Thursday, February 9, 2023

Oh Black Water, Keep On Rolling

Kala Pani (1958) Okay, Kala Pani doesn't refer to actual "Black Water" in this case (it's named after a prison, and the film title is usually translated as Life Imprisonment), but it put the song in my head, so it's share and share alike. Young Karan's mother has always told him that his father is respectably dead, and he emotes furiously when he learns the truth -- he's actually undergoing "rigorous life imprisonment" for murdering a dancer in a brothel. He rushes to the prison, and after hearing the story, devotes himself to proving that his father was falsely accused. Because Karan is played by Dev Anand, his crusade almost immediately gets him emotionally entangled with Kishori, Hyderabad's Most Famous Courtesan (Nalini Jayawant), and Asha, Hyderabad's Most Beautiful Landlord's Niece (Madhubala). In his furious urgency to free his father, Karan rushes to a newspaper office to research the details of the crime, but then has the good sense to be distracted upon meeting their Chief Reporter (who is, by the way, busy telling callers that it's only a rumor about man landing on the moon: "Till now Russia has not sent any man up in the Sputnik"). The investigation well underway, Karan goes undercover to meet Kishori, at which point I was totally distracted by her makeup, which was very like a teenage trend in the late 1990s. I was teaching Freshman Comp at 7:30 in the morning, and couldn't believe those girls would bother to glitter themselves up at that hour. Nalini Jayawant is so sympathetic as the courtesan who really believes Karan is going to marry her and take her away from all this, I completely forgot that she let an innocent man go to prison (so she could live on the proceeds from blackmailing the real killer) until he threw it back in her face. I still found it pretty unlikeable how he toyed with her emotions. But frankly, the reason I watched this movie was because of the song "Acha ji main hari chalo," which was so adorable, I wished there was a lot more romantic frolicking, and a lot less anguish about justice. Not that I didn't enjoy it, and I especially liked Kishore Sahu, who was much sexier than Dev as the mysterious and powerful lawyer Rai Bahadur Jaswant Rai. Too bad that year's Filmfares didn't have a "Best Scowl" category.