Movies sometimes have the strangest surprises in store for you. Just when you think you know everything about a film, you realise that it fell through the cracks in your memory and disappeared forever! That is exactly what happened to me with this film. I have certainly seen it before, but couldn’t remember it at all! That is pretty useful while re-watching a mystery thriller, but very puzzling when it stars Dev Anand, Waheeda Rehman and the unforgettable Hemant Kumar number Na tum humen jaano. The mystery was solved once I reached THE END. The film is entertaining enough, but not particularly memorable.
The film opens with the sound of gun-fire and we see the back of a mysterious man in a raincoat and hat, running out of a house on a rainy night. He collides with a blind beggar and proceeds to the nearest telephone booth, while a voice-over tells us ominously that “this is the tale of one night (yeh hai BAAT EK RAAT KI).”
Next we see C.I.D. (Johnny Walker) equipped with a mask and knife, asking his girlfriend, Julie (?), to let him murder her! Its all because he wants his employer - lawyer Rajesh - to be tempted into taking a case, fighting it, and winning. This would establish Rajesh’s practise and his clerk - C.I.D. - would be able to earn enough to marry Julie! Naturally, Julie refuses to let herself be murdered in the cause of her own marriage.
C.I.D. need not have worried. Rajesh (Dev Anand) is soon to be embroiled in a juicy murder mystery that will change his life forever. He sees a woman attempting to commit suicide by diving head first into two feet of water. Not to be outdone, Rajesh swims to her rescue and soon rises out of the water carrying a beautiful, dripping, mysterious woman in his arms. He has barely had time to catch his breath from this exertion when the police arrive to claim the woman. Turns out that she is Neela (Waheeda Rehman), a famous danseuse, and a defendant in a murder charge.
Rajesh is called upon to give a written statement about Neela’s attempted suicide and rescue. While in the police station, he encounters a distraught old woman (Sabita Chatterji) who turns out to be none other than Neela’s not-so-long-lost Maa. Rajesh effects a cell-side re-union between mother and daughter, but Neela refuses to acknowledge her mother. She says that she is a murderer and cannot be anybody’s daughter! Rajesh is intrigued enough to delve further.
Maa tells Rajesh Neela’s rags-to-riches tale. They are a family of street performers and Neela was their star turn. In one of her street-side performances, she was ‘discovered’ by a theatre director, Beni Prasad. From there, she never looked back. She went on to win both fame and fortune with Beni Prasad’s company, while her family retired to the village. Maa has come to town upon hearing of the murder charge on Neela. She is convinced that Neela wouldn’t hurt a fly and entreats Rajesh to help her.
Rajesh sets out to investigate. He approaches Beni Prasad, only to find that he has died in a mysterious accident soon after Neela’s incarceration. He meets the owner of Neela’s former theatre company – Dwarka Das (?) – who proves to be suspiciously unhelpful, in spite of Rajesh’s sincere assertions of Neela’s innocence! Baulked of any help, he then reads up the case to find out how Neela was embroiled in the murder. On a rainy night, the police were called to a mansion by an anonymous call. When they got there, they found Neela with a smoking gun and the dead body of a young man named Ranjan.
The hidden Perry Mason in Rajesh is suddenly roused. He and C.I.D. make their way to the crime-scene, investigating it while the watchman (Asit Sen) snores on his watch. A few scares (that turn out to be perfectly harmless) later, Rajesh and C.I.D. leave the mansion no wiser. On their way out, they run into the blind beggar from the murder night. He keeps asking them for “Rani Maa”.
In the meanwhile, Neela is incarcerated in a mental hospital where she is terrorised by a mysterious stranger who asks her to sign a paper if she wants to live in peace. Her screams bring the medical staff running, but the stranger has disappeared. The doctor (Kanu Roy) is worried about her mental health. He tells the police that Neela is in no condition to give a statement, let alone stand a trial, and needs time to recover her mental balance. Rajesh offers to take her away from the jail and help her. After some argument, the police agrees to Rajesh’s proposal and Neela is soon ensconced in a big, lonely mansion.
The doctor’s advice is that Rajesh must convince Neela of his love and devotion to her – since that is the only way to cure her. Naturally, convincing Neela of his undying devotion takes Rajesh about 5 minutes. And soon, Neela’s story comes tumbling out. She had left her family a poor woman, but thanks to Beni Prasad, she was soon rich and famous. But, for all her wealth and fame, she was no more than a bird in a gilded cage. Between rehearsals, performances and meetings, she had no time to herself. She didn’t even have time to visit her mother and sister in the village!
Then Neela met Ranjan (Chandrashekhar) and the two fell in love. They decided to elope, but at the last moment Ranjan was doubtful of their future because she was so much richer than him. Neela promised to transfer all her property to him, and Ranjan promptly brought out a transfer deed for her to sign! But when the
naive trusting Neela sat down to sign it, Ranjan’s conscience smote him. He revealed that he had been paid to romance her and get her to sign away all her property. An enraged Neela asked him at gun-point (how did she even have a gun handy?) to reveal the name of the man behind this conspiracy. Just as Ranjan was about to reveal THE NAME, the lights in the room went out, startling Neela into shooting. When she worked her way to Ranjan and light, she realised that she had succeeded in killing him!
To a lawyer of Rajesh’s calibre, Neela’s story points to only one conclusion – her inescapable guilt. (How come filmi characters NEVER watch any movies? I would’ve concluded the exact opposite!) About to give her up to the police, Rajesh realises that he loves Neela too much to send her to certain death. So the two run away together to sing a rainy duet. A chance encounter with the police, however, shows Rajesh that they can never be happy running away from “the long arm of the law”. So he turns around and gives Neela up to the police!
Once Neela is safely behind bars, Rajesh devotes all his energies towards proving her innocence. Will he succeed? Will Neela ever be able to run her hands through his puff? Will Rajesh ever forgive Neela for seeing his puff-less head? Will Dev Anand walk away with the “Perry Mason of the Year” award? The answer to some of these questions is yes.
The mystery is rather contrived and the red-herrings aren’t quite red enough, or fishy enough, to convince me. Plus, the plot makes a heroic effort to be convoluted but ends up with the most obvious suspect as the culprit – not exactly great mystery writing at work! But the film’s worst crime is its hero. Rajesh plays around with poor Neela’s emotions so much that he comes over more as a manipulative emotional blackmailer than an anxious lover. It not only diminishes Rajesh, it also ruins Neela who just comes off as a two-dimensional puppet, in consequence.
On the plus side, there are Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman who look gorgeous, and engage my attention in spite of their ham-heavy performances. More on the plus side is the beautiful music by S.D. Burman. My favorite is Hemant’s version of Na tum humen jaano but the other songs were also very pleasant. Its not the best film ever, but it does help pass the time very pleasantly and wasn’t a bad way to spend my rainy Friday evening.