One style of mystery story popular in the early 60s (though there was the odd film even earlier, like Mahal) was the one where the suspense includes a seemingly supernatural element. A woman in white, singing a ghostly song of eternal yearning as she wanders half-seen (or unseen) through the gloom. Woh Kaun Thi?, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Bees Saal Baad, Gumnaam, Raaz: all of them used this trope to the hilt.
As did this relatively lesser-known film [and you’ll probably realize, by the end of this post, why it’s little-known]. Poonam ki Raat was made by actor/writer/director Kishore Sahu, who played an important role in this film, the star of which was Manoj Kumar, quite a veteran of these suspense thrillers.
…which could probably have been more appropriately titled How to Jump to Conclusions and Mess up Lives. Or Never Trust a Sinister Mamu. This is one Muslim social – a genre I have long admitted to being very fond of – which has been recommended to me so often, I’ve lost track of the recommendations. On the one hand, I wanted to see it because it has some lovely songs; on the other, the thought of watching Meena Kumari in one of her last few films – well, that wasn’t something I was really looking forward to with anticipation. But all those recommendations tilted the balance.
Railway Platform begins, not on a platform, but in a train.
It starts with a song, Basti-basti parbat-parbat gaata jaaye banjaara, lip-synched by a philosopher and poet (Manmohan Krishna) as he rides in a crowded train compartment. This man, only referred to as ‘kavi’ (poet) throughout the film, acts as a sort ofsutradhar. Not strictly the holder of the puppet strings, not always a narrator, but a voice of reason, of conscience, of dissent. His favourite saying is that “Two and two do not always make four; they sometimes make twenty-two.”
[To make that clearer to those not in the know: I am a die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan, especially of the Shammi Kapoor between 1957 and 1966. I have watched most of his films from that period, and to find one I haven’t seen is cause for rejoicing. Even if it turns out to be a dud. Therefore the euphoria].
I first came across a mention of College Girl while watching a video of Halke-halke chalo saanwre (from Taangewaali, also starring Shammi). Besides the music (which I loved), I thought the song looked great too, and was eager to try and get hold of Taangewaali—until someone told me that a neat job of mixing had been done here: the audio was of the Taangewaali song, but the video was from College Girl. College Girl went up on my list of films to search for—and I discovered it last week on Youtube.
The buy-a-film-because-of-a-song bug bites again. I’ve had this happen to me umpteen times, and the symptoms are invariably the same: I remember hearing a lovely song (generally back in the long-ago days of my childhood), and I think, if the music is so fabulous, what must the film be like? (Yes, a nincompoop’s logic, but what the hell). Sometimes, I discover on imdb that the film has a cast I like. Very occasionally, I even find that it has a director I have great faith in.
When a film, besides starring the beautiful Mala Sinha, also includes three more of my favourite actors—Ashok Kumar, Helen and Johnny Walker—and features a deliciously romantic song, I can’t not buy.
Of the many things that fascinate me about old Hindi cinema, this is one: the making of films set in a time and space wholly alien to India of the mid-1900’s. The 1950’s, especially, seem to favour these sort of films, set in exotic locales and needing costumes, makeup, and sets that were vastly different from what one saw in the more usual Bollywood drama, thriller or even mythological. There was Yahudi (with Dilip Kumar looking far from Roman in a light-haired wig and ankle-length gown); Aurat(based on the story of Samson and Delilah)—and this one, about the Mongol warrior king, Changez (better known to the West as Genghis) Khan.
Akeli Mat Jaiyo (‘Don’t Go Alone’—specifically addressed to a female) is, if nothing else, very aptly titled. Because if you gallivant where you’re not supposed to, you run the risk of being pursued by a moron whose best friend is a ventriloquist’s dummy. You may end up betrothed to somebody whose family includes a father with a loony sense of humour. Worst of all, you may have to stake your all on saving the ‘life’ of that ventriloquist’s dummy. So yes, akeli mat jaiyo. No way.
Ghadi, in Hindi, can mean either a watch (as in a wristwatch or a pocket watch), or a brief length of time. I went through a good bit of life thinking this film was about a moment in time—romantic, most probably.
So this is where I own up: enlightenment dawns, buddhoo becomes Buddha. The ghadi in Anmol Ghadi is actually a watch: a pocket watch with a fob and chain. And it plays an important part in the story of Chandra and Lata, Prakash and Basanti, the protagonists of this tale.
Having spent most of my life avidly watching Hindi films—especially pre-80’s—I’m inclined to be indulgent. I don’t bat an eyelid when a heroine’s hairdo goes from stylish bob to flowing tresses from one scene to the next. I don’t wonder how an arch villain can defy the cops of an entire nation (occasionally, most of the world) and still fall before the combined efforts of the hero, his comic sidekick, and a faithful pooch. I forgive completely illogical turns and plot elements, ascribing them to artistic license. I mumble a puzzled “What the—!” or “How the—!” or even a “Why the—!” and move on. Leader is one of those (thankfully rare) films that’s a “What/Why/How the—!” moment from beginning to end.