14 August 2011

Kangan (1959)

Directed by: Nanabhai Bhatt
Music: Chitragupt
Starring: Ashok Kumar, Nirupa Roy, Iftekhar, Purnima, 
Nasir Hussain, Jagdish Raj, Daisy Irani
Dame Judi Dench (one of my favourite actresses) chastises Colin Firth in The Importance Of Being Earnest - "To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." Going by that statement, bollyviewer is right when she claims that Nirupa Roy is a very careless mother  who is always misplacing her sons. But before she became the weepy, self-sacrificing mother (who was always misplacing her sons), she played some very strong characters, and not weepy ones either. Kangan (1959) is one such. It is a whodunnit, a murder-mystery rather intelligently scripted, and has some very against-the-type characterisations who reel you in with excellent acting. What with that, and with watching Nirupa Roy in a role that made me want to stand up and cheer for her, Kangan is definitely worth a watch.

Karuna (Nirupa Roy) is getting married to Sharad (Ashok Kumar) a CID inspector. His father Mohan (Nasir Hussain) is a barrister, and his sister Kamla (Purnima) is Karuna's friend. Karuna's father, a widower, tries his best to give her the advice he is sure that her mother would have given - viz., she is to uphold her honour and that of her husband's family, and that her life is what she will make of it.

Kamla arrives early so she can help Karuna get ready. While she is getting dressed, Karuna sees a man handing Kamla a letter which upsets the latter. Upon being questioned, Kamla confesses that Ramesh (Iftekhar), whom she had had an affair with before marriage is blackmailing her with some loveletters that she had written to him during that period.
Kamla is petrified; the letter holds a barely veiled threat - if she will not go to Ramesh to get those letters back, he will use them to destroy her. Karuna tries to comfort her - after all, she is married now. And besides, Kamla didn't write those letters; she, Karuna did. Kamla is aghast. She begs Karuna not to say that aloud; if Ramesh knew, he would turn his attentions to her. Karuna is made of stronger metal - she will go and get them back. Seeing no other way out of the mess, Kamla reluctantly agrees.

Karuna hastily throws a shawl over her wedding finery and goes to the hotel where Ramesh is staying. There, the hotel manager intercepts her; when asked, she is about to give her name when she hesitates - finally, she says 'K'; intrigued, the manager calls Ramesh.
He is also envious of Ramesh's luck - all the women who come into the hotel seem to come to meet Ramesh.
Ramesh is not as surprised as he might have been - after all, he knows that it was Karuna who wrote those letters. As expected, he demands money in return for the letters, but Karuna offers him her jewellery instead. Now it seems that Ramesh would rather have the person wearing the jewellery...
Karuna is desperate - the baraat will be at her doorstep in half an hour. If she is not there to receive them, she will be disgraced. Rejected (well, what did he expect?), Ramesh turns away. If she will not give him the money, or be his, then he will keep the letters until after the wedding. Then she will *have* to come to him. There seems to be no way out for Karuna. Ramesh is locking the letters away in the drawer. With a courage born out of desperation, she...
...and takes the letters; her shawl is caught in the drawer as she shuts it, and while she is trying to free herself, someone knocks on the door. In her haste, she tears her shawl, but escapes through the window. She returns home just in time to give the letters to her sister-in-law-to-be with a piece of sapient advice ("Burn the letters!") before heading to the mandap.
The marriage takes place and Karuna is  welcomed warmly by her husband's family. Her father-in-law dotes on her, and her husband's much-younger brother is mischievous but affectionate and her husband is very much in love with her.
Karuna takes the reins of her new household into her capable hands and domestic bliss ensues.
Not for long, though. Ramesh's body has been found; and the Superintendent of Police has cancelled Sharad's leave. Sharad cancels his honeymoon plans and joins back at once. Later that evening, the Superintendent invites them for dinner - he is an old friend of Sharad's father. At the dinner, Sharad breaks the news that he is investigating Ramesh's murder. Kamala is shocked.
But Karuna, though concerned, is resigned; she had not meant to murder Ramesh; circumstances forced her hand. If she had not hit him, he would have molested her. She is willing to confess to her husband, but Kamla implores her to hold her silence. Her honour and her marriage are both at stake.

Kamla leaves for her own home soon after, and Sharad is making progress. Not as much as he would like but the hotel clerk is sure that he will recognise the lady who came to see Ramesh if he sees her again. The police are sure that the murder weapon is the clock, and they have obtained fingerprints too. Clearly, the police are quietly efficient and on the job. There is also a monogrammed handkerchief, and a badly singed photograph. All Sharad needs now is some conclusive proof.

Karuna is not as unconcerned as she pretends. Each time Sharad discusses the case with her, she is worried the truth will come out. And when her father comes to visit and brings her shawl (the one she wore when she went to visit Ramesh), it seems like everything is slowly unravelling. She tries to engage herself in housework, but the constant worry takes its toll on her health.

It seems the case is on everyone's minds; Mohan Babu is discussing the case with his son at breakfast. Sharad is beginning to fear that this case will be a black mark on his successful record - the woman they suspect of killing Ramesh is dangerous and clever. He is shocked that women, who are worshipped as goddesses can commit such crimes. Karuna overhears him. She protests that it could have been accidental; or in self-defence; or that the woman could have had a very good reason to commit murder. When Sharad refuses to accept that, she breaks out - maybe he tried to dishonour her? Maybe he deserved to die!
Sharad is shocked at her emotional outburst, but her father-in-law is wholly on her side. But they are both upset when she breaks down. Sharad feels bad that he brought his work home with him and upset her so much.

Even as Karuna, fed up with the secrecy decides to confess all, Sharad is in for an upset. Frustrated by the lack of progress, the superintendent closes  the case, much to Sharad's dismay. Karuna is relieved even though her husband is despondent at not being allowed to solve the case.
She shares her joy with her sister-in-law, who is also happy to hear the news.The relief is to last only a short while. The very next day they are having a party at home where the hotel manager recognises Karuna. He does not get a chance to tell Sharad then, but waits on him at the police station. Sharad is thrilled at a chance to revive the case.

But when he describes the woman, Sharad is taken aback - it is his wife! The hotel manager stutters his apologies - if it is the inspector's wife, then obviously she cannot be the murderess. Sharad nearly closes the case again, but his curiosity gets the better of him. With what he learnt, the clues in his possession now seem to point at Karuna. He brings one of the clues back with him but Karuna teases him - why does he have another woman's handkerchief? Who is she?
Sharad is not convinced; he goes back to the hotel but the manager is now vehemently denying that it can be Karuna at all. How could she come into the hotel and murder anybody? But he recognises the photo that Sharad hands him - there was only one difference between the lady in the photograph and the one who came to the hotel.
One by one, the cards are stacking itself against Karuna. Finally, Sharad has no other option but to go to the superintendent with the evidence. The superintendent is at first pleased that Sharad has solved a dead case; and then shocked when he learns who the culprit is.
But not as shocked as Mohanbabu. He is livid that they dared, dared! to even think of arresting his daughter-in-law.
Can Mohanbabu prevent his daughter-in-law from being arrested? Is Karuna to be publicly defamed? What will Kamla's husband say to all this? And how will Sharad face the trial? 

Do watch Kangan for:
a) Excellent acting all around.
b) Iftekhar who is NOT a police officer even though he is killed off so quickly.
c) Jagdish Raj, who is also NOT a police officer even though they insisted on putting him in uniform.
d) The relationship between Karuna and Sharad, which is so full of affectionate teasing and friendship and a true partnership.
e) For a husband who does his professional duty and then leaves no stone unturned to defend his wife. 
f) For the very natural (not overly idealistic or sentimental; just naturally affectionate) inter-personal relationships
g) For a very mature look at past relationships.
Please ignore the comic side plot. It was unnecessary, it wasn't comic, and it dragged the movie down. Otherwise, the red herrings, the unexpected twists, the suspense kept you on the edge of your seat. Likewise, ignore the songs. They were pleasant enough, but sounded like Chitragupt had composed them in his sleep. Also totally unnecessary to further the plot.

© Anuradha Warrier


  1. Oh, this sounds like something I'd REALLY like to see! Thank you for that. The plot sounds familiar, though - I think there was a 70s' film, starring Sanjeev Kumar and maybe Sulakshana 'Sulloo the Ulloo' Pandit, which had a similar story. I don't remember what that was called, and I saw it an eternity back, so I don't remember any details, though.

  2. Anuradha Warrier14 August 2011 at 13:01

    Madhu, your memory serves you well. Kangan was remade as Uljhan with Sanjeev Kumar and Sulakshana Pandit (Sulloo the Ulloo - LOL). Interestingly enough, Ashok Kumar is the common factor in both movies. He played the role of the father-in-law in Uljhan.

  3. Thank you, Anu, for giving me the name of that film! Now I'll try to lay my hands on both and see them one after the other.

  4. Now I just must see this movie, Anu. Imagine a film where Nirupa Roy is not crying! Or 'misplacing children' as you put it. LOL. Chhaya was another movie where she didn't cry too much. But she did misplace a child... so I suppose that doesn't count!

    I always thought a young Nirupa Roy had a marked resemblance to a young Vyjayanthimala.

  5. You are welcome, Madhu. I am not too sure you are going to like the remake as much. So do let me know how the viewing goes...

  6. Hi Tina, welcome back. Oh you really should see this movie. Nirupa Roy is really a very good actress, and Ashok Kumar - well, he makes it look so effortless.

    As for the 'misplacing children' phrase, it is one I sneaked off bollyviewer who had used it in one of her reviews. Credit where credit is due and all that....

  7. Oh, I must put this one on my 'must-watch' list. I liked Ashok Kumar when he was not being 'Dadamoni'. I liked him as villain too. And Nirupa Roy had a film in which she did not cry, she did not die (or both?) Amazing.

  8. Yes, she did, and she was quite pretty too. She is a very good actress. And I liked Ashok Kumar when he wasn't being benign grandfather too. I especially liked him as villain.


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