BOOKS IN MOVIES

The debt that Indian cinema owes to Wilkie Collins and his ‘The Woman in White’

From ‘Raaz’ to ‘Humraz’, the British novel has directly or indirectly inspired several films made in the subcontinent.

British author Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1860) has given popular culture some indelible images, the most powerful being a mysterious, distraught woman dressed in white standing by the side of the road.

The popular novel has inspired several adaptations, and India too has not been able to resist the yarn of two similar looking stepsisters, a valuable marriage settlement, scheming friends and relatives, and identity swaps. Over 1958 and 1959, even as Guru Dutt was making Kaagaz Ke Phool, the first Indian film in CinemaScope, he simultaneously announced a project for his assistant, Niranjan, to direct. The thriller was also planned as a launch pad for RD Burman as an independent music director. It was to be called Raaz and was to star Waheeda Rehman in the double role of two sisters and Sunil Dutt as an Army doctor. Kum Kum was to play the third sister, while character actor S Nazir was to round off the cast as the villainous uncle.

Production on Raaz proceeded in fits and starts. Guru Dutt replaced Sunil Dutt as the lead and some scenes were shot in Shimla with the new pair. Burman recorded a song with Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Asha Bhosle, which was to be filmed on three nautch girls. However, Guru Dutt was unhappy with the way the film was shaping up and scrapped it.

Courtesy Film Heritage Foundation.
Courtesy Film Heritage Foundation.

According to Nasreen Munni Kabir’s seminal book Guru Dutt: A Life In Cinema, Raaz was based on The Woman in White. Collins’s tale revolves around the switching of stepsisters Anne Catherick, the mysterious woman in white who is committed to a mental asylum, and heiress Laura Fairlie, in order to grab Laura’s inheritance. Apart from radio, film and television adaptations, The Woman in White has also been made as a stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2004. One of the better-known screen versions is the 1948 film by Peter Godfrey, which stars Eleanor Parker in the dual roles of Laura and Anne.

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‘The Woman in White’ (1948).

Although Guru Dutt had abandoned Raaz, the movie was destined to be made. His former assistant Raj Khosla, who was by then a successful filmmaker in his own right, got permission to use the unfinished film’s story. Khosla reworked Raaz with writer Dhruva Chatterjee as the well-crafted suspense drama Woh Kaun Thi? (1964). The film starred Sadhana in the enigmatic roles of twin sisters, one good and one evil. Both are switched at will by the villain (Prem Chopra) to drive the hero (Manoj Kumar), who is married to the good one, insane and cheat him out of his inheritance. Woh Kaun Thi is the first in a trilogy of mystery films that Sadhana did with Khosla, the others being Mera Saaya (1966) and Anita (1967).

Even though Woh Kaun Thi? works beautifully as an engaging thriller and is aided greatly by Sadhana’s performance and KH Kapadia’s moody camerawork, its greatest accomplishment is its brilliant musical score by Madan Mohan. In a film in which every song is perfectly composed, the anthemic Naina Barse and the deliriously romantic Lag Ja Gale, one of Lata Mangeshkar’s great numbers, stand out.

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‘Lag Ja Gale’ from ‘Woh Kaun Thi?’

When Khosla’s films started failing after Dostana (1980), he revisited the mystery genre with Naqab (1989), starring Rishi Kapoor and Farah. The film, a Muslim social with thriller elements, is actually a closer adaptation of The Woman In White than Woh Kaun Thi? However, Naqab also flopped miserably, bringing about an undistinguished end to Khosla’s filmmaking career.

The success of Woh Kaun Thi? inspired remakes in Tamil and Telugu, both starring the up and coming J Jayalalithaa. Yaar Nee? (1966), the Tamil version by Sathyam, co-starred Jaishankar as the befuddled hero, while in the Telugu film by BS Narayana, Aame Evaru? (1966), Kongara Jaggaiah played the male lead. Both films, produced by PS Veerappa, were faithful copies of the Hindi movie, to the extent that music composer Vedha re-used most of Madan Mohan’s tunes in both films.

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‘Ponmeni Thazhuvamal’ from ‘Yaar Nee?’

The Woman in White also travelled across the border. Acclaimed music director Khwaja Khurshid Anwar’s Humraz (1967) stars Pakistani star Shamim Ara in the double role of the sisters. While one is a Westernised woman with a terminal heart problem, the other is the traditional type. Anwar also co-produced and scored the music for Humraz. Mohammad Ali plays the doctor trying to solve the mystery even as he falls in love with one of the sisters, while the actress from the Lara Lappa song, Meena Shorey, is seen in one of her last roles of any substance. She plays a wicked governess who is the wife and accomplice of the villainous uncle who is eying the family property. Humraz is an extremely loose adaptation of the Collins story and is clumsily plotted and tackily produced. Anwar’s music just about passes muster, and cannot be compared with his more memorable scores in such films as Intezar (1956) and Koel (1959).

The lobby card of ‘Humraz’. Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.
The lobby card of ‘Humraz’. Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.

While the novel was published in 1860, all adaptations have been set in contemporary times, thereby proving that Collins’s story has a universal quality and has held up well down the years. The Woman In White has also been adapted as a Marathi television serial, Swetambara, sometime in the 1980s. The serial is still remembered for the fine performance of character actor Raghuvir Nevrekar, besides being the debut of actor Mohan Gokhale.

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The title sequence Marathi serial ‘Swetambara’.
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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

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2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.