This movie made me so nostalgic! I remember 12 years ago my college roommate came back to the dorms and told me the whole plot while she unpacked all the food her mother sent her back with. And then I never actually got around to watching it myself in all the years since then, for no particular reason. Until today!
This is not a good movie, right? Like, it’s not just that I didn’t like it, it is actively bad, right? I know for sure the dancing was bad, because why WHY would you cast Amisha Patel and Akshaye Khanna to play the leads in a dance troupe?!?!?! They are both TERRIBLE!!!! But the costuming, the comic relief, the romance, the sets, the dialogue, that was all bad too, right? And also the acting. Well, some of it. But, to be fair, the plot was AWESOME.
Not “awesome” as in deep political statement or amazing character revelations or anything like that, that was all pretty basic and shallow. But “awesome” as in “Wow! I did NOT see that coming!!!!” And what made it even better is that it was such a great combination of other film plots, so you kept thinking you knew what the next twist would be because you have seen the plot before, but then they would throw in a sudden turn and we are off on a whole separate track!
It’s closest antecedent from America is A Perfect Murder, which is of course a loose remake of Dial M for Murder. And its closest antecedent from India is Blackmail, which isn’t a remake of anything, it is just awesome all by itself. So before we can look at Humraaz, we have to look at these other three.
Dial M for Murder has a couple of little footnotes about it. First, Hitchcock had minimal interest in it, and made it only to fulfill a studio contract. Secondly, it was originally shot in 3D (and I saw it in 3D in a theater years ago. Did not look good.), part of the 3D craze in the 1950s, but Hitchcock resisted it and insisted on shooting in such a way that it could also work well “flat”, since he was sure the 3D craze would end soon and he wanted his film to be timeless. Which it was.
Maybe because of his disinterest, Hitchcock didn’t fiddle with the source material as much as he usually did in his films (The 39 Steps the film is almost unrecognizable from The 39 Steps the book). Or maybe it was just because the source material was so strong! Dial M for Murder, the play, has a great hook to it. First, the idea of the murder, which is so deceptively simple. The husband calls home, bringing the wife out into the living room to answer the phone, where she is murdered by the man the husband has hired. Husband has the perfect alibi, and it looks like a simple home invasion that went wrong. I mean, that’s brilliant to begin with. But then the second half is great too, the wife kills the killer, the husband has to dance his way out of this new situation without being caught, and the wife has to solve her own murder.
That’s all fun, but what makes it really soar is the little character details. They aren’t really deep characters, but that’s kind of the point, that they are these basic character types we are used to, but they don’t act the same way they usually do. Grace Kelly is the society wife, a sophisticated rich woman who married an athlete who had an affair in the past. Only, she feels guilty for the affair, and she struggles with her marriage, and, most of all, she actually fights for her life, she doesn’t just give up like the weak spoiled rich woman her husband, and the audience, sees her as. She has a lot more strength to her than you picture when you hear “society wife”.
Ray Milland is the trophy husband, the wastrel, the athlete. Only, not really. I mean, he’s not much of a trophy any more. He is kind of boring and bossy and unpleasant. Nothing you can put your finger on, but something that isn’t quite right. You sympathize with Grace Kelly for cheating on him, you understand why the cops would suspect him but also not think him capable of murder.
And then there’s Bob Cummings, like a breath of fresh air. He’s all American and full of energy and confidence and belief and hope and faith, and all the things that have been drained out of Grace Kelly by her marriage. You can see why she was attracted to him, and you can see why he feels the need to protect her, to cheer her up, to bring a little life back into her life. In this case, the “other man” is the honest healthy clean choice, while the “husband” is the slimy and morally questionable option.
I kind of feel like they missed the point in A Perfect Murder. They put in a clever twist to the story, that the hired murderer was the same as the man having an affair with the heroine. But, that was the point! That the one you thought you couldn’t trust, the guy having the affair, was the good guy, and the husband was the evil one.
And, the bigger point, that our “victim” was no victim. Our heroine was correct in her judgement of men, was able to fight off a killer, was able to resist her husband’s brain washing. And in the remake she’s just turned into an idiot with a terrible taste in men. Plus, they beefed up the roles of the men at her expense. Michael Douglas is no longer just a former tennis player, now he is an older man and a success in his own right. And Viggo Mortensen is no longer just the perfect supportive boyfriend, now he is a killer and an artist and all sorts of complicated things.
I don’t mind the weak heroine nearly as much in Humraaz, because it’s Amisha, and the less time she has on screen, the better. And I like that they beefed up the “villain” role a little more, because it’s Akshaye, and I love when he plays these kinds of parts (Race is awesome, I don’t care what you say!). I could do with a little less Bobby Doel, but really that is less a criticism of this particular film and more just a blanket statement about life.
What really started to bug me was when we got into the second half and it turned into Blackmail. Blackmail is so good! SO GOOD! It has a tricky plot, but it also grounds it in real characters and real emotions and real acting. I think I read somewhere that it was Raakhee’s favorite of all her performances, and I can see why. And then Dharmendra puts in all this depth and is actually believable as a hero with no faith in himself. And Shatrughan Sinha wins my heart for ever, despite his politics, by just having the time of his life as the mustache twirling villain.
Blackmail actually made it real and sympathetic when our heroine fell out of love with her boyfriend and in love with her fiance. And our heart broke for her then-husband when he thought she was unfaithful. Humraaz, not so much. And, much though I love Akshaye, he is no Shatrughan Sinha.
So, that’s what it doesn’t do. What it does do very well is smoosh these films together so you never know what is going to happen next. We start out with what looks like a normal and, frankly, fairly boring romance. Amisha is in love with Akshaye, but then she has a meet cute with Bobby where he is attracted to her body (really, that’s it. She shows some leg and he falls in love), and she seemingly leaves Akshaye for Bobby. Because he is all rich and charming and sweet. It would be completely boring if it weren’t for the scene early on when Akshay kills a guy by impaling him on a fence railing. And then, finally, twist!
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
After Bobby proposes, Amisha rushes off to tell Akshaye that “our plan is working!” Because Akshaye set the whole thing up so that Amisha could marry Bobby, divorce Bobby, and get a big settlement that they could share together. If I cared about Bobby at all, this would be upsetting, but I don’t, so who cares? It’s just a fun twist.
And then Amisha meets Bobby’s family, who seems initially a little dubious about her, but she wins them over. And there is something about how she takes a vow not to have sex for the first 6 months or something (just like in Beta!), which wins them all over. And Amisha is beginning to have second thoughts as well, she goes to visit Akshaye and is all dubious about his plot to get a divorce by claiming Akshaye is impotent. She would probably be more dubious if she knew that Akshaye had just killed someone else who was threatening to blackmail them.
And then Amisha gets into a convenient car accident, is lovingly cared for by her husband as she recovers, and falls in love with him. She tells Akshaye, who says something dismissive like “just because he says a few nice things to you, now you are in love?” And I think we are supposed to go “oh Akshaye, you don’t understand the depth of a married woman’s heart!” But instead of I think “Well, yeah, Akshaye, that is kind of exactly what happened. You nailed it.”
But then we get into the bit that is lifted straight from Blackmail. Akshaye claims a third party, not him, is blackmailing them about proof of their former relationship which could destroy her marriage. Akshaye plays the part of the noble rejected lover, trying to protect her honor as best he can, and Amisha leaps on any hope that might save her marriage (which all of a sudden she is all into), and gives him jewelry and stuff.
In Blackmail, this part was legitimately heart-breaking. Dharmendra thinking she was drawing away from him because she had stopped loving him, her doing everything to save their marriage even as it seemed as though her husband didn’t want her any more. In Humraaz, eh, not so much. All three of ’em (Akshaye, Bobby, and Amisha) could have died in a fiery plane crash (Speaking of post-marriage love stories, Silsila!) and I wouldn’t care.
But, this whole thing, this whole first two and a half hours of the movie, was just to lull us into a sense of false security! We thought we knew it all, this was just a rehashing of previous plots, and the twist comes that will knock your socks off! Bobby finds out that Amisha really does love him just as Akshaye is coming to kill her, as he directed. Only, Amisha didn’t die! Akshaye saved her instead and killed some other random guy he hired! Not because Akshaye loved Amisha after all, but just to have something else to hold over Bobby.
And now Bobby and Amisha are in love, and she’s swanning around in saris and a huge mangalsutra, but Akshaye keeps threatening to destroy it, unless Bobby gives him everything, up to and including the hand in marriage of his sister (I think? I had the blender going during this part. I may have been multi-tasking a little). And that’s when Bobby fights back! Finally, that Deol blood shows itself!
And that’s also when the feminist message Hitchcock planted decades ago finally blossoms out. Amisha grabs a gun and she is the one to shoot Akshaye, just like Grace Kelly killed Anthony Dawson, and Gwyneth Paltrow killed Viggo Mortensen AND Michael Douglas. And Rakhee killed, well, nobody. But she was married to Dharmendra, he could do all the killing for her.
(hey! I just put it together that if this is Blackmail, then Bobby is playing his father’s role. Cool! They should do a gender flipped version and let Sonakshi play her dad’s part. I bet she would make an awesome criminal mastermind/gigolo)