Starring Dev Anand, Waheeda Rahman, Johnny Walker, Chandra Shekhar Ullas,Jagdish Sethi, Asit Sen, Sabita Chatterjee

A murder mystery-cum-courtroom drama in which suspense and romance have been cleverly interwoven, backed by some haunting, memorable lyrics by Majrooh Sultanpuri set to vintage music by the inimitable S.D. Burman. This was the era in which telling the story through one or more flashbacks had been a popular cinematic device.

Pranoy Roy's story largely succeeds in keeping the suspense alive until almost the end. The film opens on a rainy night with the shot of a well-lit mansion atop a hillock. A bullet shot is heard. A man with back to the camera is seen hurrying out, collides with a blind beggar, steps into a public telephone booth to inform the police about a murder in the mansion.

And there is a sound echo “Yeh baat ek raat ki”. The narrative shifts to a brief less young lawyer, Rajesh (Dev Anand) cycling along picturesque locales singing in Mohammed Rafi's soulful rendering of “Akela hu mein saathi hai to mera saya”. Later fishing astride a boat he sees a woman jumping into deep waters, saving her from suicide.

Murder suspect

The police arrive and inform him the woman Neela (Waheeda Rahman) was a murder suspect. Neela confesses to the murder of Ranjan (Chandra Shekhar). Neela's mother narrates the story of how a theatre director, Beni Parshad had persuaded her to allow her daughter to go with him. Beni Prasad (Jagdish Sethi) makes Neela into a celebrity stage performer. Rajesh decides to defend her.

As he begins to investigate helped by munshi Chunilal Ishwarlal Dholakia – CID in short (Johnny Walker) he chances upon some startling facts. With help from the police warden and mental hospital doctor he succeeds in getting Neela to reveal her story but in the process of winning her confidence he flips for her.

The romantic sequences continue to keep the viewer engrossed between reality and pretence with the theme song interludes repeated. There's the famous “Na tum humein jano” (Lata is lyrical as always but Hemant Kumar's rendering ill-suited the hero), “Jo Ijaazat ho to ek baat, Sheeshey ka ho ya patthar ka dil” (Lata-Rafi duet) and “Jo hain deewane pyar ke”. It is a delight to watch Waheeda's dances which really achieved the crescendo in “Guide”. There is also that classic Manna Dey “Kisne chilman se mara mujhe” picturised on Johnny Walker.

The climax is in the otherwise prolonged courtroom drama. Dev Anand shows glimpses of his performing abilities seldom on display in most of his films. This was the first time he was playing a lawyer and he mixed flamboyance with controlled acting rather well. Waheeda Rahman demonstrated her acting prowess through eyes, and silence. She was simply divine in the black and white era.

The impact of the unfolding in the courtroom is marred by the presence of Beni Prasad in a get-up is a total give-away, as also the absence of the other prime suspect – the bald theatre owner, Durga Prasad. The absence of this mastermind from the scene, and the presence of the employer had kept the suspense alive. Even his summary trail and unconvincing reasoning for implicating Neela and usurping her wealth, especially when he has been reported dead. Vijendra Gaur's dialogues are also a let down at this stage.

Produced and directed by Shankar Mukherjee under Alankar Chitra banner with editing by D.N. Pai and cinematography by K.K. Kapadia eventually fell below what could have been one of the better thrillers.

Keywords: Baat Ek Raat Ki