Movies and posts on this blog

Monday, December 13, 2010

Kala Bazar (1960) - white-hearted people in a black market...

This is a film that I see once every few years. In between watches, I do remember that it’s a great film and I love it, but on re-watch, I’m always surprised at how good it actually is! It has so much goodness going on (Dev+Waheeda = yummy!) that I tend to forget some of it’s not-to-be-missed scenes – like the premiere of Mother India and how relevant it is to the plot.

Raghu/Raghuvir (Dev Anand) is a poor bus conductor with an ailing mother (Leela Chitnis – who else?!) and two siblings (Nanda and unknown child actor). When he loses his job, hunger and destitution stare him in the face. In his desperate search for a means to earn money, he passes by a cinema theatre where he encounters Kalu (Rashid Khan) selling movie tickets in black. This sparks off an idea. He will buy movie tickets in advance from the theatre and sell them to the public at a much higher price just before the show!
He finances his new venture by robbing a stranger (Chetan Anand) of Rs. 5000. With the capital secured, Raghu goes around recruiting people for his new enterprise. He soon has Kalu, Jaggu (Jagdish Raj) and several others on team Raghu. They buy up a lot of tickets of Mother India’s premiere show at Liberty. There follows a lovely integration of fact and fiction – as the stars start arriving at the theatre (yes we see a lot of them!) the demand for Raghu’s tickets goes on increasing. By the time Nargis arrives (with her brother Anwar Hussain), he is auctioning his tickets to the highest bidder! In one stroke, he’s converted his five grand to twenty grand. After this, there is no looking back for Raghu. He takes over the black marketing of cinema tickets for every theatre in Bombay. His only serious competitor is Ganesh (Madan Puri) whom he cleverly outwits and then strong-arms into becoming his associate.
From a poor, unemployed man, Raghu is now a rich entrepreneur. And he might have gone on raking in the cash had it not been for one chance encounter. He sees the dazzlingly beautiful Alka (Waheeda Rehman) tearing up cinema tickets that her boyfriend Nand (Vijay Anand) had bought in black. Naturally this makes a deep impact on Raghu. When she reads Nand a strong lecture against dealing with black marketeers, we can perceive that the dent she made in Raghu’s heart has become a permanent crater. Raghu seems to think so too, because he follows her home to find out who she is. He soon shifts to a flat close to her home and makes it his business to eavesdrop on Alka and Nand whenever possible.
From his eavesdropping/stalking activities, Raghu gathers a lot of useful information. He finds that Alka and Nand are college classmates, and love each other in an easy, affectionate way. They love talking about books (my kind of people!) and their book chats prompt Raghu to begin reading as well. After months of following them around (how do they not notice the bepuffed stalker?), Raghu finally sees a ray of hope for his own chances with Alka. Nand is going abroad for a couple of years and the young lovers have sensibly decided to let the separation be a test of their attachment. Raghu is convinced that Nand will not return to India, and starts planning to woo Alka.
After Nand’s departure, Alka’s parents take her to Ooty to cheer her up. Raghu follows them, managing to snag a berth in their train compartment. Operation woo Alka is soon underway. After surreptitiously serenading her with Apni to har aah ek toofan hai, he gets in solid with her Pa (who is this actor?) by curing the latter’s backache. Having secured a friendly foothold with her family, Raghu begins to shower attention on Alka. She is affronted at first. Then, as she grows to know and like him, she is amused and flattered. Yet she is steadfast in her vows to Nand and resists the temptation to succumb to Raghu (and she is sorely tempted). With great resolve, she tells him that she loves another, and that he must go away.
A sad Raghu returns home to find that his ailing mother is now very close to death. Fearing that he is being punished for his sinful profession, he decides to reform. His first task is to return the Rs. 5000 he stole from the stranger (Chetan Anand) all those years ago. Then, he persuades his gang members to give honest labour a try.  After one day of back-breaking work for meagre returns, most of them vote to resume black marketing. But with determination and perseverance, nothing is impossible - and Raghu is determined to reform himself and all his associates. He mixes in some martyrdom with a little bit of Gandhi-giri and soon has most of his misguided associates firmly on the straight and narrow. Together they open their Safed Bazaar (White Market) – the world’s first filmi fair-trade marketplace.
With his black marketing days behind him, Raghu is a changed man. He trades in his fancy suits for simple kurta-pyjamas, his conscience is clear, his Maa’s health is improving, but he still hankers after Alka. And then, on a rainy day in Bombay, he runs into her. After two long years, suddenly Raghu has cause for happiness! He can see his Alka often, and realises that she is more in love with him than with her absent boy friend. But she still insists on waiting for her Nand. Just when he convinces her to break it off with the vilaayati boyfriend, the latter turns up to ruin all his well-laid plans. And that isn’t all. Raghu must still pay for his crimes. Lest you worry about poor Raghu, let me assure you that he lives a long, happy and honest life – nobody with such a monsoon-resistant puff can be defeated by anything as trivial as life’s trials and tribulations. And naturally, fortune favours those who favour their puffs.
The most remarkable thing about the film (apart from it’s great plot and lovely songs) is the heroine. She says things like like “I am not a Sati-Savitri that I’ll keep on forgiving” and she isn’t punished for being an evil, Westernised woman! What’s more, she is allowed to fall for two men, and decide between them. *gasp* and double *gasp*! And that isn’t all – the only time our hero is in deadly peril, she gets to rescue him!!! If I did not already love this film to bits, this alone would make me fall for it. But the film has a lot more going for it than just that. Raghu’s rags-to-riches and riches-to-rags story is depicted intelligently and with a lot of empathy. He himself is a very well-drawn character – intelligent, compassionate and one who never fails to learn any of life’s lessons. And Dev Anand plays it with great charm and a light touch that makes him such a delight to watch in his better days. The only time director Vijay Anand lets Dev Saab get out of hand is with his "physical emoting" in the songs – but we will not talk about it. What is a muscular degenerative disease or two when you can admire him the rest of the time?
For all it’s goodness, I must admit that the last 15 minutes of the film could have been much better done. Vijay Anand’s writing makes it’s point subtly, for the most part, but in the climax it trades in that subtlety for a battering ram. And the melodrama is not even particularly well-done. While the brothers Anand shine in lighter moments, none of them seems to be able to carry off melodrama. Chetan Anand makes a valiant effort to imbue lawyer Desai’s last plea for clemency with passionate feeling, but sounds more like an actor reluctantly mouthing poor dialogues! And in the final scenes, Dev Anand looks like he is in full dress rehearsal for Guide! But if there ever was a film that can be easily forgiven for a badly done climax, this is it. I won’t be waiting for another few years before I re-watch it – Waheeda Rehman and Dev Anand will call me to it a lot sooner, I’m sure!

PS: This is the only time I’ve ever seen Geeta Dutt on screen!


  1. I haven't seen Kala Bazaar ever since I first saw it, probably about 25 years back. (Yikes! That makes me feel really old!) About the only thing I remember about it is the fabulous songs - so, so good. I must get hold of the film and see it again, it sounds so good.

  2. That's probably when I saw it first, too. (We're not 'old', just more grown up than youngsters! ;D) The songs are absolutely gorgeous. Every time I thought that I'd found my favorite song in the film, up came another one even better than the last... You really should re-watch it - it's so much more than just a dashing Dev drool fest!

  3. Bollyviewer, I am glad that you finally wrote up this film, which you told me was one of your favorites in blog comments close to two and a half years ago:

    I need to see Kala Bazar again, because that was relatively early in my own obsession with classic Bollywood films, and I've seen so many in between! (Plus, when I watched this movie - just once - it was over YouTube, no less. :) )

    And as you might guess ;), I wasn't all that bothered by the courtroom melodrama, plus I love it when a film that aims to be popular entertainment also succeeds at sending out some significant and highly ethical social messages (whether Gandhi-ish or drawing upon other influences) - it's so unlike much fare of recent times.

  4. Richard, I've no objection to social messages, but I hate it when I'm left feeling like I've just attended a moral science class! The courtroom speeches seemed a bit like that and struck me particularly because the rest of the film delivered it's social message very subtly.

    "I am glad that you finally wrote up this film, which you told me was one of your favorites in blog comments close to two and a half years ago"

    Your memory is phenomenal! Are you an elephant in an alternate universe? ;D

  5. Hmm, maybe I am an elephant in an alternate universe, or maybe I'm just wearing an elephant's head...

    Actually, my memory was not all that precise... I got that memory refreshed/confirmed a bit by looking for my old post with my own blog's search engine, which enabled me to pinpoint the exact date. But maybe you've already guessed that. :)

    Meanwhile, if you go to my blog tonight/this morning, you'll see that my memory's not perfect, since I had no recollection of the two-year-old Memsaab post that you were talking about. (I guess all of us bloggers have memories that are selectively phenomenal at times.)

  6. One of my fav Dev films!
    melodious songs, beautiful people (no not gays), scenice locales AND Hindi film luminaries!
    Was ROTFL through out the reading!
    U R great!
    "She says things like like “I am not a Sati-Savitri that I’ll keep on forgiving” and she isn’t punished for being an evil"

    As we always have said, the 50s are so much liberal than the 80s and 90s!


  7. Rewatching "Kala Bazar" every few years is the kind of tradition I can get behind!

    Although I've seen DA referred to as HHU [Hilta Hua Uncle :-)] by some, I have a soft spot for b&w era Dev Anand. He was fun to watch and his movies have generally aged better than RK's or DK's, IMO.

    PS. I assume you know the story behind "rimjhim ke taraane leke aayi barsat"?

  8. Whee! My fav songs this movie has, cant remember if I have seen this on Doordarshan (= in childhood) but i shud find some time to discover magic of B/W. Have dvds packed in cupboard :-( and dev saab and waheeda ji= aahaha..

  9. Richard, we do all seem to have selective phenomenal memories. I usually remember which film a song is from, and Tum mard nikaloge ghunghat jab raaz humara aayega was certainly unusual enough to be unforgettable.

    harvey, the Hindi film luminaries took me completely by surprise. I'm still not sure how I forgot that part of the film!

    And you may ROTFL, but I am still reeling from the Sati-Savitri quote. HOW did Waheeda Rehman get away with disrespecting Bollywood's reigning Goddess?!

    As to more liberal 50s and 60s - this was the same Waheeda Rehman who proudly declared (in Chaudhvin Ka Chand) that she was her husband's chattel, the same year as this came out! Methinks the 50s and 60s were a better mixture of progressive and horrendously regressive than the 80s and 90s. I like to think that Bollywood's regressive 80s and 90s was a reaction against a more liberal time in real-life India.

    Shalini, your friends seem to come up with the coolest phrases! Can we amend HHU to HHHU - Hilta Hua Handsome Uncle (at least in the B/W era)? And you're so right about DA's films having aged better - probably because a lot of them avoid "messages" that feel quite outdated now.

    And no, I do not know any story behind Rim jhim ke taraane. Do tell... I was a bit surprised to note that Geeta Dutt was singing the song. My understanding was that by then she had stopped singing for Waheeda Rehman!

    Darshit, RUN (not walk) to your cupboard and put this into your DVD player! :)

  10. No, I wasn't ROTFL at the Sati-Savitri quote! I was just grinning at that point! ;-)

    "Methinks the 50s and 60s were a better mixture of progressive and horrendously regressive..."

    You are so right. And I meant it that way, but you just put it so much more right in words than I can ever do! ;-)

    BTW is Waheeda really lip-syncing to Rhim-jhim ke taraane, I remember it as a background song. I know that is hair-splitting, but ...! Maybe that is the reason Geeta sang it and that she was afraid to be side-lined by Asha, if she didn't grab offers from SDB.
    Can you imagine SDB going to Geeta with the song and she puts the condition 'mein yeh gaana sirf tabi gaaungi jab :-; :-D!

    How about HHHDU?
    not 'High Highest Hyper Hefinition user' but 'Hilta Hua Handsome Dev Uncle'!
    Here comes the HHHDU-Man!

  11. Thanks, Harvey! :D

    You're right about Waheeda Rehman not lip-syncing to that song, but for all practical purposes, Geeta Dutt is singing for her. Hopefully Shalini will tell us how that came about!

  12. Actually Harvey's speculation regarding how Geeta came to sing "rimjhim ke taraane" is not far from reality.

    Geeta had indeed stopped singing for Waheeda (that's the reason "badle badle mere sarkar" from Chaudvin Ka Chand is by Lata. Geeta was the original choice but she backed out at the last minute), but sly old master SDB persuaded her to sing the Kala Bazar song by telling her that it would play in the background so technically she wouldn't be singing "for" Waheeda.

  13. Bollyviewer, this sounds delightful. I'll watch anything with Waheeda in it, even if she's declaring that she's her husband's chattel (how is it that I didn't remember that line from Chauvin Ka Chand?). But it's even better when you don't have to make so many allowances for the screenwriters' regressive attitudes.

    By the way, your captions are hilarious mini-commentaries--brilliant!

  14. Shalini, that is interesting! So, Geeta Dutt was prepared to sing for Waheeda Rehman as long the latter did not lip-sync to it?! Did SDB persuade her after she'd downed a few pegs? ;D Whatever the reason, I'm glad she sang that song - it wouldn't have been the same with another singer.

    Pessimisissimo, Waheeda Rehman gets only one dramatic scene in Chaudhvin Ka Chand and that's when she is defending her husband's right to abuse her to her own concerned family! She actually claims to be her husband's slave which is almost the same as "chattel"! This one is SO MUCH BETTER than CKC and Waheeda Rehman is not reduced to a thing of beauty for her menfolk, either.

  15. Hi All, I see very lose comments being made about Geeta Dutt ji, especially in regards to the song "Rimjhim ke tarane". Geeta ji was a much senior and respected singer at that time. She was supposed to sing *all* the songs in the film. Due to personal reasons, she decided not to sing for Waheeda. It was Vijay Anand who persuaded her to sing the song and have it in the background. She also sang a very beautiful song "Na main dhan chahoon" for the same film with Sudha Malhotra ji.

  16. By the way, please do visit our website dedicated to legendary singer Geeta Dutt ji. Thanks in advance.

  17. Parag, nobody denies that Geeta Dutt was a senior and very popular singer back then (she is still quite famous, I think). We're merely speculating (in a lighter vein) about what her 'personal reasons' were/weren't for singing Rimjhim ke tarane leke aayi barsat. And we only did that because we all love her singing and are interested in her!

    I have been to your site several times already. It's an excellent resource for all things Geeta Dutt!

  18. Strange, I left a comment here yesterday, and it's not showing up. Anyway, spent last evening watching the film, after your excellent review and funny screencaps. I know now why you watch it every few years. It's lovely. Except for the end where Dev Anand does that 'Raju Guide' thing. :) And Chetan Anand hams it up in the courtroom.

  19. Wow, I really have to watch all those great old movies! The only one I've seen until now is Mughal-E-Azam (and don't kill me now :)).
    I love your layout, by the way!

  20. Banno, that is strange! Blogger tends to play up sometimes. Do let me know if you have the same problem again.

    I wonder if Dev Anand already knew that he was going to do 'Raju the Guide' back then, or this was just his Jesus-Christ-on-the-cross pose that he re-utilised for Guide! :D

    Lime(tte), thanks! And yes, I do strongly recommend watching older films!! ;D

  21. hi, excellent review. I must have seen this film a couple of dozen times myself and can understand what the reviewer means, when she says that the film beckons to you, every now and then. My father says that the "khoya khoya chand" was the youth's clarion call for freedom and romance in the sixties.

    Incidentally the only time I have seen the great Goldie, foul up on continuity is in this film. While he plays the boyfriend "Nand" in the film, during the premiere of "Mother India" he is also seen escorting Dilip Kumar. I wonder how he missed that during the editing !

    This film also has perhaps the only song, "saanjh dhali", that Manna Dey sang for Dev in his career !

    Great Blog, keep it up

  22. Thanks Chandru!

    How did I miss Goldie escorting Dilip Kumar?! Guess I was amused to see all the women going crazy when Yusuf Sahib appeared - no other actor got that welcome.

  23. One OF BEST Performances of Dev Anand.

    I loved this movie.
    Songs are too good. but dev anand;s performance is superb.

  24. I love the songs in this movie, and Waheeda's performance, but hate the way Dev Anand's rampant egotistical selfworship turns this into another "I really AM a Dev" sermonfest. I guess Kala Baazaar was a warm up for the total demolition job he would pull on Guide a few years later. The stench of smug selfrighteous superiority he exudes is just too much for me, and I blame his brother for being ready to allow Dev to turn all his films into ego trips for Dev. The great songs in thi film, and the sublime Waheedaji, deserved much better than Dev "I have a Messiah complex" Anand.

  25. Anonymous, I love Dev Anand, but "superb acting" is not something I associate with him! I thought he did a better job in Bombai Ka Babu, but I certainly liked him in this!

    maxqnz, you clearly are not a Dev Anand fan! I thought his "ego trips" did not come into their own till the 70s. Perhaps you haven't seen those films and do not realise just how bad they could get? Here, I thought his ego was still developing, so he is watchable. Throw in his good looks, and I am pretty much aboard the Dev A train!

  26. "clearly not a Dev Anand fan"? Darn, what gave me away? I don't think I have seen any of his 70s films, and if they're worse than his preachy, sermonising selfrighteous, "My name is Dev and I AM" performamces in films like this one and even more rage-inducingly so in Guide, then, I can safely say I have no plans to so torture myself - I can't afford to replace my TV, and I have to watch his films in short bursts to make sure I don't throw things at the screen. Still plan to rewatch CID though, I have a vague recollection of it not being as awful

  27. maxqnz, I'm used to picking up subtle nuances in Bollywood masala, so nothing passes me by! I can sense a strong anti-Dev A force field coming from your direction. I think a constant application of Dev Saab's lovely films is indicated. Though if you are immune to his manly charms (the sad side-effect of not being a woman!) I suspect that there is no known cure! ;D

  28. "Though if you are immune to his manly charms (the sad side-effect of not being a woman!)"

    Not many of the Golden Oldies guys make me swoon - probably Shashi the closest. Of today's crops, I find Rahul Khanna to be the sexiest, while Kunal Kapoor is ludicrously hot, quite distractingly gorgeous.

  29. maxnqz, you like Shashi? In that case, all is forgiven. :D

    And I am with you on Rahul Khanna and Kunal Kapoor, though I'd say there are several other gorgeous men in Bollywood too, these days!

  30. Oh goodness! I just love this movie, and I love your review too, Bollyviewer. I was laughing throughout, but your line about Dev being in "total dress rehearsal for Guide" just had me. I laughed and laughed till my stomach hurt. I love this film, and the songs are great, but yeah, I totally agree that the climax could've been put to better use. Nevertheless, I still count this film among my favorites (I recently saw Hare Rama Hare Krishna and had the urge to stab Dev throughout...he and his stalking...-.-) and I love the songs. "Khoya Khoya Chand" is my favorite! And the caption about muscular dystrophy...I think you should've won an award or something for best review I've ever seen!

  31. Vinay, thank you so much!

    This film is one of the reasons I love Dev Saab. And to keep that love alive, I never watch any of his films made post-1960s. :D I saw Hare Rama Hare Krishna (and some of his other 70s films) years ago, on DoorDarshan, but have never felt the urge to re-watch. Some childhood memories are best left alone!

  32. What a wonderful review! Thank you for taking the time, especially the links and the pictures! Where did you get these shots from? :-)