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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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.