Starring Biswajeet, Waheeda Rehman, Madan Puri, Manmohan Krishna, Sajjan, Asit Sen

We often ask how a particular stereotype gathers ground. Why horror films are established with the sound of anklets, a lady sings a haunting number in the wild in the dead of the night, suddenly the hand of the devil surfaces and shriek follows ?.The answer is when all this was tried for the first time, it was a novelty and the audience lapped it up. But over a period of time path-breaking becomes generic. “Bees Saal Baad” remains that benchmark in the horror/thriller genre in Indian cinema.

Though Kamal Amrohi’s “Mahal” also ventured in a similar territory it was a milder version and came more than a decade before director Biren Naug decided to experiment with what was a neglected genre till then. Naug was an acclaimed art director who worked with Guru Dutt in films like “C.I.D”, “Pyaasa” and “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam”.

Produced by music composer Hemant Kumar, it is the tale of Thakur Kumar Vijay Singh (Biswajeet) who has returned from London to claim his ill-fated legacy. He is warned to stay away from the marshes that have killed his ancestors, but Kumar intends to find out, who is behind the killings.

Human to ghoul

The needle of suspicion shifts from human to ghoul. First there is servant Laxman, who always stands with his neck tilted at an acute angle. He tells Kumar the family is cursed because of the crime committed by Kumar’s grandfather. He raped a local girl, who eventually killed herself. Now her spirit is taking the revenge! Then there is Dr. Pandey (Madan Puri), who is going to inherit the property in case Kumar dies. A crippled man (Sajjan), who mysteriously roams in the jungle, adds to the curiosity. Kumar hires a private detective (Asit Sen), who turns out to be a buffoon, which Naug employs for some funny moments.

Meanwhile, Kumar comes across Radha (Waheeda Rehman), the niece of the local doctor, Ramlal (Manmohan Krishan) and both eventually fall in love. Then one night a man is found dead in the forest wearing the suit of Kumar. Now Kumar has to decide whether to give up his quest or give one final try to nab the culprit.

Inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, a taut screenplay by Druva Chatterjee keeps the surprise element going till the climax. Sharp editing by Keshav Nanda and spine chilling sound effects by S.Y. Pathak keep the atmospherics suitably scary. The two went on to win Filmfare awards as “Bees Saal Baad” became the highest box office grosser in 1962.

Hemant Kumar’s music creates the right impact for the theme. “Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil” evocatively rendered by Lata Mangeshkar stays with you even after the credits roll – very haunting, very poignant. Both Lata and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni won the Filmfare award for this peerless song. The zany “Beqarar Karke Humein Yu Na Jaiye” and the naughty “Zara Nazron Se Kehdo Ji” sung by Hemant da himself are easy on the ears and vindicate the effortless charm of the composer-singer, who didn’t get his due.

In this story-driven film, Waheeda Rehman’s charisma is at its best. Her innocent flirtation with Biswajeet, who made his debut with the film, gives the subject the layers it needed. He never made it to the big league in Hindi films, but Biswajeet was an efficient actor, who fits the part of the London-returned dapper.

Interestingly, the copy-paste job was started by Naug himself, who followed it with “Kohraa”, a rehash of Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”, with the same cast. The film didn’t do too well, but didn’t deter the Ramsays to have a blast bees saal baad.