CinemaScope: The undisclosed secret of Manoj Kumar and Sadhana-starrer 'Woh Kaun Thi'

Often referred to as ‘The Alfred Hitchcock of India’, Raj Khosla was one of the most talented and versatile directors of Hindi cinema who displayed an amazing range in his projects beginning from Milap and C.I.D in the mid-1950s. A glance at the list of his directorial ventures would make you wonder about the variety of subjects explored by the maestro, who had a great sense of music and was also known for his creative picturisation of melodious songs on the screen.

The Hitchcock reference got stuck with his name, mainly because of the suspense-mystery trilogy of Woh Kaun Thi, Mera Saaya, and Anita made with Sadhna playing the lead in all during the mid-1960s. The biggest hit of the three, Woh Kaun Thi is also the core subject of this write-up, stating an undisclosed secret about its edit, revealed by the legendary editor Waman Bhonsle, who recently passed away after a prolonged illness.

Giving a brief of how the project got conceived, it was earlier initiated by Guru Dutt with the title Raaz starring Sunil Dutt (later replaced by himself) and Waheeda Rehman playing a double role. It was supposed to be RD Burman’s debut film as the music director too, which eventually got shelved after a few reels for reasons never disclosed by Dutt or his associates. The film was said to be inspired by Wilkie Collins’s novel, The Woman in White — considered being one of the earliest or the first mystery novels written with a detective kind of protagonist. It was first published as a series in the journal All The Year Round during 1859-60, conducted by Collins’s dear friend, who was none other than Charles Dickens. So, if Guru Dutt got inspired by the novel or these facts related to its stature in world literature, then he had his valid reasons to do so, visualising an unusual suspense drama in Hindi cinema.

As it seems, the subject was destined to be made by Guru Dutt’s assistant Raj Khosla as Woh Kaun Thi in 1964, featuring Manoj Kumar and Sadhna in the lead. The well-shot film had an exceptional Hitchcockian feel of a haunting mystery narrated in an intriguing style, but it was the soundtrack that played a major role in its success and in its cult status achieved in the later decades. The film had melodious music composed by Madan Mohan and lyrics penned by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan including evergreen, immortal songs as Raina Barse Rimjhim Rimjhim, Jo Hume Dastaan Apni Sunayi, ‘Shokh Nazar Ki Bijliyan’, ‘Chhorh Kar Tere Pyar Ka Daman’, and above all ‘Lag Ja Gale’, that is unanimously cited as one of 10 all-time favourite renditions of Lata Mangeshkar.

Incidentally, where ‘Naina Barse’ was composed a decade back in the early 1950s by the composer (not taken by any filmmaker), ‘Lag Ja Gale’ was initially rejected by the director, who reconsidered it after a strong recommendation coming from Manoj Kumar. Making a strange sight, Naina Barse was shot on Sadhna, who was asked to lip-sync on a male-voice scratch version sung by Madan Mohan, as Lata was not available for recording. It was later dubbed by her and became one of the most famous songs of Lata’s illustrious career.

Coming to the hidden secret disclosed by the National Award winner Waman Bhonsle, known for creating wonders on the editing table along with Guru Dutt Shirali (as Waman-Guru), it happened just before the release of the film. Those were the days when he was assisting D N Pai and they used to work on the editing machines having a tiny screen to look at (probably referring to Moviola before the introduction of Steenbeck machines). The film’s prints had arrived and were being sent to different destinations when suddenly a glitch got spotted in one of the pre-release previews.

It was noticed that when Sadhna was shown lying dead in one of the climax sequences, a blink in her eyes could be seen in one shot that had to be edited urgently before the first show. The shocking find created an emergency-like situation among the makers and all assistants and trained personnel were immediately rushed to make the edit in the prints already sent (that used to be a few hundred only around the ’60s). Imagine what would have been the scenario to complete the task before the first show on Friday assigned to all the assistants. In the present age, it would have been much easier to get it done in the digital-print upload.

The instance personally shared by the legend, certainly makes me think how many such interesting incidents and anecdotes would never get disclosed with the masters behind the screen, passing away without even finding a prominent mention in the media. So, giving a humble tribute, do watch the classic, if you haven’t seen it yet, even when you must have heard its songs regularly being played in various events and TV shows.

(The writer is a critic-columnist, an explorer of cinema and author of ‘Did You Know’ series on Hindi films also active at bobbytalkscinema.com)

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