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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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.