Thursday, August 13, 2009

Baharon Ki Manzil (1966) – amnesia thriller

Sometimes the simplest of plots, with minimal twists, can make for very effective thrillers. Thats the case with this film, which I received from fellow oldies fan Shalini. With Shalini’s cautionary words ringing in my ears and my own misgivings born of previous experience with Meena Kumari-Dharmendra pairings, I approached the film with great trepidation. To my delight, it turned out to be a gripping thriller that had me glued to the TV screen well into the wee hours of morning!

Nanda Roy (Meena Kumari) wakes up from a minor accident and claims to be someone else. She is convinced that she is Radha - Nanda’s sister who actually died 16 years ago. She refuses to recognise her own daughter Nalini (Farida Jalal), and throws her husband Subodh (Rehman) into confusion by calling him Jija-ji (sister’s husband). Things get even weirder when she claims to be living in Bombay and of having received her injury on the eve of her wedding to Ram Kumar. Subodh and Nalini try in vain to convince her that she’s been living in Darjeeling for two decades and all the local people recognize her.
Subodh patiently keeps trying to remind her of their shared past, but Nanda is unconvinced. She is Radha and thats who she is staying! A worried Subodh brings in psychiatrist Dr. Rajesh Khanna (yes really - and played by Dharmendra at that!) whose examination agitates Nanda no end. It would agitate me too, if a shrink started to diagnose my mental condition by examining my blood pressure!
Nanda’s behaviour gets more erratic as the days go by. When Subodh takes her to their club for an evening out, she refuses to recognise long-time acquaintances. Then, she walks out in the middle of a great cabaret number and almost drives into oblivion, bumper first. Only Dr. Rajesh’s timely intervention saves her. If that isnt enough, she hears sounds at home and even sees a dead body fall out of her closet! When Subodh and Dr. Rajesh rush to her room in response to her shrieks, there is no dead body.
Subodh is distraught. Their daughter (Nalini) is engaged to be married to the scion of one of Darjeeling’s patrician families. Nalini’s prospective father-in-law (Wasti) takes fright at her mother’s insanity and refuses to let his son marry into a tainted blood-line. Subodh has to promise a very hefty dowry to make sure that the marriage does go through as planned. But he is worried that Nanda’s problem will get worse, and seeks Dr. Rajesh’s help.
Rajesh runs some tests (electro-diagnosis!) and pronounces Nanda’s mental faculties in good working order. He does recommend a change of scenery to help her relax, though. So, once Nalini’s marriage is safely over, Subodh takes her to Bombay – the place she insists is her home. She wants to establish her own identity to everybody’s satisfaction. Unfortunately, the only past acquaintance she can find - Radha’s fiance Ram Kumar - doesnt remember either sister well enough to help.
A broken-hearted Nanda returns to Darjeeling. Rajesh is moved by her passionate insistence that she is Radha, not Nanda. From empathising with her identity-crisis and trying to treat her mental condition, he moves to falling in love with her! That little detail, of course, convinces him of Nanda’s claims. He institutes further inquiries – none of which uncover anything useful.
So what really is going on? Is Nanda really Radha? Or has a head injury brought out past trauma of her family’s death (Nanda’s parents perished in the same accident that killed Radha) and made her mentally unstable? Or perhaps there is some skullduggery afoot? If so, what is it?
This one goes on my list of favorite amnesia thrillers! The plot is very well executed, and the narrative keeps you off-balance enough that you dont guess where its going. Rehman is very good as the bewildered, helpless Subodh. There is no doubting his affection for his wife, throughout the film. Dharmendra is very charming as the sympathetic doctor, but not too convincing in the romance bits. The mainstay of the film, however, is Meena Kumari’s Nanda. The effects of Meena Kumari’s heavy drinking were very pronounced here, and blunted her facial expressions a great deal. So it isnt one of her better performances – but its competent enough.
There are some minor irritants like the pointless comic side-plot (Polson and Shefali) which is mercifully brief, and some loose ends not tied up in the end. The major flaw though, is the Meena Kumari-Dharmendra romance which is very unconvincing and quite unnecessary for the plot to develop further. These quibbles apart, its a pretty watchable thriller.

21 comments:

  1. Like you, I'd been putting off seeing this simply because previous Dharmendra-Meena Kumari films I've seen have been awful (esp. the hideous Chandan ka Palna). But I am a thriller fanatic, and this one sounds like one I'd love to see. Am pushing it up to the top of my rental wishlist!

    PS. Hate that picture of Meena Kumari in screen cap #12 - her face looks so ravages and puffy. :-( Dharmendra, on the other hand, looks gorgeous!

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  2. Loved your review, especially your captions (like always). Would you mind putting up a spoiler for those of us who can't get our hands on a copy of this?

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  3. I've been looking for this forever, mostly for the songs---especially that lovely cabaret number. I can't find a DVD with subtitles though, only VCD---and this is a film I needs subs for!

    *sad*

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  4. I have been looking everywhere to get this movie. haven't seen even a vcd of this. where did you get this.
    Can I get this online somewhere?

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  5. I never thought I would say this about a Hindi film, but "Baharon Ki Manzil" could do with a little bit more exposition.

    While I liked Meena Kumari's single-minded determination to establish her identity and the fact that she was (largely) not swayed from her goal by emotional appeals, her family's (and Dr. Rajesh's) reaction to her mental state was kind of odd. It was like they'd never of amnesia - or maybe they just didn't watch Hindi movies.:-D

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  6. Oh, poor Meena. :-( It's so so sad. Still, the movie itself looks fascinating. If only I weren't subtitle dependent!

    Okay. That settles it. You must transfer your Hindi capabilities to my brain via electroshock and a scientific injection. There's no other way to go.

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  7. dustedoff, my terribly low expectations may be the reason I liked it so much! But it is fairly gripping and doesnt go out of its way to make you suspicious of red-herrings, the way a lot of Bollywood thrillers do. Meena Kumari does look pretty ravaged - such a waste of all that talent and beauty.

    Nitu, thanks! I have put up the spoilers here so that it isnt spoiled the rest of the readers.

    memsaab, the cabaret number is absolutely lovely and WITHOUT Helen! I dont know why its only on VCD. Well, we can do a watchalong and I can translate for you!

    AJ, I got it from my new friend Shalini, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post. I have no idea where she got it from!

    Shalini, thats true - nobody, not even the doctors, seems to have heard of amnesia! To be fair, amnesia doesnt lead to change of identity - maybe thats why? And I did wonder why the doctor didnt do a physical examination to settle the question of her motherhood at least. But then, whats a good thriller without some plot-holes?! Thanks again for sending this to me.

    ajnabi, Bolly-medicine is still researching the methods of transferring brain activities through injection (needless to say, the research is being done in a lab piled high with glassware and bottles of brightly colored fluids). The "formula" has not yet been released, as its rumored that Mogambo and assorted international villains are after it. Once Mr. India and Agent Vinod have beaten these adersaries, I am sure I'll be able to help you out!

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  8. Sounds like a good film, I can imagine why it kept you up.

    Loved your screencaps.

    Meena Kumari-Dharmendra never did happen on screen, whatever they were in real life. Sad! I think by then she was too well entrenched in her tragedy queen persona on and off screen, and Dharmendra just looks too young, and vital and charming and therefore uncomfortable in that gloom.

    Dr. Rajesh Khanna :-)

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  9. I loooove thrillers!! I must get this, thanks for the wonderful review and caps

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  10. Nitu, you are welcome!

    Banno, Dharmendra does look too vital compared to her. She is clearly only half there, with the rest of her lost in melancholia. *sad*

    Nicki, it is a pretty engaging thriller, inspite of Meena Kumari's obvious problems.

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  11. Much as I can sometimes mock movie psychiatry, it's definitely true that walking out on a cabaret number is a sign of mental instability...

    Where have all these awesome nightclubs been all my life?

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  12. I don't know if I'll get to ever see this, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading your captions!!!! lmao!!! What was I watching the other day and said to my sis, "If I ever attempt to wear my makeup that way, please attach me with face wash!"? Oh, it was Hum Saath-Saath Hain. I suppose heavily made up woman have their place though! Anyway, about the film now. I like amnesia based plots so this one seems right up my alley, but I didn't really see where the thriller part happens. Seems more dramatic to me than anything else. At any rate, this fits right in as one of your medical miracles movies (at least the shock therapy! - which i've yet to see in a film and eagerly await!).
    Okay, enough babbling from me!

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  13. Anarchivist, it sure does. None of us ever had the good fortune to find a nightclub with a filmi-cabaret in progress, and Meena actually walked out of one! As to where have all these nightclubs been, we need to ask Helen for the address of at least one of the nightclubs she performed in.

    Shell, thanks! As to the thrilling bits - well you've got watch for Meena's expressions (heavy make-up and all) and the thrilling background music, to appreciate just how thrilling it is! ;-) I am not surprised that you havent seen shock therapy on film yet. Its gone out of fashion these days. No longer do they perform medical miracles at the throw of a switch. Sigh! You need to watch some oldie soon - at least to find out just how much progress medicine has made in the modern era.

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  14. That was one interesting review but being a regular reader of your blog I am desperately waiting for the next one...Anything, just anything will do, as long as it stops this Meena Kumari screencap appearing right in front of me as soon as I check your blog!!

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  15. Ruchi, I am working on it! Its been a busy weekend with lots of movie watching. There will be a new review (with lots of beautiful people in it) up in a day or two, I promise!

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  16. Hi,
    after watching the beginning of this film i realized that it was a copy of an old arabic film that was made 3 years before this one and i was shocked !!
    i didn't believe that hindi cinema borrowed ideas from arabic films?!!
    but i still enjoyed it after all it has Dharmendra in it ...
    thanks for the hilarious caps.

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  17. Thats interesting to know, Anonymous. I thought they only borrowed from Hollywood, European films, Korean films, etc. Good to know how global Bollywood really is! ;-)

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  18. Haha! Great sense of humor! I liked the "subs" on the film stills! XD

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  19. This film is available for free viewing on YouTube Goldmines telefims channel. Legally. Good prints and mostly no cuts..Enjoy
    LInk if the blog permits:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnWjAUuMLEE&list=PLE809376862A55071

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  20. This film is available free on Youtube Goldmines telefilms channel , yes with cabaret, but some blackouts in between, but does not spoil the films suspense

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