Kala Pani

Director: Raj Khosla
Year:  1958
Rating: 6.0

Translation - Black Water

Bollywood in Glorious Black and White.

This was the fourth film in a row including his debut that director Raj Khosla combined with actor Dev Anand. There was to be one more after this. It was a successful and beneficial collaboration for both. Anand had pushed Khosla into directing and then gave him his name for his first few films - and C.I.D. and this film were enormous hits giving Anand superstar status that he was to hold on to for a number of years. Dev Anand was pretty cool back then - not Shammi cool - but lean and handsome with his hair coifed back to give him a modern look and a flirtatious grin always at the ready but able to do that searing romantic gaze that could burn a woman's retina as well. His later films Jewel Thief and Guide are considered two of the best films ever out of Bollywood.

It is really Anand and his two female co-stars that make the film worth watching. The plot is a bit creaky - at least now - and doesn't make that much sense if you step back. But Anand is terrific as a man intent on freeing his father and Madhubala could charm a cobra out of a tree and Nalini Jaywant who I came across for the first time sizzles with sexual desire and promiscuity. The music from the great S.D. Burman isn't bad either as Jaywant gets a few excellent numbers and Madhubala gets two cute numbers.

The beginning leaves you askance - a mother (Mumtaz Begum) is horrified that her son Karan (Anand) has found out that his father has been in prison for murder for the past fifteen years while Karan had been told he was dead. Anand is easily in his middle 30's so you have to wonder what he was doing fifteen years ago not to notice that there was no funeral for dear dad. Anyway - a small dent in a Bollywood film - but then he rushes to a train to take him to Hyderabad where his father is in jail. I mean right away. He leaves his house without any luggage or much money - a man on a mission. He meets his father and  is persuaded that he is innocent. The woman he supposedly murdered was the most famous courtesan in the city.

He meets Asha (Madhubala) in one of those classic movie moments - he is trying to get her attention with her back turned to him for a few minutes - finally she turns - the Madhubala face with the clef chin and teasing eyes and he is hooked as is the audience. He begins to dig up witnesses and one of the major ones is Kishori (Nalini) who is now the top courtesan on the Top Ten list. Mind you, a courtesan in this setting is not a prostitute per se - men come to her abode that is beautifully decorated with servants and she dances and sings for them - flirts - is good company and I suppose if a meeting of the minds can be arranged she goes further. Anand needs to get evidence she has that his father is innocent and turns on the charm and she falls for it - meanwhile he is doing the same with Asha but means it with her. A few twists that you should see coming a mile away but the film rests entirely on the actors and the music. The scenes between Anand and Madhubala are very playful and charming and you sort of wish the film had focused on that rather than the free father angle.