Much before I knew Raj Khosla or Sachin Dev Burman or ‘Kala Pani’ (Raj Khosla, 1958), as a child, I knew the songs ‘Hum bekhudi mein tum ko pukaare chale gaye’ (Mohammad Rafi)

and ‘Accha jee main haari, chalo maan jaao na’ (Asha Bhosale, Mohammad Rafi),

probably from Chhaya Geet on Doordarshan.

A J Cronin’s novel ‘Beyond This Place’ has had many film and television adaptations, even one in Bangla, including this one. Despite a novel to fall back on, ‘Kala Pani’ does not seem to have any meat. The investigation by a young son to prove his father’s innocence in a murder case 15 years ago, does not have either adequate suspense or twists and turns nor does it have adequate emotional heft.

The script tilts for too long in the direction of the nautch girl Kishori (Nalini Jaywant), but then, for some reason, we never learn how she discovers the truth about Karan (Dev Anand). Of course, that could just be a bad DVD hack.

The romance between Karan (Dev Anand) and Asha (Madhubala) leaves you hankering for more, as they just don’t have enough screen time together. I do like the friends that Karan makes in the lodge though, Madhosh Miya (Mukri), Daulat Chand (Janki Das) and Badru (Agha) and that the poetry that Karan uses to woo Kishori is actually written by Madhosh Miya. The hero can sing and is good-looking with the most elaborate hair puff, but he cannot write poetry, for sure. And in the end, he gets hospitalized after being beaten by 4-5 goons, and the heroine gets to bring the fight to prove his father’s innocence to a climax, running with the papers to her newspaper and working to get the case re-opened while the hero recuperates.

Madhubala of course, is gorgeous, even though she does the entire film in a couple of costumes at the most, as does Dev Anand. But what they do have is very stylish. Madhubala continues to enthrall because she is so comfortable in her beauty and also because her acting has not dated.

This seems to have been a low-budget production, as the art direction is tacky, the cinematography (V.Ratra) merely functional, apart from the opening sequence when Karan’s mother (Mumtaz Begum) runs out of her house to her brother’s, in evident distress. And the picturization of the two songs I continue to love.

So what I am left with is an anecdote from Madhubala’s biography ‘I want to live’ by Khatija Akbar.

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Madhubala was known for her punctuality on set, often arriving before everyone else, and being ready on the dot. Nadira recalls that one day during the shoot of ‘Kala Pani’, Madhubala was ready on set, when Dev Anand’s car rolled in. Madhubala laughed and said, ‘Asalaam aleikum, Producer Saheb’. That was enough to drive the point home.

PS: Nadira was at the studio, that day, for another film.

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