Happy Ittefaq day! Seeing it tonight, the new one that is, and reviewing/spoiling the old one this morning. I’m spoiling on purpose, I suspect the remake will be in conversation as it were with people’s expectations from the original, so if you know the original plot, it might make you more curious to see the remake.
Rajesh Khanna arrives home to find his wife dead. His sister-in-law Bindu immediately accuses him of the death, he is arrested and put on trial, eventually sentenced to an insane asylum, the assumption being that he killed his wife in a moment of crazed rage and is only denying it because he does not remember it. Rajesh escapes from the asylum and goes on the run on a stormy night, breaking into the house of Nanda, a young wife whose husband is away on business. He holds her hostage with a gun he has stolen, she gives him clothes from her husband’s closet and does not reveal his presence to her neighbor who comes to borrow milk, or even when the police come to check on her. They come to trust each other, especially when she offers him a drink and they talk about their sad lives, she admits that she feels “distant” from her husband, and they have a moment. And then he falls asleep. The police (obviously Iftekhar is the police inspector) and the asylum doctor come to check on her again, Rajesh hides in the bedroom and finds a dead body in the bathtub who he recognizes from photos and Nanda’s husband. He screams, the police constable comes back, after he leaves Rajesh accuses Nanda of murdering her husband and planning to blame it on him, but Nanda shows him there is no body in the bathroom now and tells him he must be the crazy man the police think, imagining these things.
Meanwhile, Iftekhar is re-investigating the original crime, talks to Bindu again, begins to question everything. He finally lands up at Nanda’s house when her husband is found dead, with a torn scrap of clothe from Rajesh’s asylum cloths clutched in his hands. Nanda protests that Rajesh must have killed her husband on the street and then, coincidentally, landed up at her house. After all, why would she kill her husband? And why should they believe Rajesh over her, a respectable woman? In an epic final scene, everything slowly comes undone based on little clues like the fact that the clothe was placed in the husband’s hand after death, and a lighter that Rajesh recognized as having been in the house before. The big twist is not that Nanda is a killer (the thing everyone remembers and talks about), it is that her accomplice was the constable!!!! That’s how she was able to move the body and fake the evidence against Rajesh, even though she never left the house and no one entered except the police and her neighbor. Nanda and the constable killed her husband earlier that night, and when Rajesh entered the house, she realized this was an opportunity and kept him there while the constable boyfriend worked to frame him. The constable moved the body, put the fabric in its hand from Rajesh’s clothes that Nanda took away, and now is in the house investigating the “crime” along with everyone else. Rajesh finally figures this all out, and is proved correct when the constable takes him hostage. Iftakhar meanwhile has been puzzling out his own mystery while chasing down Rajesh, and has realized that he was innocent of the original murder, that was done by Bindu (his sister-in-law) who inherited her wealthy sister’s money once she was dead and her husband thrown in jail.
So, that’s a lot! The bigger theme of the film is that the “innocents” are guilty and the guilty are innocent. Rajesh, the unpleasant angry passionate artist, did not actually kill anyone. Nanda, the sweet lonely young wife, is hiding a murder. The police constable, seemingly the most trustworthy, is the other murderer. And even Bindu, the grieving sister angry at her brother-in-law, is guilty.
Rajesh is an artist, which is only briefly mentioned at the beginning when we see a flashback to his last fight with his wife in which he does not want to go to a party with her because he is caught up in his painting. But in a larger thematic sense, the entire film is about perception, perspective, seeing clearly. And Rajesh, our painter, is the only one who can do that.
In the new film, Siddharth will be playing a writer. I will be curious how that theme threads through the film, if it will be more about stories than about perspective. That’s one thing that is fascinating about this original film. There is only one story. The audience sees everything. But we do not fully understand it.
In the middle of the film, after they have drunk together and talked about their lives, the camera slowly zooms in as Rajesh topples over exhausted so we can see that his gun is sticking out of his back pocket. And then nothing happens. I thought it was a mistake at first, this shot that seemed to be foreshadowing a thing that didn’t happen. But it was like Holmes’ dog in the nighttime, the point was that it DIDN’T happen. Nanda could have taken the gun and left. She could have left without even taking the fun, Rajesh was so tired he fell over without thought of his weapon. But she didn’t. That is the moment we should have gotten suspicious.
There were other moments as well. When the police first come, Rajesh is hiding in another room, there is no real reason Nanda shouldn’t tell them he is there, or just leave with them. And yet, she doesn’t. We even had an earlier scene to show us a different situation, when the neighbor came over Rajesh was hidden in the same room with the gun trained on both women the entire time. In that case, Nanda was clearly terrified and anxious for her own safety and the safety of the woman with her. But then in later moments, she seems progressively less scared, and Rajesh gives her more and more freedom.
(Like Highway, but totally different)
Since this is a Hindi film, we could assume it is because they are building a bond, perhaps even falling in love. Rajesh (we assume) is innocent, Nanda is a lovely sympathetic young woman in an unhappy marriage, they are both young and attractive, perhaps that is all it is. But we would be wrong! The film is playing with our expectations, making us blind to reality.
Later, when Rajesh finds the body, there is a new trick being pulled. Like Rajesh, we start to doubt his sanity. Perhaps Nanda and the audience were both tricked, he isn’t the troubled artist type, he is truly insane. That would be how these things go, the beautiful young woman is innocent and tricked by the seemingly nice young man.
But no, this isn’t the case either. As the film goes on, without explicitly stating it, it turns into a situation where the audience must choose either Nanda or Rajesh to sympathize with, and it is hard to know who deserves our sympathy more. Rajesh is the young handsome hero, the one we have been following this whole time. But Nanda is the sweet defenseless woman, shouldn’t we fear for her more than for the strong young man? Isn’t she in more danger?
Part of the brilliance of this puzzle is the staging. We move in and out and around Nanda’s house many times. The comfortable living room with the sofa that is turned into a bed for Rajesh. The bedroom that hides clothes for Rajesh, and secrets for Nanda. The kitchen, where Rajesh holds Nanda’s neighbor as an unwitting hostage. And of course the door and windows, the openings to the storm outside and the other characters who come in and out. The audience is shown everything, and it is up to us to put it together. Whether seeing how the body could have been taken while Rajesh was not looking, or seeing that there is a constable in the room at the top of the stairs, able to come up behind and take the murderer by surprise in the finale.
(Stairway! The true star)
Like Hum Aapke Hain Koun, the stairs are the real stars of this film. I wonder if that was something in the original staging, or something Yashji added for his film version? Because they work brilliantly. Characters are always running up and down them, trapped between banisters, on a higher or lower plane than someone else. A simple staging with one room and two doors off it (kitchen and bedroom) wouldn’t be effective at all, but somehow adding the stairs brings it to a new level (no pun intended). When Rajesh is hiding upstairs, he is really hiding, gone completely from Nanda’s world. And while the police my move in and out of the downstairs room constantly, they never breach the privacy of the second story.
And then there’s the ending scene. In which all our sympathy is with Nanda. Even while learning she is a murderer, Rajesh is passionate and fierce and bearded and scary, while Nanda is sweet and sari-clad. It could have been played with Rajesh as the logical sad detective type. But instead he is still being angry, scary, off-putting. We are not supposed to believe his version because he is charming us into it, but because we can’t resist his logic. The police officer clothed in the respectability of the State, the soft fragile appearing woman, we don’t want to distrust them, but we must.
And the theme is echoed with the solution to Rajesh’s murder case. We want to distrust the angry passionate artist, who we saw argue with his wife. We want to trust the loving grieving sister. But the evidence is against her, her lies are found out, and we have to acknowledge them as well.
Ittefaq means “coincidence”, roughly. And the challenge of the film isn’t accepting what is coincidence (an accused murderer landing up at the house of a woman who just killed her husband), but what isn’t (the policeman having a lighter that Rajesh had previously seen in the house). Our mind searches for patterns, always, but we have to find the right pattern, the one where everything fits, not just the one that we want to fit.
And this is why there are no songs. No songs, few scenes outside of the one set, not even costume changes. No distraction. We must see this story as purely as possible, our only judgements based on logic and the mild social conditioning inherent within ourselves.
(the unshaven man in black, versus the fragile woman with the mangalsutra)
There are plenty of horror movies about changing out perspective, the danger outside the house turning into danger inside. Pizza, for one. But this movie is a little more than that. It’s not just about “the real danger was the woman inside, not the man breaking in!” idea. It’s about the idea of putting two social opposites in a closed environment and asking which one we will side with, will we see the situation clearly or through our prejudices? Helping us to understand what our prejudices are, what is really a coincidence and what is an illusion.
That’s what gives me hope for this remake. Because they are taking the central idea and expanding on it. We are no longer dealing with the implication of expectations and being asked who we believe, we are now being actual shown the two alternate versions and asked to pick one.
Plus, the possibilities for slight changes are so rich! In the original, for instance, there were 3 cop characters and a doctor. Iftekhar was the honest cop who saw the truth and investigated. He had a similarly honest assistant, and then there was the constable who turned out to be the murderer. The doctor, meanwhile, was there to provide explanations and discussion of Rajesh’s backstory.
In this one, based on the trailer, we have Akshaye as the police with maybe one assistant. So will he be the honest investigator? The murderer in a twist? The doctor-like one just there to provide explanations while events play out?
Will Sonakshi again be a faithless wife and murderer? Or will there be something else going on?
Most tantalizing, is it possible Siddharth will be guilty of his first crime but innocent of the second? Will that be the coincidence?