Sunday, July 5, 2015
Raat Aur Din (1967)
‘Raat Aur Din’, directed by Satyen Bose, is a rare Hindi film from the black and white era that explores the complex subject of a psychiatric disorder that leads to a split personality. Nargis plays the highly convoluted lead character of woman affected by this malevolent condition. Varuna, the only daughter of a well to do estate owner in the outskirts of Shimla, falls in love and marries a city businessman Pratap (played by Pradeep Kumar), which puts an end to the lonely life she leads in the hills. In the city, however, she frequently turns into this other woman ‘Peggy’ who is a complete anti-thesis of her real self. These periods of transformation are marked by headaches and partial amnesia. How this affects their marital life, and how her disorder is investigated and cured, is what the film is all about.
The story is as tangled as the lead characters affliction. The screenplay though is slightly repetitive and falls in the trappings of usual commercial fare of that time, which is quite understandable. So there is lots of family drama, and there are a number of songs. But even in these slightly ‘run-of-the-mill’ moments, there are some exciting possibilities owing to the unique nature of the plot. For instance when Varuna’s orthodox mother-in-law summons a ‘tantrik’ for curing her, it results in an incredibly moving sequence. Similarly when Varuna in one of her ‘Peggy’ transformations lets herself go completely in the company of a young and bumbling doctor, and then intermittently comes back to her own self when other experienced doctors join them, is fantastically done. In fact there are portions in the film that are so ahead of its time that they could pass of as brilliant even today, i.e. fifty years after the movie was made. The last twenty minutes or so, which trace the childhood of Varuna and its connection to her disorder, are the best of the film. They tell the story of a repressed childhood, of yearn for freedom, of need of expression, and the lasting effects of misplaced guilt. And all this is remarkably performed by Nargis, who is in top form. It is easy to see how the jury at the National Film Awards would have been compelled to give her the best actress award.
Although it is slightly unfair to unfair to question the technical aspects of a film from that time, especially after having been exposed all the modern day wonders of film-craft, one thing stands out glaringly in the film, and that is the frequently changing physical appearance of the lead actress. It seems like the film was long time in the making, and all the songs were shot at the end, by when Nargis had put on considerable weight and was looking much older than the normal self in the film. But that quibble aside, one has to appreciate how challenging it must have been to make this sort of a film in that era of soft romances, family dramas, and social/historical opuses. The songs in the film, by Shankar Jaikisan, though melodious, are too many in number (like most films of that time). Two of them stand out:
Modern day films like Bhool Bhulaiya and Aparichit might have taken slight notes on the treatment of a split personality from this film. But then again, they might not have. But one has to compliment ‘Raat Aur Din’ for choosing and competently examining a subject fifty years ago, which till date has not turned mundane.