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Sunday, 23 May 2010

Birth of the mystery girl (Woh Kaun Thi)

A car negotiates a foresty patch while big drops of rain bombard its windscreen. The wipers try hard to maintain a clear view (with its squeaky noise). Suddenly, a woman, clad in a white saree, appears out of nowhere . The driver rebukes her for hindering his journey. She is drenched and answers in monosyllables. The driver offers her a lift. She sits in the car, the wiper stops functioning! The road is unclear but this woman assures assistance. She behaves in the most bizarre manner and her answers are baffling. She gets down at a cemetary and saunters in. The gate of the cemetary closes and Naina barse ensues. The driver is confused, dumbstruck and astonished. Woh kaun thi??

With an initiation as gripping as this, Raj Khosla knew what he was getting into. And, God does he deliver... For, this two and a half hour crime thriller is cent percent edgy, spooky, bewildering and nerve wrecking. Woh Kaun Thi pins you down to your seat from the very beginning. With haunting melody to back the taut script, this 1964 thriller is a mysterious marvel. And, Sadhana totally overshadows everyone else with her sublime ethereal superiority. Raj Khosla tests her mettle in Ek Musafir Ek Hasina in 1962, and, two years later, he introduces her in a role that establishes her as the sole heroine fit for such enigmatic roles. Sandhya (Sadhana's onscreen persona) is mysticism personified. While at one time you empathise with her for being at the receiving end of domestic unjustice, on the other hand, you are flummoxed whenever you see her mystic avatar!!
Woh Kaun Thi is no ghoul story, to set matters straight. Even though its look is extremely paranormal, its feel utterly spooky. This magical film is a superb romance, interwoven with plenty of false leads, deception and conceit. There are numerous suspicious characters. You are prone to suspect each one of them. But, it's no mean task unravelling the deep dark secrets of this contorted puzzle. Travelling to the inner recesses of Khosla's genius is one onerous task. So, loosening the knots is better left to the director. While he takes you through each twist, each turn, you crack your knuckles harder and get pulled into the intriguing precincts of Dr Anand and Sandhya's life...or afterlife???
Sandhya is like a breathtaking apparition. When she is lulling Dr Anand to his death, she is devastatingly seductive...with the haunting Naina Barse as her signature strain. This beautiful melody forms the leitmotif of the film. Everytime the woman says barse, it's almost as if a teardrop is literally falling from her eye. Lata Mangeshkar's voice quality is so surreally sublime. This is Madan Mohan's best, I feel. The songs reach your heart in an instant, lodging them there forever!!
Lata, in her memoir, has listed Lag ja gale as one of her most favourite renditions. This song is perhaps, one of the most romantic songs. Its lovely lyrics, its soulful melody is simply unforgettable. And, then there is the chiffon-clad Sandhana romancing Manoj Kumar (who is really attractive in this film). Though Anand's queer expressions are unfitting, Sadhana's liquid eyes make up for the lack of enthusiasm in her partner. And, when the song ends, you have the handsome couple embracing each other in the rain. Positively memorable!!!
While I write this, I'm humming Shokh nazar ki bijliya. True that the ghazal is not as famous as its cousins, but it has a kind of infectious quality that is hard to obliterate from the memory. Shimla and its ice skating rink is pictured beautifully here. Asha Bhonsle's voice is silk; smooth as honey! And, you have the pleasant Parvin Choudhury (Dr Lata) trying to seduce Dr Anand. Only question is how can he seem to enjoy the overtures just days after loosing his charming wife in a train mishap!!
The other two tracks are Tiki riki tiki and Chhor kar tere pyaar ka daman. Both the tracks exploit the emotive skills of Manoj Kumar and yes, Helen. The pretty Helen twists with gaiety in Tiki Riki and makes Manoj Kumar dance too!!! But, more eye-catching is the second song, a slow romantic number. Manoj Kumar flashes his dimpled smile more than once and Seema (Helen) is floored. One of my family members keep complaining that Helen was never made the lead inspite she had the abilities (read looks and dancing skills). True. Helen is extremely pretty but she has a very Anglicised air about her that doesn't make her the Hindi film heroine prototype. Even in this song, she sports a shapely mid-calf skirt and a white top. She looks smartly sassy but not like the conventional ladylove. But, she does emote well.
Manoj Kumar makes for an impressive Dr Anand in Woh Kaun Thi. In fact, he is quite dashing. He is appropriately confused with the spooky affairs of his wife, is hassled by the wierd circumstances in his life, but, is rightly passionate with Seema and Sandhya. And, is a teasing friend to Lata. Kumar used to be quite a good hero before his performance got clogged by superfluous patriotism. Till then, he used to be quite a charmer (especially with a cigarette dangling stylishly from his lips): tall, strapping, naughty and intense...
Sadhana is the winner in this Raj Khosla enterprise. Okay, still not as enticing or flamboyant as Mera Saaya's Geeta, but alluring nonetheless. Here, Sadhana is in command, balancing her mystic persona and her sadness with elan. With her lithe frame and fresh looks, she is a stunner. She tugs at your heart with her solemn eyes in Jo humne dastaan apni sunayi. You are almost willing to cry for her, the neglected wife, the misunderstood woman. In fact, her expressions are bizzarely quizzical also. When Anand lambasts her for ruining his life, initially she is at the receiving end, but then when the camera closes on her face, her lips give away a sly lopsided grin!!! For, what? We are left to wonder...
A wholesome entertainer, this film is a first-of-its-kind. With a unique story, a mindblowing score, superb performances and a nail-biting climax, Woh Kaun Thi is a fitting start to Raj Khosla's suspense trilogy. Racking brains over the identity of a mysterious woman and sleuthing for the murderer never got more tingling than this...


  1. Ah, at last!
    And how brilliantly rendered!
    'Everytime the woman says barse, it's almost as if a teardrop is literally falling from her eye' is one of the best imageries I've ever come across.
    As it is Raj Khosla ties you up in knots with false leads, and I was down by two whiskies while watching it.
    So… :)

  2. Hi, hi, I bet you were!!! And, you kept naming the wrong person as the murderer!!!

  3. Nice. But u know y Helen couldn't make to the top? Becoz she was too smart to be a HINDI filmy successful Heroine, shy and dumb, was not her cup of tea or coffee. Wonderful intro and still today, I do get scared watching the movie.

  4. @Sarbani: Hmm good observation...but even when Helen played those supporting roles in her later films she did not reveal much of her ingenuity...I love Helen nevertheless!!! Thanks for the comment :)

  5. Sharmi, a fantastic introduction to this superb thriller, I was hooked from the first line and literally dragged into reading the rest of it. Your writing is maturing with every post. Everyday when I log in the first thing I do is check out your blog!
    I agree with Sarbani on why Helen couldn't be a Hindi film heroine. She came across as a very strong personality, a woman who knows her mind...she wouldn't have fit the persona of docile women leads of Hindi cinema. Even in women-oriented movies the strength of a woman was mostly portrayed through her ability to bear all the misfortunes heaped on her by fate and people around her. Helen was much too strong to take things lying down! Aren't we glad that she took roles that suited her strong persona?

  6. i relly like thenpart where you describe the song naina barse.......very well put together. as for the movie i think trying to add any compliment would just be repeating your words.

  7. @Cancerian: Oh...very overwhelming your comment is..thank you :)

  8. @Abhi: Yes, I think Helen was a woman who knew her mind!!! Even in her negative roles she stood out!! And, boy she danced like a dream!!! Thank you for the lavish praise you've heaped on my modest post :) Thanks a ton!!! (It's for readers like you that I am driven to write almost everyday to the best of my abilities) Thank you :)

  9. Nice post...and you have written so beautifully about the film. It's one of my favourite films and I love all the songs, Lag jaa gale being my all-time favourite. And true, I totally agree, Manoj Kumar was very dashing in his early days (meaning before his superfluous patriotism era) and Sadhana is simply mind blowing - very rightly said - mysticism personified :-)

  10. @sunheriyaadein: Thanks for the comment. You know I even loved Manoj Kumar in Gumnaam...I visited the Shammi Kapoor posts of've written so marvellously about his obscure films...just wonderful :)

  11. I love this film - one of the first VCDs I bought when we acquired a VCD player, way back before DVD players were available in India! :-) The music's fabulous, I love the story (unlike memsaab, I don't think it's riddled with plot holes and is obvious from the start), and I think Sadhana and Manoj Kumar make a great lead pair. In fact, I like Sadhana in this (from a completely aesthetic point of view!) much more than in Mera Saaya, where I think she'd begun to look a little tired....
    By the way, have you seen Hum Hindustani? Helen does an unusual, Bharatiya nari sort of role in that. Sari and flowers in her hair, though of course she's an emancipated urban Bharatiya nari, not a Mother India figure.

  12. @Dustedoff: I totally agree with you Madhulika. Sadhana's face is a bit creased and over made-up in Mera Saaya (but her act is great). Here, she is an ethereal beauty. And the lead pair looks so good.
    No, I have not seen Hum Hindustani but would love to watch it some day. Coz would really want to see how Helen looks as a typical Bharatiya nari. thanks for the comment :)

  13. I finally got to see this one!! And I am still haunted by "naina barse rimjhim rimjhim..." A thriller in every true sense. And Sadhana has definitely grown on me. Initially, I was always reluctant on her.. avoiding her movies (don't know why, though!) But after Asli Naqli, Hum Dono and (particularly) Woh Kaun Thi.. Sadhana has found a new fan! :D

  14. @Punya: So now that Sadhana has found a fan in you do watch Mera Saaya, probably the best from Raj Khosla. Woh Kaun Thi is so brilliant is every aspect that I can watch it any number of times. Yes, Sadhana has always been my favourite and here she simply steals your heart. :)

  15. Yups, will definitely search for Mera Saya! Isn't it the movie with eternal "Jhumka gira re.." number? well, my expectations are high after Woh Kaun Thi (Raj Khosla - Sadhana combo)!
    Thanks! :)

  16. @Punya: Yes, you are bang on. It's that film and song for sure. Trust me you won't be disappointed!!! :)

  17. it was a great movie considering the era it was made.However, the climax does not explain why the windshield wiper stops and how could she(sadhna) see through the windshield while the driver(manoj kumar)could not but nonetheless it was a great thriller. Hope I could ask Mr.Raj Khosla these questions though lol :D

    1. I read an article long back in which it was stated that the makers left these loopholes in the movie deliberately to leave viewers with questions/ points to discuss after seeing the movie. It seems they were successful 😊

  18. @Anonymous: I think we can really skip these minute flaws!