Blast from the past — Kohraa (1964)

October 07, 2010 08:20 pm | Updated 08:20 pm IST

A still from the film "Kohraa."  Photo: Special Arrangement

A still from the film "Kohraa." Photo: Special Arrangement

Starring: Biswajeet, Waheeda Rehman, Lalita Pawar, Tarun Bose, Asit Sen, Badri Prasad

Suspense films in India have been few and far between, with most hopelessly absurd and without any degree of tension to keep you engrossed. In fact, many films are just grotesque and you feel the majority of directors are even ignorant of the distinction between suspense and horror. What galls is that several of these so-called suspense films neither arouse fear nor give any goose bumps and, instead, repel viewers with their tepid content.

But amongst the few that could be recommended, despite their inherent defects and weaknesses, are films like “Woh Kaun Thi”, “Mera Saaya” “Bees Saal Baad” and “Kohraa” — the last two produced by Hemant Kumar who was better known for his silken music and nasal yet evocative singing. Obviously, “Kohraa” had a superlative musical score by the maestro that added a touch of eeriness to the film, but it didn't add an extra dimension to the texture of the overall story. Unlike “Woh Kaun Thi” or “Mera Saaya”, the music of “Kohraa” stands apart, though Lata's magnetic “Jhoom Jhoom Dhalti Raat” does make you shiver in darkness. Lata is also a joyous sunbeam with “Beqaraar Dil”, while none can forget Hemant's gentle “Ye Nayan Darey Darey” that showers romance with every caressing note but unfortunately, while they sound good, they don't carry the story forward.

However, this is not to belittle the wonderful direction by Biren Nag who made an ordinary script hold attention for over two-and-a-half hours. Since Nag had contributed enormously as an art director to mega winners like “Chaudhvin Ka Chand”, “Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam”, “CID” and “Tere Ghar Ke Samne”, it isn't surprising to see him present Waheeda Rehman as winsomely as Guru Dutt did in “Pyaasa” and “Chaudhvin ka Chand”. While Lalita Pawar is impeccably doused in mystery, Nag also made the normally staid Biswajeet give one of his best performances under his baton.

Kohraa means mist, and the story is just as hazy, vague and clueless about its progression as its title. After widower Raja Amit Singh (Biswajeet) marries a village orphan Rajeshwari (Waheeda Rehman) and brings her to his palatial residence, she is witness to some weird experiences whenever her husband is away on tour. With shadows lurking in every corner and windows opening up on their own, Rajeshwari learns that Amit had killed his first wife on account of her betrayal and the spirits are out to avenge her killing! After several inconsequential episodes, just when a court is about to punish Amit for his crime, his elderly maidservant Dai Ma (Lalita Pawar) reveals how she had murdered the former landlady on account of her infidelity. Yet there are no explanations given for the crazy experiences undergone by the second lady of the mansion!

Though the story is excruciatingly slow and meandering in its conclusion, one has to admire Nag's execution which doesn't allow boredom to set in despite the story leading nowhere, as also the marvellous set designing done by G.L. Jadhav and T.K. Desai which helps heighten the sinister atmosphere of the grandiose environment. While they did win the Filmfare Award for Art Designing, it must be said that the effect could not have been so spectacular were it not for the marvellous photography by Marshall Braganza. “Kohraa” was enormously dependent on “solemn atmosphere” to involve the viewer, and Braganza did that by creating an ambience of opulence as well as disturbing evil with the right mix of light, shade and lenses. Aided by Nag's precise shot taking, Braganza conquers since viewers do not realise the giant buildings are merely blown up versions of miniature models.

Unfortunately, art director-turned-filmmaker Biren Nag died soon after the film's release, depriving our film world of a rare and versatile talent at a young age. And despite its poor run at the box office, “Kohraa” is worth a ‘dekko' for Nag's genius though certainly not on a cold, dark night and without a few friends for company!

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