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05 October 2020

Jaali Note (1960)

Directed by Shakti Samanta
Music: OP Nayyar
Lyrics: Raja Mehdi Ali Khan
Starring: Dev Anand, Madhubala, Helen,
Om Prakash, Madan Puri,
Bipin Gupta, Brahm Bhardwaj,
Uma Dutt, Kundan, Krishnakant, Mridula Rani

I’d never watched Jaali note before, but I have loved the songs, especially Gustakh nazar. So, in a case of ‘following a song into a movie’ as fellow blogger Dustedoff puts it, I decided to finally remedy the lapse. If ever a movie should have come with explanatory notes, it is this one.

The movie, as is evident from its name, is based on counterfeit currency. The police are frustrated because the country is being flooded with forged notes. So far, they haven’t been able to catch the counterfeiters. While the cops are still discussing the case, the wealthy Rai Bahadur (Bipin Gupta) drops in to complain about his business being affected by the forged currency.

(Why the devil would any DIG allow a civilian into his office where they are discussing a current case? Or for that matter, discuss the case with said civilian?)

As the DIG is reassuring the Rai Bahadur that the police are doing everything they can, comes a call from an informer – a counterfeiter is on his way to the airport to take the Delhi flight. The DIG immediately informs Inspector Dinesh (Dev Anand). The Rai Bahadur points out that the Delhi flight will have taken off by the time Inspector Dinesh gets there. The DIG immediately calls the airport and asks for the flight to be brought back. (Huh? If the crook is on his way to catch the flight, then surely the flight is yet to take off?)

Anyway, Inspector Dinesh and his men reach the airport, where the keen-eyed inspector spots a slick bag-switching operation.

A chase ensues, and the man dies.(Why does a relatively sane (I presume?) man run onto railway tracks in broad daylight? And not get off when he hears a train coming?) Never mind – Splat! Man’s dead, and there are counterfeit notes all over the ground. Enter Renu (a spunky Madhubala), an intrepid reporter who senses a scoop. She takes a quick photograph. Whereupon Inspector Dinesh has the film removed from her camera despite her protests. And has the body sent for post-mortem.
Renu is still fuming when she tells her editor what the inspector said; she insists on her editor filing a report with the journalist’s association. When the editor calls the CID office, Inspector Dinesh does his Noddy impersonation while informing him that there’s a gag order on the news.
Renu is infuriated when she hears of Dinesh’s request that she behave more circumspectly the next time. She flounces off in a huff. (Madhubala flounced very prettily.)

Meanwhile, Dinesh, accompanied by Constable Pandu (Om Prakash – ‘Pandu’ is the local slang for constable; I’m tickled at the pun.) is at the local jail in disguise enquiring about a forger, named Banwari Lal (Krishnakant). The jailor (Uma Dutt) informs him that Banwari is a reformed soul, making toys for children now. But Banwari has another visitor – a pundit, says the jailor. He brings Banwari books and whatever he needs for his worship.  


It turns out that what Banwari is actually doing is making blocks for currency notes. (Were currency blocks made of wood in the sixties?) Dinesh smells a rat… when the ‘pandit’ leaves, they follow him. The man, Bulaqi (Kundan), tries to give them the slip, but Dinesh and Pandu spot him entering Hotel Shangri-La. Bulaqi manages to have a quick word with Lily, the hotel dancer, and uses her act (the song that proved to be my downfall) to reach his boss’s office.

Manohar (Madan Puri) is perturbed upon hearing Bulaqi’s news. (I must confess that Bilaqi is extremely perspicacious.) The fact that the police were informed about the person on the flight, the death of their gang member, and now Bulaqi’s news means that they have been betrayed. But the block that Bulaqi brings distracts him. Soon, plans are made to dispose of the counterfeit notes – at a textile store, a carpet store, the races…

But one of the men who has been cheated at the races leads the police to the bookie. Unfortunately, the interrogation doesn’t lead anywhere. The police have no proof to hold the bookie and are forced to let him go.

Meanwhile (there’s going to be a whole lot of ‘meanwhiles’ in this review), Dinesh is back home interrogating his mother (Mridula Rani). He wants to know where his father is, whether he is alive. His father had left home on Dinesh’s 5th birthday (after presenting him with a locket) when the police had come to their house.

Dinesh’s mother refuses to answer any further questions – why did the police come? Where did his father go? What was his father’s real name? (Seems an odd time to bring this matter up. And what sort of a CID inspector is Dinesh if he can’t discover the truth without having to resort to bullying his watering spout of a mother?) Anyway, the director seems to have thought pretty much the same thing so when we see Dinesh the next time, he’s back in Hotel Shangri-La – this time, he’s pretending to be Kunwar Vijay Bahadur Singh. Pandu is his aide. He books a suite and a car and generally throws his weight around. (He’s also throwing the CID budget around.)

Meanwhile Renu, who has been investigating the case on her own, is being stymied by the newspaper’s management. But Renu is made of sterner mettle. She decides she needs to get evidence, and therefore books into Shangri-La as ‘Beena’. Where she runs into ‘Prince Vijay’ who recognises her at once.

At this point, Pandu takes the hotel staff outside for a song. (Why? No idea. Considering the manager was already mad at his staff for not serving the customers, wouldn’t he have been furious at them leaving the hotel en masse?)

Meanwhile, the prince is being introduced to Lily, Manohar and Bulaqi. And inviting Renu to a party he’s throwing in the evening. Renu, who suspects the prince of being a counterfeiter, accepts his invitation. (Anyway, the party is just an excuse for the next Helen song, Mr Dil badi mushkil.)

Renu is not as indifferent to the prince as she pretends, but she’s no pushover either. Which means only one thing – another song!
(This is the third song in ten minutes. Neither the inspector nor the investigative reporter seem to be doing much investigating.)

Meanwhile, Renu comes up with an excuse to get some money from the prince. Unfortunately for her, the notes are real. Renu tells the prince the truth (why she trusts him is beyond me), and soon, they are billing and cooing to each other. Which gives OP Nayyar a chance to reprise his famous tonga beats. Which is followed almost immediately followed by Chand zard zard hai.

But soon, there’s trouble in the dove cote as Wodehouse would say. Renu overhears the prince making a deal with the counterfeiters. The prince is arrested. And interred in the same cell as Banwari Lal. Sooner still, the prince and Banwari have escaped from prison…

I’m not sure even the director knew where the movie was going next. Part of the noir films that became de rigueur in the 50s and 60s, Jaali Note was a bit of a let-down. Considering the star cast and the director, I expected more. The fact that the DVD makers cut half an hour of the film didn’t help matters, though I’m not sure the weird jumps in the plot can be attributed solely to that.

Among the scenes that make no sense at all – As ‘Prince’, Dinesh gets Manohar and his men to bring Renu to their den. Then, in the middle of the night, he goes to Renu, tells her who he is and begs her to leave because ‘samay bahut kam hai’. What?

Neither does the villain’s change of heart make any sense.

The songs, while catchy and melodious, came thick and fast and seemed shoehorned in simply because Madhubala and Helen had to be given three songs each. For example, towards the end of the movie, when the prince and Banwari reach the godown and settle down to play cards (Huh?), there comes Lily and… cue another song.

The cops are inept, and it seems like the crooks are, too. Which is good, I guess, since otherwise, I doubt they would have been caught. Manohar, for instance, shows off their adda and gives all the information about their activities to Dinesh, for all the world as if he’s a teenager showing off his prized possessions.  And it’s only towards the end of the movie that the script writer (and the director) seems to have realised that they had mentioned Dinesh’s missing father a while ago, so they need to bring him in to tie up the loose ends. (No prizes for guessing who he is.)

Helen is fantabulous as usual, and it’s a joy to see her not just dance but also get to emote. Madhubala lights up the screen as she always does and does get to show some spunk in the few scenes she’s given.

But the romance left me scratching my head – she just needed to know that the man wasn’t passing counterfeit notes around to fall in love with him? Dev looked charming (though the silly moustache did him no favours) but hammed his way through some atrocious accents to play Dinesh/ Abdul Rashid / Kunwar Vijay Bahadur Singh.

Jaali Note is certainly not one of Shakti Samanta’s better films. My verdict? Forget the movie, stick to the songs.

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