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14 October 2018

House No. 44

Directed by: MK Burman
Music: SD Burman
Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi
Starring: Dev Anand, Kalpana Kartik, 
KN Singh, Bhagwan Singh, Rashid Khan, 
Jagdish Raj, Sheila Vaz, Kumkum, Shivraj
Madhu (Dustedoff), Bollyviewer and I have all sometime or the other rued that we often follow great songs into bad movies. For a long time in our early movie-watching days, we assumed, I think, that a great score meant the movie would be equally good. We learnt, over multiple experiences, that that is not always the case. We still occasionally fall for it. But this time, I was wary. I love Dev Anand. Phaili hui hai sapno ki baahein is one of my all-time favourite songs. And this was a film I hadn't watched before - yes, a Dev Anand film that I hadn't seen. How could that be? A supposedly-noir film too. Matters had to be remedied.

Ashok (Dev Anand) is a petty thief, living by his wits. He doesn’t seem to be very good at what he does, given that the owner of the hen he steals, catches him, and he and Jamoora (his sidekick) are driven out of the stable in which they take shelter for the night. 
Finally, the two make do with a bale of hay and a drain pipe on the street outside a house. Here is where lives Nimmo (Kalpana Kartik), for whom Ashok has a tendre.  
That night, when it begins raining, Ashok and Jamoora shift to the verandah of Nimmo’s house. Which, when Nimmo finds out, she is not too happy about – especially when Ashok demands tea and then, insists on misunderstanding every word she says. Nimmo’s father (Shivraj), who arrives then, is more forbearing – after all, they are homeless. Let them be. Meanwhile, Ashok has deftly picked the pocket of a passer-by.
Only, the man returns to look for his wallet and spies it in Ashok’s hands. Ashok is insouciant – easy come, easy go. Only, he informs the man, the wallet is shy one note. He had given Rs5 to a friend to pick up breakfast. The man is impressed – will Ashok work for him? No, deadpans Ashok. He’ll work for money.
After testing him – though Ashok manages to inveigle the man into giving him ‘night shift’ pay – the man takes Ashok to House No. 44, a ramshackle building inhabited by the sinister Kaptaan (a bare-chested KN Singh). 
Having inducted Ashok into his gang, Kaptaan orders the man, Sundar (Bhagwan Singh), to kit Ashok out. He has to look respectable. Ashok is also warned to keep his eyes and ears open, and his mouth shut. On their way out, Ashok runs into Jebu (Rashid Khan) who, along with his daughter, has quit the gang. He warns Ashok not to get involved with these men. 
While Jebu is summarily sent away (not killed), Sundar takes on the responsibility of getting the gang a new female member. A woman is less likely to be suspected, he tells Ashok. Ashok is happy with his remuneration anyway, so he leaves quite happily.

That night, Ashok is wandering along the railway tracks with Jamoora when they hear someone in the railway shed. While Ashok steps in to investigate, the men, one of whom is Sundar, make their escape. Unfortunately, they run straight into the chowkidar (who happens to be Nimmo’s father). In the ensuing melee, the chowkidar recognises Sundar, who pushes him away and escapes.
Kaptaan is livid that Sundar had been recognised, but while Sundar explains that he had no choice. While they are talking, Ashok walks in.  He was delayed because he had to give witness at the police station. Kaptaan and Sunder are taken aback. An old chowkidar was killed, Ashok tells them.
When Ashok leaves after getting his first assignment – the theft of a valuable necklace, the Kaptaan turns to Sundar. Another murder? In a way, this was for the best, Sundar tells him; the chowkidar had recognised him. What’s more, Sundar remembers that the chowkidar had a young daughter, who’s now all alone in the world. He visits Nimmo, along with his mother and persuades her to invite Nimmo to go live with them. With no one to call her own, Nimmo agrees.
Meanwhile, Ashok, all togged up as a ‘gentleman’ is at a night club where he’s keeping an eye on a beautiful necklace worn by a pretty woman. The Kaptaan’s moll (Sheila Vaz) is the night club dancer, and while everyone is engrossed in the performance, a fine sleight of hand on Ashok’s part sees the dancer with the loot.
Later, she brings a guitar to Ashok – the necklace is inside, she tells him, and he has to hand it over to the woman whom Sundar sends. The woman who turns up is Nimmo. After the initial squabble – she’s upset to see him there; he’s dismayed to learn that she had been sent by Sunder, and she hasn’t asked any questions – she softens; it’s hard not to because he flirts so sweetly with her.
After they [finally] introduce themselves to each other (and despite her [unconvincing] remonstrations), he walks her back to where she’s staying. Which is Sundar’s house. Where Ashok remonstrates with Sundar for sending a young girl on such underhand errands. He knows what he’s in for; she doesn’t. Sundar is annoyed. Ashok should mind his own business. 
Ashok, none too bothered, goes off to the park where he expresses his growing attraction for Nimmo. Musically.

Meanwhile, the police have their own suspicions. The Inspector (Jagdish Raj, who else?) tells his subordinates to print ‘Wanted’ posters of the suspect – Sundar. At the same time, Sundar, after warning Nimmo against Ashok, is making a clumsy pass at her. Which she rebuffs.
A piqued Sundar sends her off on another mission – a parcel has to be delivered to Ashok. He will wait for her that night.  Ashok is happy to see her, though Nimmo refuses to admit she came to see him. Sundar sent her again, she tells him and Ashok turns serious. Does she even know what she’s doing? 
But all his warnings fall on deaf ears. Nimmo is sure that Ashok is a good man, and therefore, wouldn’t be doing anything bad. Ashok doesn’t want her involved in this business, but knows he will have to talk to Sundar himself. In the meantime, however, he presses her to tell him that she does like him, after all. Their friendly banter is rather sweet. And Nimmo is not as immune to Ashok's charms as she pretends.

The next morning, Ashok visits Sundar as he had promised Nimmo. But Sundar is not willing to listen to Ashok’s disapproval over his sending Nimmo out on underhand activities. When Nimmo comes in, hearing their loud noises, Sundar tries to cover up. 
However, Ashok is having none of it. He insists that Sundar tell her the truth about his and Kaptaan’s activities. Nimmo is aghast; even more so, when she learns that Ashok is part of the gang. Distraught, she turns to leave, but Sundar stops her. 
A furious Ashok knocks him down and hurries after Nimmo, who wants nothing to do with him. Ashok begs her to give him a chance. He will leave his life of petty crime behind, and they can face the future together. He is a sweet-talker, Nimmo smiles, willing to give him the chance he seeks. Ashok rents a house for Nimmo to stay in, while he informs Kaptaan that he’s leaving the gang. He’s full of bravado – the world is theirs for the taking
The next morning, Ashok seeks work - unfortunately for him, he’s fired from each job - at a quarry, then at a garage, laying the road… thanks to Kaptaan’s gang of saboteurs. Nimmo and he are now at wits’ end – they have no money to pay the rent nor to buy food. Seeing Sundar go into a cafĂ© down the road, Ashok follows him, and asks him for a loan. Sundar laughs – send the girl to him and she will get paid. If not, Ashok may even lose his life.
An argument with Nimmo later, the frustrated Ashok chances upon Sundar’s ‘Wanted’ poster. The reward for informing the police is Rs500. In the ensuing shootout, Sundar is killed. Ashok is racked by guilt. The blood money, or so it begins to feel like to Ashok, weighs heavily on his conscience.
And now, Ashok is back in the clutches of Kaptaan who suspects either Ashok or Jebu of having betrayed Sundar. How will Ashok escape this trap?
So far, so good. But then, in the last half an hour or so, the film unravelled like a ball of yarn in the clutches of a particularly playful kitten. The plot skittered in myriad directions with even less logic than usual. What could have been a fabulous noir based around a sinister house, instead became a convoluted illogical mess.
While Dev was suave, poor KN Singh was wasted and Kalpana Kartik was stiff and expressionless. Even the music, which lured me to watch this movie, couldn't save this film from being a mystery: not the good kind, either. 

I have no idea why Kaptaan was so feared, for instance; he looked like the local hoodlum, instead of a badass gang leader. Why were the gang so interested in inducting Nimmo into the gang? Or in sabotaging Jebu’s and Ashok’s efforts to find lawful work instead of shooting them dead when they left the gang? What was the significance of House No.44? Just what were Kaptaan’s gang up to, anyway? 

I sat through the entire film and I still don’t have a clue. The Shemaroo video I watched had cut only 10 minutes or so of the movie, so I can’t even blame them.

What a waste of a good premise. 

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