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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kali Ghata (1980) – Masala-Thriller

Kali Ghata Poster A murder mystery + a couple of good songs + Shashi Kapoor + Rekha x2 = great fun! I can wax eloquent about all the pretty in the movie or rant about the Shemaroo people who take to scissors a lot more efficiently than the Indian Censor Board, but will desist and tell you about the movie instead!
The opening sequence - a cold-blooded murder – sets the tone for the rest of the film. A man is shot dead in a hotel room by an unseen assailant. We learn later that he is Seth Satpal Singh, whose look-alike daughters Rekha (Rekha) and Rashmi (also Rekha) are also in deadly danger.

Cut to the look-alike sisters on horseback in the misty mountains of Simla. They arent twins - Rekha is older than Rashmi - but have inherited the same good looks. Anyhow, they look so alike on horseback that you are astounded when Kishore (Danny) easily distinguishes between Rekha and his love-interest, Rashmi! Here, judge for yourself.
On one of her rides, Rekha is saved from plunging horse-first into deep waters, by a stranger – the Man In The Mist. The stranger (Shashi Kapoor) insists on clicking a picture of the lady on the horse, claiming that she came between him and his view and must pay for it. Having refused to divulge his name and business, he disappears from Rekha’s life and thoughts!
Rekha doesnt approve of Rashmi’s growing friendship with Kishore who happens to be their business manager Deewan’s (A K Hangal) son. Rashmi however, laughs off her disapproval and Kishore’s concerns about it. When Rekha arranges to send Rashmi off to art-school in Paris, Kishore is furious and assures Rashmi that he will not let anybody come between them. You sense a potential murderer…
Rashmi goes off to Paris happily, and for a while we are left with only one Rekha onscreen. But this is compensated by the re-appearance of the mysterious “Man in The Mist” aka Prem who turns out to be a mechanic extraordinaire. He magically repairs Rekha’s car when it breaks down near the jungle and she is smitten! There are tuneful assignations in the mist, while Rekha gets more and more mesmerised by the mysterious Prem.
To everybody’s evident distress, Rekha rushes into an engagement with Prem. Kishore is concerned about this unseemly haste to get hitched, but is relieved to find that Rekha has assigned all her property to Rashmi. Prem is deeply concerned by Rekha’s renunciation, but the engagement carries on.
At the engagement party Prem behaves suspiciously by disappearing just when Rekha’s police officer friend – Vikas - shows up. Kishore shows his disapproval by glowering at the happy couple. Only Rekha’s friend Pinki (Aruna Irani) seems happy to see her betrothed to such a “chikna maal” (smooth property - her words, not mine!). She even performs a sinuous snake dance which doesnt quite come up to our usually high standards!
The night after the engagement turns out stormy. Undaunted, Rekha and Prem spend some quality cuddle-time in a houseboat anchored in their private lake. Rekha wakes up in the middle of the night to find Prem missing and goes looking for him. She glimpses his shadow just as he pushes her into the turbulent lake!
O Nooooo! She cant die!!! Your cries dont go unheeded (at least mine didnt) – and a while later she wakes up in a cottage on the other side of the lake, with her eye make-up intact. She has but one question – why did Prem do this to her? She rushes to tell Pinki that reports of her death are greatly exaggerated. From Pinki she learns that Rashmi is on her way home for her (Rekha’s) funeral!
The two sisters meet at Pinki’s home and discuss strategy. The upshot is that Rekha, pretending to be Rashmi, returns home to investigate her own murder!
Back home “Rashmi” is happy to find her home chock-a-block with Rekha’s potential murderers. So, Prem has plenty of company. Who are the other suspects? Kishore who’d like to marry Rashmi and her millions, the sinister looking housekeeper (Lalita Pawar), the new and shady looking estate manager, or any one of Rekha’s numerous staff! If that isnt enough to mystify the poor girl, she also finds it hard to believe in Prem’s guilt inspite of the evidence against him. Prem however, does his best to keep her suspicions alive by making love to “Rashmi”!
The plot thickens and the atmosphere gets foggier than the mountain mists that Rekha-Rashmi seems to live in. Why was Rekha murdered and why is Rashmi also in danger, now? Why does Prem wander around at night, and on foggy days? And most importantly, how does he maintain his curls in the mist? If you watch the second half of Kali Ghata (Dark Clouds) you’ll find the answers to the most pressing of these questions.
The story is well-paced and interesting. It keeps you mystified till the end when the murderer is unmasked. There are plot holes and discontinuities. But for that I blame Shemaroo’s editing, which ensured that there were frames missing from most scenes and in some cases big chunks of action, as well.
Apart from its interesting plot and high beauty constant (need I even mention something so obvious?), the film has some nice music to its credit as well, courtesy Lakshmikant-Pyarelal. My favorites are: Rafi’s haunting Kali ghata chhaayi which perfectly complements the song’s foggy visuals, and Asha Bhosle’s chirpy cabaret number Dhoka! Nainon ki khidki (you can check out the soundtrack here).
It is a well rounded, interesting thriller and certainly worth watching.
PS: In case any of you do come across a copy that is untainted by Shemaroo, do let me know of any plot holes, or lack thereof!


  1. Oh I want to see this, but not from Shemaroo. My boycott on them continues! Shemaroo SUCKS. I will see if I can find another version...

    LOL @ "chikna maal" describes Shashi so perfectly! :-)

    Sounds absolutely fabulous.

  2. I am starting a petition to compel Bollywood taporis to use "smooth property" from now on in the spirit of globalization ;)

  3. Wow, how come I have never seen this movie? I love thrillers!!! Thanks for reviewing it. Looks like something I would enjoy.

  4. Memsaab, I remembered your strictures on Shemaroo after the movie started acting up on me! Am all for boycotting them myself.

    And yes, chikna maal sounds so apt here! The only other hero I've heard being referred to as such was Aamir in Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke and it was quite appropriate there as well! :-)

    Amey, Welcome to OiG. I think you should take up the cudgels on the taporis' behalf and fight for the inclusion of chikna maal in Oxford English Dictionary!

    Nicki, if you come across a decent print do let me know. I want to find out just how genuinely good (or bad) the movie really was before Shemaroo interefered!

  5. This looks great! And the CLOTHES. Super!

    How does he maintain his curls in such humidity? Such is the magic of Shashi.

  6. "how does he maintain his curls in the mist?"- once again, your comments are so much fun! Of course, rekha seems to have joined Shashi w/ a curling iron as well in some screencaps :) This movie does sound v v interesting- despite the cash crunch, I am going to go look for it for sure :)

  7. Beth, the clothes were fab though there was a quite a bit more of Rekha than I am used to. Guess her yoga didnt kick in till after this movie!

    Shweta, thanks! The comment was pretty heartfelt as my hair never behaves well in humid climates. So I am very envious of his and Rekha's (her curls are mostly wigs, though). ;-)

    Oooo cash crunch - tell me about it! The only consolation is that Bollywood movies are cheaper than Hollywood and even non-Hindi Indian movies.

  8. Bollyviewer,

    I am going through some of your posts trying to catch up on the months of blogging I missed due to school...

    I like Shashi's look in the pictures...very 70s! And Rekha looks good, too. But like you said, the eye candy is obvious. I'll have to find this movie...from someone other than the Shemaroo folks!I don't think I've seen a Bollywood thriller yet...

  9. Hi Nida, great to see you back in blogland!

    Shemaroo - what a waste of a movie! :-( Do you think if we all got up a petition asking them not to cut out valuable chunks from movies, they might stop? They do have tons of good movies in their collection but...

    And you should definitely check out Bollywood thrillers. They arent quite as thrilling as Hollywood's but the songs and eye candy more than makes up! :-D

  10. Very true i also got the shemaroo version; pretty pathetic!!!
    I have the same complaint with EROS and Eagle too;
    My PHAANSI VCD2 flipped half way but by then i guessed there was nothing much to see.
    Shashi looks delicious hmmm....yumm
    esp in that 'kali ghata song'

  11. Thankfully Rekha ditched those wigs in later movies; they looked awfull...

  12. If you're curious about Phaansi, check out Greta's write-up for how it all ends (the spoilers are in the comments).

    Shashi did look yum in this film, I just wish the picture quality were better - clear Shashi is so much better than blurry Shashi! :D

  13. I liked this movie. However the VCD / DVD version as well as the satellite telecast version clearly speaks of nonsense editing.

    The movie is good despite its pitholes and the suspense is well-maintained though no clues have been left for the audience to make a guess as to who can be the culprit.

    Overall a good timepass for suspense-thriller fans.

    Your review is pretty good. Compliments.

    Jitendra Mathur

  14. Thanks, Jitendra! I do wish it was possible to get un-edited prints (un-edited by the DVD manufacturers, that is) of these old films...