Kangan (1959)

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.

Comparisons, comparisons:

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.

16 thoughts on “Kangan (1959)

  1. I LOVE me a good whodunit. Based on the name and the cast, I would NEVER have thought about Kangan as falling in this genre. I have watched “Uljhan” and remember liking the film – I saw it about 40 years back and I vaguely remember the melodrama (particularly from Sanjeev Kumar), but do not remember being too bothered by it. So thank you for putting this film in my “to-watch”.
    Some random observations – Hindi films in that period had a terrible habit of putting overaged people in roles that they are not right for – like Vyjayantimala and I think Shammi as college graduates in “College Girl” or Ashok Kumar/Nirupa Roy as newlyweds in this case. And everybody seemed to look past this.
    As for annoying kids – it was not just Daisy Irani – till today, I feel like Indian films just don’t know how to shoot kids – I am sure there are exceptions, but in general, we think precocious = cute – just don’t get that. I find it horribly annoying. I am amazed at how well Hollywood does, in fact even random guest spots by kids in TV shows have them being fairly normal. I feel like there is a huge potential for a research article in this area :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh one more thing, just last night, I watched a Malayalam film called “12th Man” – written and directed by the same person that made “Drishyam” – among the best Indian films that I have seen. “12th Man” is a whodunit in the very traditional Hercule Poirot genre and does a great job of maintaining the suspense – the end was a bit too rushed for me, but that is a minor aside. Do watch it if you get a chance – I hear that in India it is on Hotstar – here in the US it is on Hulu.

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    • I agree completely about Hindi cinema (and pretty much all of Indian cinema) not knowing how to portray children realistically. That precocious = cute is something which makes my hackles rise as well. Of course there are exceptions (Satyajit Ray, as I mentioned in my recent review of Pather Panchali, for instance, does a wonderful job of depicting children; and there are other films, other directors – Maasoom, for example) but by and large, you get the feeling these films are made by people who don’t really look at children too closely.

      And true about people in Hindi cinema playing ridiculously below their ages. For me, the most irritating instance was Talaash, in the late 60s. Rajendra Kumar and OP Ralhan, both ragged and jowly and very obviously at least 40 – if not more – acting as college students. Something creepy about it.

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  2. Yaay! You finally watched this! :) You commented on my review of it more than ten years ago! I am so glad you liked it. I really loved the characterisation of inter-personal relationships in this film. The way Kamala’s husband reacts, for one, after he learns the truth; or even the relationship between Karuna and Sharad.

    p.s. Agree about kids in Hindi movies – they should all be drowned.

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    • > Agree about kids in Hindi movies – they should all be drowned
      :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) :-) This site does not allow emojis or I would have gotten super creative in my response to this one. Not laughed so much in a bit

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    • Yes! I’ve had it bookmarked for years, and have been meaning to watch it – so glad I finally could. Thank you so much for alerting me to this one, Anu. I really enjoyed it.

      LoL about drowning the kids in Hindi movies! I agree completely. Such a bratty, obnoxious lot. :-)

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  3. I’d been waiting for ions for this review from your pen. Finally, it has come. I have seen both these movies – Uljhan first, Kangan thereafter and there’s little disagreement between us regarding the assessment and analysis. I feel that the plot hole in Kangan regarding the examination of the handwriting gets plugged in Uljhan. All the same, the secret of Kamla remains unrevealed in the end (and Karuna’s father-in-law mentions it too in the ending reel). It’s been a great pleasure for me to read this post though you haven’t mentioned anything regarding the performance of Iftekhar.

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    • I am so glad you enjoyed this review, Jitendraji. Thank you so much.

      That bit about who actually committed the crime is an interesting aspect of the difference in the way the two films handle it. I left that out because it would be a spoiler (plus the post was already too long!) but it’s intriguing to see that in Uljhan, the suppression of the truth is done without a qualm – both father and son are relieved and happy that Kamla’s ‘honour’ remains intact. I found that a bit disturbing, though of course that’s probably more realistic, since Indians do tend to put a premium on ‘family honour’.

      Iftekhar, of course, is very good. :-) He is one of my favourites – and good no matter whom he’s playing.

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  4. With the trend of surrogacy started by Karan Tusshar Ekta,hopefully the days of melodrama may phase out. The pesky in laws the unnecessary quarrels of live in or wedded in may preemptively be warded off. If Sanjiv kumar had just frozen his sperm,we may well have welcomed a worthy bollywood kid.

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  5. Any movie with stars like Nirupa Roy and Ashok Kumar would have put me off. The image I carry of Dadamoni is that of a warm, caring family head and Nirupa Roy, the symbol of the long suffering mom. So, the very mention of Kangan with them in the lead would have been a big turn off. Now that you have reviewed it, I guess it may be worth watching after all. The way the kid has been shown makes me repeat what I said in one of my comments earlier – lazy direction and not very concerned about the total package. In India of the 50s and 60s particularly, the minor characters were mostly used as fill in the blanks to extend the running time, probably.

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    • Agree completely about the child’s role being a reflection of lazy direction (and scriptwriting, I would add). It’s not even as if Daisy Irani was always irritating – in Bandish (also with Ashok Kumar), for instance, she is quite an interesting child: a naughty one, but believably so.

      You must give this one a try. Though these two (especially Nirupa Roy!) are not my expected cast for a suspense movie, they do well.

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        • I am genuinely glad for you. I am one of those crazy people who find it impossible to watch a film without subtitles. The only films I can (sometimes) manage are Punjabi, but that’s because Punjabi is similar to Hindi (and with in laws who often speak Punjabi, I have become a little conversant)… but it’s still stressful for me to not occasionally know exactly what was said.

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