Continuing the tradition for mystery thrillers and whodunit genre after ‘Bees Saal Baad’ there were a spate of such films; all quite well made and having some story and substance too like, ‘Gumnaam’, ‘Teesri Manzil’ etc. with a notable film Woh Kaun Thi?
Woh Kaun Thi was one of them shot in black and white which added to the mystery, macabre and eerie settings specially the scenes shot in the rain. It turned out to be a timeless classic flaunting the haunting beauty of its leading lady Sadhana and suaveness of Manoj Kumar. It was part of the mystery trilogy directed by Raj Khosla namely, Who Kaun Thi, Mera Saaya and Anita all within a span of three years and starring Sadhana in the main lead.
At the same time Bollywood was also having an affair with double role movies. Woh Kaun Thi was loosely adapted from the English novel by Wilkie Collins ‘The Woman in White’ on which Guru Dutt too was making a movie by the name of Raaz with himself and Waheeda in lead but his film got stalled halfway.
Raj Khosla was a versatile director with experience in various genre and many a gems to his credit including CID (1956), Do Raaste (1969) and Mera Gaon Mera Desh (1971) the precursor to Sholay.
Beginning his filmy career as an assistant to the genius Guru Dutt, Raj Khosla reworked the script of Raaz with the help of Dhruva Chatterjee. Khosla has never been celebrated enough despite giving us such great films. The movie was a hit and remade in many languages and none less than Jayalalitha starred in the Telugu and Tamil versions. Woh Kaun Thi was released on 7th February 1964.
The movie starts on a spooky note on a rainy night when the good Dr. Anand (Manoj Kumar) who is travelling in his Austin offers lift to a woman standing right in the middle of a deserted road and the wiper stop working as the woman gets in and despite the non-visibility she is able to guide him to her destination which is a cemetery and also proclaims that she loves blood. The cemetery gates open automatically and she disappears to the tune of ‘Naina Barse’ leaving an aghast doc behind.
Doc is actually an heir to a large wealth with strings attached that he should be in absolutely sound condition mentally at the time of the inheritance as there have been cuckoo cases in the family. Entangled in the love triangle with Dr.Lata his colleague and daughter of Dr. Singh (K.N. Singh) the head of the Hospital where they both work but has his attention which is reserved for Seema (Helen) his girlfriend which does not go down well with Dr Lata and her father (who in his inimitable K.N. Singh style gives that eerie expression with the facial tic and beading one eye).
Things start spiraling out of control when Seema is murdered by a cyanide injection and Lata and Dr. Singh are the prime suspects. Dr. Anand is sad and heart-broken with Seema’s death and during that time again on a stormy night he receives a call to see a patient in a dilapidated mansion and to add to the spook he finds the same girl to whom he had given the lift in his car on that rainy night, lying motionless in bed and her mother proclaiming she is already dead. As he comes out of the mansion he is told by the police that the mansion is haunted and that many doctors had reported the same earlier too, things start getting more and more weird when a newspaper cutting announces the death of the same girl in a railway accident and to his absolute consternation he finds out his newly wedded bride Sandhya (Sadhana) is the same girl, she paints the same mansion and also sings the same song, gives mysterious smiles and sly looks that he starts avoiding her.
Now he starts seeing things like and empty boat sailing and hearing the same song and then one night the girl actually come to his hospital pretending to be Sandhya, the whole incidents of their first meet are repeated when he goes to drop her in the mansion and she disappears in the room where he had seen her dead. When he returns home Sandhya is waiting for him and his mother is her alibi as to her not having gone out. As things unfold he starts going cuckoo. Then the climax where the whole mystery is revealed and the involvement of his cousin Dr.Ramesh (Prem Chopra) and Sandhya’s twin sister are in the whole enigmatic affair explained.
Madan Mohan’s music was par excellence and the greatest asset of this film is the haunting song with the spooky and brilliant ‘Naina barse’ lyrics which plays throughout the movie in parts and of course ‘Lag jaa gale’ and ‘Jo humne dastan apni sunayi’.
A remake of this movie was planned in as late as 2018 with Shahid Kapoor in mind and the rights were acquired by KriArj productions which would include the two songs ‘Naina barse, and ‘lagja gale’. The suspence matter in the movie has been built by using old mansions replete with cobwebs, automatically opening doors, rainy nights, fog, the creaking doors etc– the usual ingredients in any mystery/horror movie. But all this does keep you bound throughout though there are some improbable things that you still have to digest. Khosla also made a movie Naqab in 1989 with Rishi Kapoor and Farah which was a story much closer to the novel ‘The Woman in White’. A Marathi tele serial ‘Shwetambara’ too was made on the same theme.
– Revisited by PAWAN GUPTA