Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dhund (1973) – murder in the mist

A murderous 'print? I had vague memories of watching this murder mystery years ago and enjoying it. But my memories hadnt prepared me for the dramatic fog (Dhund) of mystery that envelopes the film, or for all the stunningly beautiful people with homicidal tendencies that inhabit the fog-ridden world of this film!
Onward with the story… On a misty mountain road, a car meets with an accident and the driver, Shekhar (Navin Nischol), knocks on the door of the nearest house to get help. He finds the door unlocked and decides to walk in. Inside, he discovers the murdered master of the house - Ranjit Singh (Danny Denzongpa) - and the murderer holding the proverbial smoking gun. This is how good murder mysteries should begin. :-D When the camera moves to show the murderer, I’m not surprised that ‘he’ is a gorgeous woman – the script requires it! To make matters even more interesting, the gorgeous woman turns out to be none other than Ranjit Singh’s long-suffering wife Rani (Zeenat Aman).


Rani tells a tale of years of relentless persecution that culminated in a fight where a loaded gun went off accidentally, and the persecutor became the victim. Moved by her tale of woe, Shekhar decides to help her escape a murder rap (who wouldnt want to slay dragons for such a beautiful damsel-in-distress?!). A plea of self-defence occurs to neither of them! O wait, maybe self-defence is a modern phenomenon and didnt occur in the 1970s?
Shekhar and Rani concoct a tale of a fictitious break-in to explain Ranjit’s murder by an unknown outsider and also contrive to give Rani an alibi. Things go smoothly for the conspirators. The body is duly discovered by the house-maid, Radha, whose screams summon the rest of the household. Shekhar makes his re-entry as a car-wrecked stranger seeking help, and calls in the police. The law-enforcement turns up in full force with Inspector Joshi (Madan Puri), Inspector Bakshi (Jagdish Raj) and several others. (Its re-assuring to know that even at midnight, police stations are so full of policemen!)
When the police begin the questioning, Shekhar hands over the murder weapon with the story of picking it up after colliding with a man running out of the house. He claims to be unable to describe the stranger as the mist hid the latter almost completely. The police find the “evidence” of robbery but are convinced that its an inside job. They begin to look for the murderer in Ranjit Singh’s own household. And the more they learn about Ranjit Singh and his family, the more suspects they find!
Ranjit Singh was the most menacing and black-hearted villain ever to grace a murder mystery. He lost his legs in a hunting accident, but this handicap did not hamper him in his villainy. He drove his delicate half-brother mad by his continual harassment, while his step-mother (Urmila Bhatt) was forced to look on helplessly. He antagonised the servants and the neighbours by using them for target practise!
There was only person Ranjit Singh seemed to get along with. And that was Suresh (Sanjay Khan) – a lawyer and budding politician - who played chess with him everyday. This friendship didnt last long though, as Suresh and Rani fell in love and wanted to get married. Ranjit Singh had no intention of freeing Rani, and threatened to ruin Suresh’s political career by creating a scandal.
So, in true Agatha Christie fashion, the scene is set for a domestic murder with the household and Suresh as suspects. Further investigation centres the suspicion on Suresh as he has – a) motive: Ranjit Singh was threatening to ruin his life, b) opportunity: he visited Ranjit Singh around the time of the murder, and, c) was probably the man seen fleeing from the house by Shekhar. Poor Shekhar – in trying to extricate Rani he’s managed to implicate an innocent man! Or has he? Things arent all they appear to be. Was Rani’s admission a cover-up to save Suresh? Will Shekhar persist in his false testimony? Will Ashok Kumar save the day? Will Suresh reveal a hitherto unknown sartorial crime? I’d tell you more but the film-makers requested me not to reveal the end!
Dhund is an old fashioned murder mystery in the best Agatha Christie tradition, and is done pretty well. But no Bollywood murder mystery, not even one made by B. R. Chopra (as this one is), is complete without the obligatory plot-holes and forensic irregularities. The one that made my Law And Order indoctrinated brain scream in horror was Rani and Shekhar manufacturing evidence with no thought to finger-prints! Of course, there is also a murder trial that follows no known legal procedures of any country - but that is again mandatory in a good murder mystery!
On the plus side (and there are many pluses in this film), is the nice soundtrack. I love the title song - Sansar ki har shay kaand Zeenat’s piano number - Uljhan suljhe na - while the two dance numbers - Jo yahan tha woh wahan and Jubna se chunariya - are also pleasant. More on the plus side is the cast - its overflowing with some very good looking people. Sanjay Khan, Naveen Nischol and Zeenat Aman were at their beautiful best, here, and Danny at his scariest! One more plus – a married woman gets to commit adultery and isnt given a lecture on womanly honor and duty. YAY!!!!
Minor quibbles apart, Dhund is a taut, suspenseful, mystery drama and as such, gets the OiG’s murder-mystery-thumbs-up!

29 comments:

  1. Hey, from your review it appears that Dhundh is not only in "true Agatha Christie style", as you remark, but actually based on an Agatha Christie's play: The Unexpected Guest!
    I had also seen this movie a long, long time ago and have some general impression of many sad, strange characters! After reading your review though, I feel like watching it again.

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  2. Sorry, double post.

    OMG, I did not know that the awful 2003 version of Dhund was a remake of an oldie.

    Admittedly, I hated the 2003 version but watched it only cause I love suspense thrillers.

    To be fair, it was the poor acting that made me *not* like it. I may have to find the 70s version instead

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  3. Yay! This looks fun! I love when Zeenat gets to do stuff!

    *adds to Netflix queue*

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  4. Ruchi, IMDB did mention the Agatha Christie connection! But I havent read An Unexpected Guest and was too lazy to check the credits in the film for verification. Have you read the book? I bet Christie's characters were more aware of finger-print issues than the characters of this film, though!

    Nicki, from the plot synopsis it doesnt seem like the new one was a remake of this Dhund. This is more of a murder mystery than a super-natural thriller and here, no dead bodies come to life!

    Filmi Girl, Zeenat doesnt really get to "do" much in the masala sense. She spends her time being bullied by her husband and being rescued by super-handsome men! But she looks soooooo beautiful even when she's crying, that I dont have any major complaints. :-)

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  5. I think this was the only movie i liked Sanjay Khan in, before he decided to beat Zeenat Black n blue! But i love how BR Chopra movies always have nonsensical parts ie No Fingerprints. Vincent from law and order would have been searching every where to find some!

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  6. I had told my friend to get me all B.R. Chopra movies for me from India and thankfully this was one of them, i love that man so much, B.R. Chopra forever.

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  7. Rum, he was pretty good looking in some earlier ones too - Abhilasha is one I have good memories of! And ya, that piece of gossip keeps me from appreciating him as much as I would otherwise have. Re fingerprints, this one had too many rather than too few of them. People merrily went about touching everything without bothering with gloves or any other precaution while I silently screamed NO NO!

    bollywooddeewana, I hope you enjoy this one. B. R. Chopra had some really good films and some really bad ones (Gumraah for example). This is one of the good ones and I am hoping Kanoon will be another good one!

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  8. I'd read an interesting interview with Danny in which he talked about how they wouldn't agree to take him on for Dhund because he was too young - and then he turned up at the audition in makeup, which convinced folks he'd make a good `vile husband'.
    More to the point, this is one suspense thriller that I rather like (despite the obvious glitches and holes). And Sansaar ki har shai ka is a superb song.

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  9. I love this movie: danny at his crazy, red-outfitted best!

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  10. I must see this. I love murder mysteries, Zeenat and Danny.

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  11. If it's on the lines of an Agatha Christie story, then I must watch it! By the way, have you seen Gumnaam (the old one)? Is it based on Christie's And Then There Were None?

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  12. dustedoff, I remember reading an interview like that too, and fairly recently at that. But when I tried looking for it while writing this one up, I couldnt find it! Do let me know if you see it again. And yes, Sansar ki har shai ka is superb - so haunting and perfect for a misty, mountain murder!

    Shweta, Danny certainly looked savage! I remember seeing this as a kid and was terrified of him in all the movies thereafter, for a long time. :-D

    Banno, you definitely should. And its so much fun yelling at the conspirators to manufacture evidence properly! ;-)

    Bhargav, as one reader above commented, its actually based on an Agatha Christie book. And I havent seen Gumnaam yet, but based on the synopsis it certainly sounds like a rehash of And Then There Were None.

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  13. After reading 'The Unexpected Guest' my impression was that it wasn't the best Agatha Christie mystery I have ever read! Since it is a play, most of the action takes place in one room, which was somewhat boring. And I do remember noticing a few glitches such as those you mention for the movie, 'why doesn't anyone think of a plea for self defence' or that the 'stranger from the mist' seems to get his way so easily etc. etc. About the fingerprints, I dont remember anymore...have been reading too many mysteries recently and have got all the different fingerprints all mixed up!

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  14. Ooh, I love a good murder mystery! And I agree on the part about all good ones starting with a smoking gun ;)

    I'm adding this one to my list! Love Zeenat!

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  15. Here's the interview I'd been referring to:

    http://www.screenindia.com/old/fullstory.php?content_id=17013

    I think Danny makes the perfect nasty husband. ;-)

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  16. Ruchi, no wonder I'm not familiar with it - I havent read any of AC's plays. I couldnt remember reading An Unexpected Guest and I am certain I've read all her novels and short stories! And you definitely need to straighten out your fingerprints - or read Ellis Peters (or any other Medieval/Ancient whodunits). ;-)

    Nida, yay for smoking guns - especially in Zeenat's hands! :-D

    dustedoff, thank you so much for the link. That was the interview I was thinking of. He certainly makes the perfect nasty husband, but I am not convinced of the "ageing" part!

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  17. Yes, he definitely doesn't looking ageing to me! ;-)

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  18. Dang, the copy I got from the library few months ago refused to play.

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  19. Thats too bad! At least you didnt get left with a cliff-hanger which sometimes happens with DVDs that refuse to play all the way through and you never get to see the end!

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  20. I watched this movie. I love a good murder mystery movie. The 1973 thriller starring Zeenat Aman based on the Agatha Christie play The Unexpected Guest is slow-paced but interesting. A stranger crashes his car on a foggy night and stumbles into Rani’s (Zeenat Aman) house looking to use a phone. Instead, he finds the dead body of Zeenat’s crippled and abusive husband (Danny Denzongpa). All evidence points to Rani’s lover Suresh (Sanjay Khan) but Rani was the one found holding the gun. A great whodunit.

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  21. Sam, it certainly was a "great whodunit"!

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  22. I had to return to this post and i have to say i just saw Gumrah and i loved it, sure there were some things that didn't quite feel right like the ending but i enjoyed it overall. the songs are to die for and the story kept me interested and was suspenseful. What negged you so much about the film

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  23. "What nagged you so much about the film."

    Umm... doesnt the whole marrying-the-sister's-husband strike you as a teensy-weensy bit disgusting? Its a tad too incestuous for my taste! And the whole idea of the hubby "taming" his wife by blackmailing her through his secretary is not only very, VERY sexist, it makes me wonder if the husband and wife will ever be able to trust each other again. The good acting, the great songs, my favorite actors, and the well done suspense - nothing can make me overlook the "gah" aspects of Gumrah!

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  24. true you have raised some interesting issues that i myself was uncomfortable with but when her dad suggested it to her she herself was a bit remorsed, it was the fact that they didn't want/ or she couldn't stand a new stepmother for her sister's kids that she agreed. Surely she could have stayed true to her love but since i was seeking entertainment and wanted my appetite for melodrama satisfied i went with the story plus i've heard some real life cases where a man's brother might step in and marry his brother's widow so although i thought incest at first i rationalised that it wasn't too far fetched. ( Your view point was what made Hum Aapke Hain Koun sit wrongly with me at first, i couldn't get over the whole sister in law marrying her sister's brother in law)

    The whole husband taming the wife thing stemmed from a hindu tale shown at the beginning through Ram, Laxman & Sita i think. Where Laxman draws a line to keep the woman in check, I do agree this must have been done to appeal to the masses or what people believed was the norm back then. All Marriages are to some extent based on taming of some sort, but i do agree with your concerns and pondered on them too but i simply enjoyed it as a Suspense/drama entertainer without reading too much into it

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  25. bollywooddeewana, I am not a big fan of any body "taming" anyone. But if it were the wife "taming" her husband, I guess I could go with the story and even find it interesting and/or entertaining. Sadly, in Bollywood, its always the woman being taught her "duty" and being "brought to her senses", and I just cannot engage with misogynism the way I could with misandrism. Comes of being a woman, I guess!

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  26. The finger print problem was taken care of by Naveen Nischol's character when he tells Zeenat to go upstairs and wait for the 11 o'clock gunshot signal.
    In fact the police remarks that there are no fingerprints anywhere and that the criminal has wiped out all of them, but they discover those on the tray under the head of the corpse.

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  27. Hmm... I don't remember anything quite so logical/realistic! Perhaps my copy had stuff missing, which wouldn't surprise me at all.

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  28. check here at about 15.27
    http://www.mega
    video.com/?v=GAXYNMOD

    To avoid embedding I have left a gap between mega and video.

    The police discussing the absence of 'any' prints is perhaps in prt 2 or 3.

    pacifist.
    The earlier comment was also mine.

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  29. It's taking too long to load! :( I'll try it again tomorrow. B-b-but fingerprints all accounted for? That is against the laws of Bollynoir. How could BR Chopra let this happen?

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