Sunday, 23 May 2010
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...