Raj keels over and Pinky makes her escape…
… and Raj is found moments later by a passerby (KN Singh) who emerges from a building (crossing paths, outside the lift, with Pinky, who’s just entered the building). This man sees Raj and picks him up.
Raj comes to in a comfortable bed, to find his rescuer sitting beside him. It now turns out that this man is no stranger to Raj: he is Sapna’s uncle. For someone who’s so inimical to Raj, Uncle is surprisingly solicitous at the moment, and tells Raj to rest. Shortly after, Sapna comes along in, too, enquiring about Raj’s welfare.
Sapna’s idea of cheering up Raj and getting him over this Pinky hangover is to take him for a little outing—out in the countryside, where she can dress up as a villager [a Bollywood style villager] and sing and dance for him. This is when Raj’s eyes start playing tricks on him: one moment it’s Sapna he’s seeing, another moment, it’s Pinky. By the time an irate Sapna realizes something’s wrong with her boyfriend, Raj is reeling. The last thing he sees before he passes out [a Hindi film hero, fainting without having been drugged or hit on the head or anything similar? Unpardonable]—is Pinky, waving prettily at him before vanishing behind a tree.
When Raj comes to, he finds himself once again in Sapna’s house. [This is getting repetitive]. Uncle isn’t around, thank heavens, though in Raj’s absence, he’s been giving Sapna a pep talk: Raj is a good for nothing who is after her wealth. After all, she is a heiress, sole inheritor of the considerable legacy left behind by her dead parents. When she marries, the wealth will also be Raj’s. He’s a fortune-hunter, no more.
Anyway, back to the present. Not only is Sapna around, so is Pinky. Sapna shows Pinky in, and Raj leaps at this girl, threatening to throttle her unless she tells him who murdered her father. [If that old man was her father, I would’ve thought at least some filial feeling would’ve prompted her to spill the beans if she knew the truth]. Sapna is meanwhile summoned away by the doorbell. The police, led by Inspector Rajan, have arrived on Rajan’s trail.
Sapna tries to stall them, but they are helped by a weird-looking servant who talks in a monotone [and who seems to have emerged out of the blue; Sapna at least doesn’t look at him as if he were the resident Ramu Kaka]. This man hands over the keys to Sapna’s bedroom—and when the police unlock the door and storm in, whom do they find but Pinky, all over again?
Is she really dead? Or will she, like the proverbial bad penny, turn up again?
What I liked about this film:
The core premise, till a point. The idea of a woman who dies and then reappears, seemingly alive and well, is intriguing, especially when she makes a habit of it. And especially when this is obviously not a horror flick, but something very shady going on.
What I didn’t like:
[Yes, that’s a very brief section for what I liked. But even the presence of a pretty Mumtaz does little to save this film from a long tirade about what’s wrong with it].
The one thing that really rankled with me was that the writer’s taken a perfectly good core premise, one with plenty of potential for a fantastic whodunit, and made a perfect hash of it. It’s a different matter that the production values aren’t too great, so there’s a shitty looking ‘river of boiling mud’ or whatever that appears at the end of the film, and that too many of the stunts, the sets, the props, etc are just too tacky to be believable.
The fact is that, if the story had been a solid one, I’d have forgiven all the tackiness, Sanjay Khan’s hamming, the poor editing, everything. Sadly, the story, after what is a solid start, goes completely haywire. Midway through the film, I had begun to see the huge red herring for what it was, and I had begun to suspect (rightly) the person who turned out to be the perpetrator of all the crimes.
The problems are many. Most importantly, the motive is shaky. Very shaky.
If you want to marry a girl for her wealth (and you’ve already killed off her dad for trying to come in the way), why rig up such a convoluted plot to try and get her boyfriend out of the way? Instead of trying to drive him mad—not always a dependable way, as already seen in films like Woh Kaun Thi? and Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, even given a hero seemingly vulnerable to being psychotic—why not simply bump him off? Especially as you seem to have no qualms about killing off, not just unwelcome future fathers-in-law, but also random women who’ve been puppets in your dance of death.
Talking of random women, where on earth did our villain get hold of so many women to pass off as the always-dying-always-reappearing Pinky? And how did he hope to pull off the trick after leaving behind a dead woman who was actually wearing a mask? Didn’t he think the police would do a postmortem on the corpse? (Not that it really needs a postmortem to discover that a face is a mask and not the real deal).
(End of spoilers)
Basically, this is an inept, riddled-with-holes plot that doesn’t hold water at all. The motive is very weak, and the execution too shaky. The comic side plot involving Rajendranath, Shammi, and various other women, is unnecessary and irritating (which goes for the songs too).
Avoid like the plague.