30 September 2022

Raaz (1967)

Directed by: Ravindra Dave
Music: Kalyanji Anandji
Starring: Rajesh Khanna, Babita,
DK Sapru, Harindranath Chattopadhyay,
Ratnamala, IS Johar, Laxmi Chhaya,
Jayashree T, Rahul, Narendra Sharma

When we were coming to the end of the Rajesh Khanna retrospective, Shalini suggested Raaz (she also suggested Joru ka Ghulam (which I stupidly turned down because I distinctly remembered that I didn’t like it at all). I had never watched Raaz earlier, since Babita is not one of my favourites, but Shalini prevailed and despite every available print online missing 20 minutes of the movie, we sat down to watch.

The story begins with a murder. Parvathi (Ratnamala) rushes in hearing the man’s dying screams and finds a bloody corpse. The murderer, with only a pair of striking eyes visible, grabs the toddler while his accomplice tries to stifle her screams.
Me: The credits look like that of a horror movie!
Shalini: Atmosphere!
When the credits end, it’s eighteen years later, and we discover that Paro is a prisoner. Her jailor is Sarkar Nath (DK Sapru), her brother-in-law, who is very bitter that Paro supposedly rejected him and married his brother only because of the latter’s wealth. Paro protests in vain – she had never loved Sarkar Nath (SN, for short). Since revenge is best served cold, SN tells Paro that since she had rejected his love, he has deprived her daughter of hers… can she not hear Sapna’s anguished song for her dead lover?
S: Babita already has a ‘mara hua mehboob’?
A: Apparently yes.

Meanwhile, the song is being reprised in the dreams of a young man in far-away Africa. Kumar (Rajesh Khanna) has frequent dreams (nightmares?) of a strange woman, as well as of a railway station named Veeran Nagar. Kumar is an artist, and his attic is filled with paintings of the visions he sees in his dreams. His cries awaken his friend, ‘Rocky’ (IS Johar), who comes running in to see if Kumar is okay. Kumar is convinced that the key to these strange dreams lies in India and decides to discover the truth. Rocky insists on accompanying him. When they finally arrive at Veeran Nagar, Kumar is taken aback to see the station looking as it does in his dreams.

And when Rocky hires a tongawallah, Bansi (Asit Sen) to take them to a guest house of sorts, they are both disconcerted when Bansi gibbers in fright at the sight of Kumar, and runs away. 
Me: The film is already explaining everything – who was killed, who did it, who saw it...

Meanwhile, Rocky finally gets a man to take them to the guest house by the simple expedient of pulling Kumar’s hat over his face. 
S: “Signboard dekh kar batti gul.” I don’t blame Johar for covering RK’s face.

A man (Kamal Kapoor) is surreptitiously watching all this but vanishes into the mist without saying a word. When the duo reaches the guest house, the owner agrees to let them have rooms after some hard bargaining. But when he comes to the grilled door to open it and spots Kumar, he has the same reaction as Bansi.
Me: “Maine yahan kabhi nahin aaya!”
S: Can’t blame Johar for his frustration!

The two men are now forced to trudge into town on foot, though everyone they meet runs away after one look at Kumar. It’s all very mysterious. Until they come upon an old man (Harindranath Chattopadhyay) who, after making some annoyingly cryptic remarks, invites them to stay at his house.


Me: Harindranath looks mad; he didn’t have to say “Mujhe paagal kehte the…”
S: Just in case we didn’t get the message that he’s 'eccentric'?

In the middle of the night, Kumar is awakened by the same song that plays in his dreams, only this time, someone is singing outside. Though Kumar catches a glimpse of a woman in white, she disappears into the mists and there’s only a bunch of flowers dancing in the breeze. The mystery is deepening. 

S: Why is she singing to her DEAD lover?
Me: Because her true love will bring him back from the dead? Woman!
S: I can understand not wanting to believe that RK is dead given how beautiful he looks, but the woman is batty!

Me: That has been my general impression of Babita in all her films!

The next morning Kumar goes searching for the key to the mystery, and wanders into some quarries. The workers look aghast at his arrival but even as he wonders why, the foreman Thakur Singh (Rahul), who accuses Kumar of having humiliated him once before, beats him up thoroughly. Luckily for Kumar, Bela (Laxmi Chhaya) comes running and pleads with Thakur Singh to let Kumar go. 

As she patches him up, Kumar wonders at her kindness and Bela is surprised – doesn’t he remember that he had saved her honour when SN had assaulted her? In the meantime, Bela’s younger sister Indu (a very young Jayashree T) rushes off to tell Sapna (Babita) that Kumar is back.
Me: If you think your dead lover has returned, why would you do all this naatak? Why not go running to him and say, “Where were you? I’m so glad you’re back?”
S: These Hindi film heroes and heroines have strange proclivities, no? Wandering around at night? Singing, etc.?

This time, Sapna comes up to him, telling him how glad she is that he’s back, how she had faith that her love would bring him to her, how she’s waited and waited… 

S: I like the look of dismay that Kumar gives Sapna. We know how you feel, RK, we know!
Me: WHAT is she wearing?
While we are discussing Babita’s sartorial choices, Sapna is busy reminding Kumar about how they had met and fallen in love. She is Sarkar Nath’s daughter, he’s her father’s employee…

Me: This janam janam ka saath is seriously creeping me out. I don’t blame RK for looking freaked out with strange women whispering his name in the night and singing songs…
S: Totally agree. He’s probably thinking “I’m going to be stuck with her for eternity?”
Me: Like one janam wasn’t enough! I always used to think when someone said ‘janam janam ka saath’, did you ask your partner?
S: What does a fella have to do to get rid of her? Apparently dying didn’t do the trick!

Me: Oh, man, RK is beautiful! When the hero is more beautiful than the heroine, she has a problem, no?
S: Yes! RK is at Shashi-level beautiful here. Alas, he stayed that way only briefly.

Meanwhile, Sapna is still in flashback mode. Kumar had beaten up Thakur Singh for mistreating an old woman at the quarry.  

[A-ha! So this is the original fight. Clearly, he hasn’t learnt a thing. But at least in this one, Kumar gets to land a few punches, and we are quite impressed that RK holds his own in the action scenes.]

S: She fell for him because he fought well? Bloodthirsty woman!
Me: Another song? And who showers with their wig on? And lipstick?
S: Lata sounds really cute but she can only do so much for this song.
Me: Dono dilon mein? Is she sure?
S: I don’t know about you, but I did run home and try out various outfits while singing a song after I first met K.
Me [in shock]: You did? I didn’t. But then I have known S since I was 2. Damn, what a missed opportunity!
S: No, I didn’t because I am not demented!
Me: You sure fooled me!
S: Two was probably the only age where it would be understandable if I ran around singing songs! I thought you knew me better than that!
Me: I thought I did, too!
While we were discussing such important matters, the duo was singing another song in flashback.

Me: This is beginning to look like Chitrahaar.
S: RK doesn’t have the assurance in the romantic scenes that he did later, but the underlying charm is already there.
Me: Agree. Hey, smart girl, ‘Pehle shaadi, phir razamandi.’
S: If only the men would listen to the women.

SN had already chastised Kumar for beating up Thakur Singh, but now that he’s romancing his daughter (Thakur Singh spots them and tattles to the Raja) behaves like the archetypal Hindi film father, and promptly locks Sapna up. 

Kumar’s old friend Baba gleefully insists that Sapna will soon forget Kumar; she’s a rich man’s daughter after all. [With friends like these...] So Kumar [in flashback still] sings Akele hain chale aao, desperately hoping that his beloved is not bewafa.

Me: I love the desperation in Rafi’s voice reflected on RK’s face. And he looks good in black as well.

S: Rafi overdoes the trembling/crying voice… it’s a problem that I have with most of his sad songs.
[That is blasphemy, but I let it pass!]

And Sapna lives up to his faith, appearing at the end of the song, reassuring Kumar that she truly loves him. Doesn’t Kumar remember any of this? Kumar doesn’t. So, Sapna continues: her father had been keeping a close eye on her with the assistance of Thakur Singh. He drags her off whilst having Kumar flogged. 

Me: There’s still no urgency in Babita’s voice; she’s asking her father to let her go as if she’s asking him permission to go to the mall!
S: She oscillates between flat and shrill – there are no other tones.
Me: And no modulation in either tone, either.

S: Nope. Well, I think it’s pretty clear that we do not like Babita!

Kumar is left for dead, but his faithful friends manage to rescue him, and Bela quicks gets a vaid and a doctor to help. Meanwhile, Sapna, who seems to be very good at running away, also comes to take care of Kumar. 

But just as he’s recovering, Daddy comes along and takes Sapna away, this time on the pretext of being so very sorry at having wronged Kumar, and so bowled over by their true love that he’s going to let them get married. Doesn’t Kumar remember all this?  Nope, says Kumar ruefully.
[I can’t say I blame him.]
S: So Kumar 2 has also fallen in love with Sapna? Why?
Me: Because he’s being told that he loves her?
S: Man, I didn’t know that worked! We should have tried it with Shammi, Shashi, Amitabh…

While we are dreaming of what could have been, Kumar is still wondering at how everything ties up to his dreams, to what Sapna is telling him, to the villagers thinking he’s the ghost-who-walks, to the missing Sarkar Nath who has left Veeran Nagar veeraan for some time…

What will happen when Sarkar Nath returns and discovers the man he murdered and buried is supposedly alive and well? And who is Kumar, really?

Raaz raises more questions than it answers. Important ones like: Why did Babita always wear a wig?
Why was Kamal Khan in bad tan makeup? 
Why did he jump into Kumar’s bedroom with a knife? Why was poor Laxmi Chhaya not RK's heroine instead of being stuck with Johar?

Jokes apart, the basic premise of Raaz was good and the mystery leaves us guessing until the end. And the big reveal comes up organically and many of the ‘Oh, why?’ questions are answered satisfactorily. 

Of course, Rajesh Khanna, all of 23, is the best reason to watch the film. This was only his second film (though he has often said that he signed this first) and there’s a slight awkwardness about him that is charming. On the whole, he acquits himself well. And he looks extremely handsome; so handsome, in fact, that he’s totally wasted on Babita.
S: The things RK had to do for art – have dirt thrown on his face, pretend to love Babita…
Me: I know which was worse.

What didn’t we like? Babita. Enough said.

Some of the songs were decent, though the two versions of Akele hain chale aao were definitely the best. But there were too many of them that they diluted the suspense. In fact, if Raaz had stuck to perhaps a couple of songs and removed the comic side plot (which wasn’t very comic), it would have been a much better movie. We could have done with more Laxmi Chhaya and less IS Johar.

The plot holes. There were a few especially regarding Kumar’s reappearance. While the villagers are in panic mode thinking the dead man has returned to life, no one else seems to even wonder who he is (if they knew he was dead) and where he was all these years (if they thought he had merely disappeared). Even Sapna doesn’t ask him that. Secondly, where does a corpse disappear off to? And why is it never mentioned again?


Despite all this, Raaz is a relatively entertaining supernatural suspense thriller, even if not in the same league as Woh Kaun Thi?, Madhumati, Bees Saal Baad, etc.

And here endeth the Rajesh Khanna Retrospective. At least for now. I must thank the friend who is a huge RK fan for pushing me to rewatch more of his films. Both Shalini and I are now verklempt over his acting as well and see Rajesh Khanna as more than a mere vehicle for great songs. RK in his prime had talent, oodles of charm, and the confidence and willingness to take on risky roles, even if his screen time was short, or he was part of an ensemble cast. So, thank you, 'Bholenath Shambhuji from Jhumri Thalaiya'.

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