Lal Kunwar (1952)
Year – 1952
Language – Hindi
Country – India
Producer – N. V. M. Production
Director – Ravindra Dave
Music Director – S. D. Burman
Box-Office Status – Flop
Cast – Nasir Khan, Suraiya, Jairaj, Usha Kiran, Agha, Durga Khote, Kuldip Akhtar,Sheikh, Tiwari
Miscellaneous Information –
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“Lal Kunwar” is tailored and trimmed to glorify age-old conceptions of the nobility of Indian womanhood and is strengthened with a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, created by screenplay writer R. S. Chaudhry. But the main character and the engineering of the theme fail to produce results. Consequently, we are faced with a puerile attempt at horror, one of the poorest seen in many a long year. Apart from earning an “Adults Only” certificate from the Censors, the only achievement of the film is the transformation of a hackneyed three-cornered romance into a gruesome film story, gripping in a few places but generally falling fiat in its attempts to be a spine-chiller. To help the film out of the quagmire of its shortcomings, recourse as usual is had to slapstick comedy and romance. But even these departments suffer from mediocrity and “Lal Kunwar” emerges as an ineffectual piece of film art— a dud coin in celluloid, if ever there was one.
The story revolves around a young man (Nasir) who goes to occupy a mortgaged mansion and falls in love with a girl (Suraiya), who stays there with a good-for-nothing brother and a father who shoots strangers at sight. The story then introduces a frustrated lover (Jairaj) who becomes a ghoulwhen the hour of midnight strikes and has a habit of murdering his brides. Nasir learning of it is himself arrested for one such murder while things are being arranged for his sweetheart’s marriage to Jairaj. However, the nobility of the bride-to-be (his next murder victim) asserts itself and reforms Jairaj. He clears the hero of the murder charge, retires from the marriage pandal and delivers himself to the police as retribution for his past crimes.
The constant harping on the traditions of Indian womanhood is wearisome. Equally damaging is the atmosphere of the mansion, where everyone seems to go about in a perpetual daze. And added to all this is the attempt to create an aura of mystery by having a severed arm popping up every now and then in the second half of the film –and introducing macabre replicas of Jairaj’s many murdered wives. The film is saved from the ridiculous by competent portrayals by the cast. Jairaj as the villain with a split personality gives a good performance. So real is his transformation that one admires both him and the brilliant handiwork of K. B. Saraniama and Laxman M. Pote, who devised his make-up. After him come Agha, Sheikh and Tiwari to enliven the story with their raw, lusty humour. Suraiya and Nasir Khan strut through the film in an undefinable manner and the latter’s efforts to model his work upon the style of his brother Dilip cramp the full expression of his own individuality.
From the viewpoint of production values, there is little to commend. S. D. Burman’s musical score detracts from this well- known music-director’s reputation. But some of the lyrics have appeal. For Director Ravindra, who after the success of “Nagina” has been typing himself as a director of mystery dramas, the eventual fate of this film should be one more lesson.
“Nagina” went over in a big way because of its novelty, but his attempts in “Moti Mahal” and “Lal Kunwar” may show that mystery and horror are not always best-sellers. In “Lal Kunwar” Ravindra has borrowed from M. and T. Films’ “Nirala” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic but has failed miserably to evolve an engrossing film from the possibilities presented by the rich story material.