Starring Meena Kumari, Raaj Kumar, Nadira, Shammi, Helen, Om Prakash, Tun Tun

Produced by Kamal Amrohi under the banner of Mahal Movies, it was an intense Meena Kumari show all the way, and probably the most compelling of actor-writer-director Kishore Sahu’s 22 directorial ventures in which appropriate dramatic music plays an important part in elevating what could otherwise have been a meandering melodrama of sacrifice, suspicion and suspension of disbelief.

Add to it Shailendra-Hasrat Jaipuri’s compelling lyrics set to soulful compositions by Shankar Jaikishen: “Ajeeb dastan hai yeh”, “Mera dil ab tera oh sajana” (dream sequence), “Dil apna aur preet parai”; “Sheesha-e-dil itna na uchhalo”, “Andaz mera mastana”, “Jane kahan gayee” and “Itni badi mehfil”. Shankar Jaikishen won the Filmfare best music director award for the films. Brilliant black and white photography by Joseph Wirsching, making dramatic use of light and shade effect, especially in both indoor and outdoor sequences, stands out. Kantilal Shukla’s taut editing coupled with engrossing choreography by the threesome of Master Sohan Lal, Satyanarayan, Surya Kumar makes the film watchable fare.

Karuna (Meena Kumari) joins Malhotra Hospital that opens on a waterfront as a nurse, where Sushil (Raj Kumar) is the resident surgeon. Cupid strikes at the very first meeting in the operation theatre. After a song on the beach with other nurses, Karuna runs into an injured young girl and reaches her home, realising she is the surgeon’s sister. On learning her story, the mother invites her to visit the household. Her proximity at home and at the hospital adds fuel to fire, turning into spelt out love. On the other front, her dedication to her duty and care towards patients in the ward, especially Girdhari (Om Prakash), and another wayward patient, Nathu, makes her win everyone’s heart.

Unaware of the vibrations between Karuna and Sushil, the mother persuades him to visit Kashmir, and tricks him into marrying their benefactor’s daughter, Kusum (Nadira) who not only resents the nurse’s proximity to her husband, but also ill-treats mother and sister-in-law. On a day when he has to perform an emergency surgery, she whisks him away to a restaurant for a meal. The patient dies, resulting in Sushil reprimanding Kusum who, in retaliation, returns to Kashmir only to return on hearing news of the husband’s sickness. She slaps Karuna who’s affectionately tending to the doctor. Karuna finds a job in another city hospital to avoid possible scandal. But Kusum seeks her out, and drives away madly, leading to the car falling down the cliff into water. The doctor, who has been following them, manages to save his ladylove from drowning.

Woven into the main story is a simple sub-plot involving three patients, led by Girdhari (Om Prakash) and Haseena (Tun Tun), wife of one of the other patients inside the hospital ward, that rather than distracting, serves substantially to carry the narrative further. Shammi as the sympathetic friend of Karuna also puts in a competent performance; Protima Devi as Sushil’s mother, and Baby Naaz as Munni are passable. So also is the standard song-and-dance number picturised on Helen and others in a restaurant.

The surprise package is the generally undermined Nadira (Kusum) as Sushil’s arrogant, jealous wife who turns in a brilliant performance.

Raaj Kumar fails to rise above his level of competence; even his mannered dialogue delivery is conspicuous by its absence. In any case he has fewer dialogues to deliver than a lead actor normally gets. Kishore Sahu uses music rather than heavy over-the-top words.

Since lyrics and music played an important role in the narrative in cinema from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s, two songs, “Jane kaha gayee” and “Itni badi mehfil” though appearing appropriate to the situation, could have been done away with as they do break the intense rhythm of the narrative.