Jighansha (1951)

Meaning, Blood-lust.

More than Hindi cinema, I think, Bengali cinema has drawn from Western literature: including not just the more serious literary works, but also a good deal of popular literature. Of these, mysteries have been adapted often (possibly a reflection, too, of the fact that there’s been a long and much-respected corpus of Bengali mystery and detective fiction?) This is one, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The film begins with a brief and mysterious scene in which somebody finds a dead body among the marshes of a principality called Ratnagarh. We are never shown the face of the man who stumbles upon the corpse; but the news of this death is brought to Kolkata, to the ace detective Smarajit Sen (Shishir Batabyal) by Dr Palit (Kamal Mitra), the doctor at Ratnagarh. Sen’s assistant, Sanyal (?), is also present.

Dr Palit tells Sen and Sanyal about the death, and claims that it is murder. This is borne out by a sergeant who has just arrived, bearing a letter from Ratnagarh. Sen, reading the letter, sees that it is also about the same death, and assures the sergeant that he will get on to it. He sends the sergeant off and Dr Palit tells his tale.

Dr Palit says that the dead man was Chandrakant, the raja of Ratnagarh, a bachelor. His family has had a long history of debauchery and cruelty (Chandrakant, though, comes across as relatively blameless). The debauchery came to a head four generations back, with a certain raja who took the idea of wine, women and song a little too far…

We are shown a brief flashback in which the drunken raja is summoned away from a dance he’s watching, by a minion who escorts the raja upstairs.

Here a young woman—obviously kidnapped and imprisoned—awaits with terrified eyes. She retreats when the raja lurches, leering all the while, towards her.

As she backs off, her hand touches a tabletop, on which lies a sheathed dagger (very careless of the raja’s minions). The woman shows considerable presence of mind: she whips out the dagger and stabs the raja dead. By the time his servant comes running, she’s raced for the balcony at the far end and jumped off it, laughing manically.

There has since been a local legend that the marshlands near the raja’s palace are inhabited by a female ghost, who lures people to their deaths. These are the very marshlands where Chandrakant was found dead… and with strange, outsize footprints beside his corpse. Dr Palit fears that Chandrakant’s heir, a nephew named Surjokant, who is coming to Kolkata from abroad, is in danger too.

Sen asks Dr Palit who might have been benefited from the raja’s death. The doctor says that Chandrakant’s younger brother was disinherited because he had shown signs of ‘weakness’, an inability to be raja. He has long vanished; nobody knows where. Surjokant is the only living relative now, his father having also died.

Dr Palit mentions that Chandrakant’s old friend, Sanjeeb, is also in Ratnagarh. He again stresses on the danger to Surjokant’s life, and begs that Sen will come and meet Surjokant when he arrives in Kolkata.

Accordingly, Sen goes to the Grand Hotel, where Surjokant (Biren Chattopadhyay) has checked in. With Sen is another assistant, Bimal Ganguly (Gautam Mukhopadhyay, whom I’m familiar with from Hindi cinema too). Surjokant, when Sen introduces himself, is surprised: he has just had a visit from a man (heavily bearded and wearing dark glasses) who claimed to be Smarajit Sen, the detective, investigating Chandrakant’s death. He borrowed a recent photograph of Surjokant’s to help him in his work, and left a note for a certain ‘Mr Sanyal’, who he indicated would soon visit Surjokant.

Sen asks for this note, and sees that it’s an outright threat: death awaits anyone who proceeds down this path… Surjokant had best go back.

Sen had expected Dr Palit to be present too, but Surjokant says the doctor seems to be very busy; Surjokant has been waiting for him all morning. At Sen’s asking, Surjokant says that the doctor was left a bequest of Rs 10,000 by the late raja, and was made the state executor of the will.

Sen tells Surjokant that he (Sen) has some important work to complete in Kolkata so he cannot accompany Surjokant to Ratnagarh. He could have sent his assistant Sanyal, but (as he confides in Ganguly), Sanyal is known in Ratnagarh; if he’s seen there, people will get suspicious that Sen has taken on this case. Bimal, unknown, is a far safer bet. Bimal will go along with the new ‘Kumar Bahadur’ (as everybody calls Surjokant) to investigate and to make sure Surjokant stays safe.

On their way out, Sen takes Dr Palit’s Kolkata address from Surjokant, but at the doctor’s home, the servant says that the doctor left suddenly and without saying where. Shortly after, Bimal spots a suspicious-looking character, bearded and wearing dark glasses, rushing away in a taxi. Could that be the doctor? He can’t say. He and Sen are already beginning to suspect Dr Palit.

But the suspiciousness is only just beginning to unfold.

Because Ratnagarh seems to crawl with mysterious people, odd happenings. In the palace itself, the servant Lokkhon (?) roams about the palace at night, lantern in hand, shining it from a window into the marshlands, from where comes an answering glimmer of a light. At night, too, both Surjokant and Bimal hear a woman sobbing piteously somewhere in the palace; but Lokkhon completely denies anything of the sort.

Out in the marshland, Surjokant sees a strange woman flitting about and singing songs. She (Manju Dey) is named Manjushree, but who she is, where she came from, or why she wanders through the marshes singing her songs of woe is a mystery. When she eventually comes face to face with Surjokant, she looks about her fearfully, as if checking to see if there’s anybody about, and then she tells him to go, to run away, to leave this place.

Which, of course, Surjokant isn’t inclined to do, now that he’s met this fascinating female.

Meanwhile, too, Surjokant has met some other local people: there is Sanjeeb (?), his late uncle’s dear friend, addicted to chess and rather garrulous, but who seems like a nice old soul.

There’s also the somewhat scatter-brained botanist, Professor Anandaram Gupta (Bikash Roy), whom Sanjeeb introduces to Surjokant in the marshes, where the professor is pottering about, looking for botanical specimens. The professor seems rather absent-minded, babbling on about his beloved specimens, and how all species are caught in the struggle for survival…

Bimal Ganguly, trying as best as he can to make sense of all of this, soon finds himself going under. It’s all just too baffling, and with Sen not around, there’s only so much Ganguly is capable of. Especially when one day the Kumar Bahadur finds that a set of his clothes has been inexplicably stolen, and then, some days later, a strange man is found murdered in the marshes.

Film director Ajoy Kar made Jighansha based on a screenplay by Hiren Nag and Manoranjan Ghosh, in turn based on the classic novel by Arthur Conan Doyle. It is, in fact, a fairly faithful adaptation, barring the fact that the hound is missing from this narrative and is replaced by a spooky woman (see this interesting article by Prodosh Bhattacharya on why this might have been done; the article also discusses other Bengali adaptations, in literature, of The Hound of the Baskervilles).

The similarities are there, all clear and present. The canny detective and his somewhat inept sidekick are here; there’s the doctor who summons them; a family history that is marred by a blot of debauchery and ruthlessness, with a curse tied to it as well as to the marshes surrounding the area. There’s the local absent-minded professor character who trudges through the marshes in search of specimens, and a very suspicious servant who shines lights out of windows onto the marshes, while a woman sobs in the depths of the house.

What I liked about this film:

The overall closeness to the original novel by Arthur Conan Doyle. More about this in the next section, where I also compare Jighansha to its Hindi remake, Bees Saal Baad. The way Jighansha manages to recreate, in a Bengali milieu, the elements that make Conan Doyle’s story such a classic, is excellent.

The acting, the direction, the overall tautness of the script. It doesn’t go all over the place, and has none of those ‘entertaining digressions’ which are a part of Bees Saal Baad. It’s all to the point, all pertinent.

And, Ami aadhaar ami chhaaya, sung by Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, to music composed by the inimitable Hemanta Kumar Mukhopadhyay. Beautifully sung, and such stirring, haunting music. Lovely.

What I didn’t like:

I do wish there had been at least a little bit of romance. The relationship between Surjokant and Manjushree is hard to believe: they are not shown to have any conversations other than her telling him to run away and him asking her why (and her refusing to answer). That’s hardly a basis for true love.

And, the occasional plot hole. For instance, Manjushree is not mentioned by name until Sen turns up, but seeing a letter from her, is able to immediately identify who ‘Manjushree’ is.

Also, the stolen clothes. In Conan Doyle’s original novel, there’s a solid reason for the death of the stranger who’s wearing those clothes: because there’s a hound involved, a hound hunting by scent. That is not the case in Jighansha; since there’s no hound here, there really should be no good reason for the stranger to have been killed.

A note, and a comparison:

Just over a decade after Jighansha was made, director Biren Nag (also Bengali), remade the same story in Hindi, as Bees Saal Baad. But while Jighansha’s major deviation from the plot of the original novel was in the substitution of woman for hound, Biren Nag (and scriptwriter Dhruva Chatterjee) made the Hindi film a very different one, obviously fitting into the tropes expected of a Hindi film: the many songs, the comic character, and the budding romance.

Comparing these two films, ultimately, is a little like comparing apples and oranges. Jighansha is very much like the original novel (in fact, a tiny detail—the man who dies at the beginning goes to his death because he received a note from a woman he knew, summoning him there—is not even included in the English-language screen adaptations, but appears in Jighansha).

But Bees Saal Baad? The similarity to The Hound of the Baskervilles is tenuous here; a similarity, and not much else. This film goes its own way, an entertaining enough mystery, but otherwise a solid example of a Hindi commercial film.

Jighansha, on the other hand, is really a lot like the original. If you like the novel, this is an adaptation worthy of a watch. This is where you can find a copy with English subtitles: part 1 is here, part 2 is here.


6 thoughts on “Jighansha (1951)

  1. I began reading your synopsis and wondered whether Bees Saal Baad was a remake of this film. :)

    Have bookmarked it to watch later. I like me a good mystery and The Hound of the Baskervilles is definitely one of them. And this seems a very faithful adaptation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, do watch. It’s a surprisingly faithful adaptation – barring, of course, the fact that this one has a mysterious woman at the heart of it all. But an interesting bridge between Conan Doyle and Bees Saal Baad. :-)


  2. Awhile back, I found a seller on Amazon India who had a DVD of “JIGHANSA”. I wrote him, and he confirmed, it was Region 0 and had English subtitles. But he did not ship to the USA. So close!!

    But I do have a DVD of “BEEL SAAL BAAD” and love it, now having seen it 3 times so far. The love story, the songs, the HILARIOUS comedy detective (who reminds me a lot of American actor Avery Shreiber). I wish someone would do a restoration of it, and reissue “JIGHANSA” while they’re at it. Both films on one Blu-Ray would be a GREAT idea!

    Thanks so much for the detailed description of this film which so far is eluding me.

    With reference to the woman sending “Sir Charles” the note that led to his death… yes, LAURA LYONS is at the center of the mystery, and, maddeningly, she’s not even in most of the adaptations! But she is in the 1968 BBC version with Peter Cushing & Nigel Stock… the 1981 Russian version (JUST seen!!)… the 1982 BBC version with Tom Baker & Terrence Rigby… she’s also in the 1929 & 1983 versions, but, she gets murdered by Stapleton in both of those!! I love the scene in the 1968 & 1982 versions where Holmes tells her, “You’ve been walking very close to a precipice. You had him in your power, and he knew it. You’re lucky to be ALIVE.” How could so many screenwriters leave out such a vital part of the story?

    At the moment, the Tom Baker version is my favorite, but the 1968 Cushing-Stock version, the entire 2nd half is SO WELL-STRUCTURED, you get one piece of the mystery doled out at a time, and I feel it’s a serious improvement over the novel. (If only it was about 5 minutes longer… there’s NO epilogue! Heh.)

    The climax of “BEEL SAAL BAAD”, in the underground tunnel, reminds me a lot of “THE THIRD MAN”. Also, the 1941 French film “LE DERNIER DES SIX”, based on the 1931 Steeman novel “Six Hommes Morts”. I have a suspicion Stteman borrowed a little bit of Doyle when he wrote that! Particularly, where the murderer has worked out a clever way NOT to be suspected of the crimes, when he plans to wind up being the ONLY one in line to collect all the money afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • … and you remind me that I am yet to watch The Third Man. I need to do that sometime soon! Le Dernier des Six sounds intriguing too – I must look for that. Sigh. So many films, so little time.

      If you aren’t terribly put off by a poor print, try watching Jighansha online, on the YouTube link I provided. It has the subtitles, and the film itself hasn’t been chopped up the way a lot of Hindi films get massacred by these video companies. Plus, the subtitles aren’t utterly atrocious.


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