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01 August 2011

12 O'Clock (1958)

Directed by: Pramod Chakravorty
Music: OP Nayyar
Starring: Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, 
Rehman, Johnny Walker, 
I was getting a bit tired of posting lists (though I have more of them mentally prepared), and so, when I needed to get over my jet lag, I decided to watch a movie and then post a review of sorts. This is a movie I picked up in India with little or no expectations at all. And so, I was pleasurably surprised when it turned out to be quite an entertaining watch. Despite the loopholes (and there are quite a few of them), the film succeeds in holding your interest. And that is always a plus, for me.

Waheeda Rehman's character (Bani) is established from the beginning - she is headstrong, quick to take offence, and is totally outspoken. After the death of her parents, Waheeda has lived with her cousin Maya and her husband, Mr Rai, and she is quite upset with the way the latter treats her.
Finally, fed up with her circumscribed life under his roof, she packs her bags and moves in with her uncle. She has also been enterprising enough to get a job as a solicitor's secretary.

The second morning, she is drying her clothes out on her balcony when her sari falls down - she assumes that her neighbour downstairs is responsible for pulling it out of her hands, and goes down to give him a piece of her mind. Only to find out that it is her boss, Ajay, who is soon besotted by her beauty and personality. And he expresses it in verse, much to our heroine's liking - she is not as disinterested as she pretends.
Very soon, he is taking her out with him to meet clients.
While the two are talking to the client, a random character named Sanjeev is busy making a sketch of Ajay and Bani, one which she is pleased to beg of him. And he approves of her...
But she is not quite as pleased with this.
However, she is not averse to teasing Ajay about his supposed rival... they part in a miff, which lasts only as long as it takes Ajay to climb the stairs to say 'Goodnight'. And for Bani to admit to herself and to him that she in fact, does love him. The sketch helps....
Soon, they are singing a love duet, and are almost impossibly happy.

Of course, we know this cannot last. Right? And so, Mr Rai is deep in a conspiracy to get rid of his wife and Bani with one master plan in which he is helped by a Mr Khanna, a sharpshooter. And Bani plays into his hands by going home to ask for the money willed to her by her uncle. 

Mr Rai convinces her that only her sister can give her the money and that she should accompany him to the station to receive her. On the way, he manages to slip a revolver into her handbag. And at the stroke of midnight, the train arrives, two shots ring out simultaneously; Maya is murdered, and Bani is arrested for her murder. Motive, opportunity and circumstantial evidence are against her. 

Did she kill her sister? Or is this all Mr Rai's conspiracy? Will Ajay use his sleuthing skills and his legal ability to prove her innocence? Who is the second Mrs Rai? 

Since the viewers already know who is responsible and why, it is even more of a suspense to figure out whether Ajay and Motilal (the inimitable Johnny Walker) will be able to track down the man, the motive and the plan - before another murder takes place. 

Waheeda is a revelation, and this, when I *know* how good an actress she is. Watch her in the scenes where she is teasing Guru Dutt / Ajay, where she is a woman who knows fully well that he is besotted by her; and she is not beyond using Rehman / Mr Rai to make him jealous, and later in the courtroom where she looks at Rehman like she would like to kill him! The chemistry between the lead pair is amazing, and the songs are wonderful to say the least (and Johnny Walker gets to sing two of them).

Rehman is handsome, suave and thankfully, pure villain - there is no back story to justify his villainy. There is an attention to detail that is remarkable. Helen (who comes for one dance  is explained away as a substitute for the hotel's regular dancer. An artist friend who makes a random sketch of Ajay and Bani is integral to the plot, and we find out how - later. The way Bani's supposed motive is brought to the attention of the police is very subtly done. The courtroom scenes are refreshingly absent of loud arguments and thumping of desks. The judge is actually quite sensible and makes a couple of valid points. And the villain is not quite as stupid as the good guys would like him to be. 

But it is this attention to detail that makes some scenes particularly hard to digest. The prosecution brings in a Pandit (A total stereotype. As always!) who has cast Maya's horoscope to prove that Bani is the culprit. Really?? A child is kidnapped and it would have been the most normal thing in the world for the father to call in the police. Yet he doesn't. Johnny Walker is good as usual, but he is shown to be a cop working undercover in Ajay's office so he can watch some smugglers. And you are expecting (maybe) that Rehman is tied in with them. But that is a loose thread (amongst others) that is left unexplained. And Tun Tun. God, why did they *always* waste this wonderful actress?

But with all this, it is still an entertaining movie, and worth watching. And if you watch *carefully* enough, you will see Jagdish Raj as a, what else?, police inspector. He is there for one scene. 

Want to see a really good print of this film? Go to Tom Daniel's YouTube channel, where he does yeoman work preserving our cinematic heritage.


  1. It's been a long, long time since I watched 12 O'Clock, so I've forgotten most of it - except why it was titled that! But I love the songs, of course (especially Tum jo hue mere humsafar and Main kho gaya), and it's good to see Waheeda Rehman and Guru Dutt together in a film that's not sombre and serious.

  2. You are right about it being a light movie, and while Waheeda had few of those, Guru Dutt was also known more for his brooding Rochester-like characters. In fact, apart from Aar Paar, the only other movie of his that was 'light' that comes to mind is Mr & Mrs 55 - and that was so misogynistic that despite the songs, I wanted to hit him on the head.

  3. Two 'light' Guru Dutt films that come to my mind are Bharosa and Soutela Bhai. Much that I adore the very ground he trod on, I must admit he was rather miscast in these light roles of a country bumpkin.

  4. Anindita, welcome to my blog. I think Guru Dutt was miscast in *any* role as a country bumpkin. I thought that of him even in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. And he, like Raj Kapoor, was definitely a better director than actor.

  5. During my childhood days, I remember watching Guru Dutt's more serious movies like "Pyasa", "Kaagaz Ke Phool" etc., So the image that I had in my mind was that of a serious man who made such movies.

    In my teens, when I got to know he's also starred in crime thrillers and murder mysteries, I was in for a pleasant surprise. I couldn't just comprehend him doing roles which didn't require much emotions. Maybe that was the genius of the man. Playing roles of a different genre convincingly.

    Rajesh Khanna has gone on record to say he would have loved to work with Guru Dutt. Maybe we could have seen a different version of "Amar Prem" then :-)

  6. I was lucky in that I came to Guru Dutt through Aar Paar and Mr and Mrs 55. Didn't think he was a great actor, but I liked the way he staged his shots even then.

    Rajesh Khanna was a good actor who got mired in his mannerisms, and his ego. In the hands of a good director, he is a fantastic actor. Unfortunately, the 'hero' always overshadowed the 'character' - it is the same thing that happened (in a lesser way) to Amitabh Bachchan, though the latter was sensible enough not to give into the trappings of stardom.


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