In which Iftekhar, playing against type, acts the part of a lecherous villain. And Chitragupta, composing against type, proves he was no one-trick pony.
But, to begin at the beginning (and Kangan gets into action right at the start, not dilly-dallying about with incidental stuff). Karuna (Nirupa Roy) is about to get married, and her widowed father (?) is giving her his blessings and wishing her mother were still around. Just then, Kamla (Purnima) comes in; she is not just Karuna’s bridegroom’s sister, but also a good friend of Karuna’s. Karuna’s father leaves the two women together and goes off.
Karuna and Kamla are chatting excitedly when a man—his face unseen—comes quietly to the open French window behind them, slips in a letter, and goes away just as surreptitiously as he had come. Kamla, however, has recognized him, and looks very disturbed. That was Ramesh, she tells Karuna; Ramesh, whom even Karuna knows. Karuna also knows that Kamla had been in love with Ramesh before her recent marriage.
Now, Kamla being too distressed (why is Ramesh here? He had gone off to Singapore, then why has he returned?), Karuna opens the letter and reads it.
The long and short of it is that Ramesh is reminding Kamla of all the love letters she had written to him, and is (though he doesn’t say so outright) basically threatening to hand them over to her husband. Kamla’s husband (Jagdish Raj) is the stereotypical trigger-happy Army officer, and Kamla is certain he’ll shoot her if he comes to know of her affair with Ramesh.
Karuna comes to the rescue. There’s still half an hour left for her baaraat to arrive. She quickly wraps a shawl around herself, and goes to the hotel where Ramesh has written he’s staying.
There, it takes a while for the man at the reception counter to answer Karuna’s question about which room Ramesh is occupying. In the meantime, he gets a good look at Karuna’s face. When he asks her name (because he’s phoning Ramesh to tell him there’s a visitor), Karuna says she’s K.
Karuna goes up to Ramesh’s room, where Ramesh (Iftekhar) may be surprised to see her instead of Kamla, but gets down to being sleazy anyway. When Karuna demands the letters, he takes them out, but (as expected) demands money for them. While Karuna protests that she doesn’t have any money right now, Ramesh starts getting fresh.
Trying to ward him off (he’s getting increasingly physical), Karuna pulls down a heavy clock and whacks Ramesh on the head with it. He falls down, bleeding from the scalp, and while he’s still on the floor (though obviously still semi-conscious), Karuna quickly goes to the table drawer in which Ramesh has kept the letters, and takes them. In her hurry, she slams the drawer on the corner of her shawl, and tugging it while leaving, leaves behind a scrap of her shawl.
Just then, someone starts banging at one of the doors to the room. Karuna is startled, but turns around and quickly leaves.
Karuna hurries back home, where Kamla is immensely relieved to get back those incriminating letters. She burns them while Karuna gets ready…
… and is married to Sharad (Ashok Kumar). Sharad is a police officer, and his father Mohan Das (Nazir Hussain) is a lawyer. Mr Verma (Tiwari), who is an uncle of Sharad’s (though it’s not clear if he’s actually Mohan Das’s brother or just a very close family friend) is also the Superintendent of Police, the SP, and therefore Sharad’s boss.
Other people in the family include the two servants Gopi (Shammi) and Gopal (Bhagwan). Gopal’s Hindi is rather rickety; he keeps mixing up feminine and masculine, thereby causing much irritation to Gopi—but they get along like a house on fire (and have very little to contribute to the film, actually).
Also with very little to contribute, but there anyway is Munna (Daisy Irani), Sharad’s little brother. A pampered little brat in the midst of so many adults, Munna likes to have his own way.
The morning after Sharad and Karuna’s wedding, Verma summons Sharad back to work: to investigate a murder in a hotel room. Ramesh Bhatia has been found dead. This news is overheard by Karuna, and she is (not surprisingly) pretty shaken by it. Fortunately, her new husband and in laws are too excited and busy in their own matters to notice her distress, and Sharad leaves for the crime scene without realizing it either.
At the hotel room, Sharad takes over. Various clues have been found, and along with a subordinate (Keshav Rana) Sharad sets about getting them examined. There’s a love letter, written by an anonymous woman to Ramesh. There’s a handkerchief, with a K monogram on it. There’s the scrap of shawl, and there’s the clock, all bloodied. There’s also a photograph of a woman, but her face has been burnt by (Sharad and his assistant surmise) a cigarette been stubbed out across it.
As Sharad’s colleague points out, though, the name of the photo studio where the photo had been developed is still there, on the back of the photograph… they could use that to find out who the woman is.
And there’s the hotel’s receptionist, who swears he can recognize the woman, K, who had come to meet Ramesh.
Since Verma is such a fixture at their home, and Mohan Das himself is a lawyer, Sharad’s progress on the case is not kept a secret. Kamla, who’s not yet gone back to her own home with her husband, learns of what’s happening and curses herself for having let Karuna go to fetch the letters in the first place. In the meantime, though, since she’s heard about that burnt photograph that’s been recovered from the scene of crime (Sharad doesn’t seem to hide much from his family about his work), Kamla hurries to the photo studio with her own copy of that photo, demanding to have the negative (don’t photo studios normally hand negatives over to clients at the time they give the photos? Ours always did).
Which is why, by the time Sharad arrives, going up the stairs to the studio while Kamla is going down in the adjoining lift—she’s gone. Sharad doesn’t realize his own sister is mixed up in this.
Shortly after, Kamla and her husband leave: the wedding celebrations and excitement are all over, and it was time they returned to their own home, which is in the same city. Karuna is now left alone. Sitting at home, trying to maintain a façade of calm, all the while terrified that Sharad will discover the truth, she begins to get more and more stressed.
Nirupa Roy and Ashok Kumar are not the actors I would have thought fitted into this sort of film, which is basically a whodunit: both of them look, for one, a little too old to be playing newlyweds. But oddly enough, they fit, and they do a good job of it.
What I liked about this film:
The fairly coherent, interesting story of a murder, its investigation, and the effect it has on a policeman whose wife is the prime suspect. The way Kangan balances the police procedural with the psychological aspect of the investigation—the stress it causes to both Karuna and Sharad (at a later stage, in his case), the suspicion, and the dilemma that arises—is good. Director Nanabhai Bhatt does a good job of reining in the story and keeping it fairly taut throughout.
The music, by Chitragupta, with lyrics by Rajendra Krishan. While songs like the beautiful Muskuraao ke jee nahin lagta and Dekho paniyaa bharan are fairly straightforward songs of the type Chitragupta was known for, the peppy and sizzling Aag lagaana kya mushkil hai came as a revelation for me: this sultry club song was more the sort of tune I’d have associated with OP Nayyar or SD Burman, but Chitragupta shows he can compose a club song as well as the best in the field.
What I didn’t like:
Gopi, Gopal and Munna. The rest of the characters are pretty much essential to the plot, and fit in well. These three are superficial, and I found them in the way. Munna is a pampered little brat whom I’d gladly have whacked (why on earth did Daisy Irani play such ill-mannered children in so many films?), and Gopi-Gopal, while not irritating, just take up too much time that could have been spent more fruitfully on Karuna, Sharad, and the investigation.
While the story more or less holds together, there are some weak points, almost plot holes. For instance, a handwriting expert is brought in to compare a letter written by Karuna with the letter found in Ramesh’s hotel room. This expert does a (seemingly) fairly comprehensive comparison of the two, and gives a report to Sharad, with specific instances, etc, to support his conclusions. That, however, is the end of it: it’s not mentioned in the court room, and everybody seems to forget about it subsequently, though I’d think this would have been vital evidence.
Plus: the songs. While they’re good songs, all said and done, they hold up the story and are distracting.
Sixteen years after Kangan was released, its remake appeared: Uljhan, starring Sulakshana Pandit (in her debut role) as Karuna, with Sanjeev Kumar as Anand (Sharad in Kangan). Uljhan is a fairly faithful copy of Kangan, though with some changes, most of which I found to make a good deal of sense. For instance, not all the clues are found in the hotel room where the dead man (played by Ranjeet) is found: the clues are scattered, and Anand must do a lot more legwork and sleuthing to discover what happened. Secondly, all the burden of the identification doesn’t rest on the hotel staffer whom Karuna asked for the room number; there’s another witness too.
When it comes to the family, there are some changes here. Karuna’s father-in-law (played, aptly enough, by Ashok Kumar) is not a widower; and Munna (Raju Shrestha) is not his son, but his grandson: Munna’s parents (Anand’s elder brother and his wife) died within a day of each other, respectively in an accident and in childbirth. Which makes sense, I think, because by the time the 70s rolled around and family planning had been adopted more rigorously, it was not quite so common to see offspring of such disparate ages as had been common just a generation earlier.
But those are details. And details aside, the main difference between Kangan and Uljhan to me is about the melodrama. While Kangan does touch upon how the crime affects both Karuna (when she fears Sharad will discover the truth) and Sharad (when he starts to suspect Karuna), it is more contained when it comes to the emotion. Karuna is scared and jittery; Sharad is tense and torn between duty and love. But in the final analysis, the story is mostly about the crime and how it’s solved, how the culprit is unearthed.
In Uljhan, on the other hand, while there is the crime, there’s a lot more melodrama. More angst, more suspicion, more hissing and narrowed eyes (on the part of Sanjeev Kumar), more tear-filled eyes and whimpering (on the part of Sulakshana Pandit).What I appreciated, though, is that Uljhan takes more time to examine the psychological consequences—on people other than the central couple—of the drama that plays out. For instance, the contempt Karuna faces from her in-laws when she is ‘found out’, so to say. Or the stress that Kamla (in Uljhan, Farida Jalal) goes through on realizing what her cowardice is putting Karuna through. Kangan either ignores these facets of the case, or glosses over them.
In essence, Kangan and Uljhan, though almost the same story, actually end up being significantly different films. Both are worth watching, in their own way, though I do think Kangan has the better songs and the better female lead.