We will miss the glances stolen in the mustard fields, the kindling of passion in the Swiss Alps. We may be forgiven for thinking that the clingy chiffon saree has lost some of its sexiness and allure now. But few among us will associate nail-biting suspense with the king of Bollywood romance, Yash Chopra.
Indeed, among Chopra’s filmography of larger-than-life romances, his 1969 murder mystery Ittefaq stands out. It is not a forgettable film, but seems to have been forgotten. I had watched the film on TV a long time ago, but the scenes still linger in my mind.
With only two actors – Rajesh Khanna and Nanda – to keep the audience guessing in this whodunit for most of its runtime and no songs, the film was considered a brave experiment and a departure from the musicals of that time. Of course, it was a loose remake of the 1964 British film Signpost to Murder.
Ittefaq did not do too well at the box office, but if you watch it now, you will realise that this is perhaps the only film where we get to see another side of the romance legend’s filmmaking craft: of generating thrills and keeping the viewer at the edge of the seat. And, among the films for which he got the Filmfare Best Director award, Ittefaq was one.
With a runtime of one hour and 44 minutes, Chopra kept the film taut as the action takes place in the span of a night and is set in a mansion.
Dilip Roy (Rajesh Khanna), an artist, is being tried for the murder of his wife. During the trial, he is sent to a mental institution and has two choices: to serve time in jail or in a lunatic asylum. On a stormy night, he escapes from the institution and takes refuge at the mansion of a married woman, Rekha (Nanda, in a green chiffon saree), by threatening her at gunpoint. Incidentally, Rekha is alone in the mansion as her husband is away in Kolkata. The police turn up to warn her about an unstable undertrial who has escaped, but she is not able to divulge anything to them as Dilip has terrorised her.
As the night progresses, the two strangers develop an unlikely bond. The chemistry between them is palpable and one can see shades of Stockholm Syndrome in Rekha sympathising with Dilip’s plight – all of which add layers to this suspense drama.
In an unexpected turn Dilip finds a corpse in the bathtub. When he confronts Rekha and takes her there, there is no corpse. Dilip starts believing that he was hallucinating. The police turn up again leading to a climax that is sure to startle the viewers.
Besides, the deft handling of the screenplay, Chopra extracted edgy performances from Khanna and Nanda, for which they got Filmfare best acting nominations.
I got a sense of déjà vu when I watched Ram Gopal Verma’s Kaun (1999), three decades after Ittefaq’s release. The minimalistic film was spooky with a gripping screenplay by Anurag Kashyap, but similarities with Ittefaq in setting, presence of a deranged character and the action taking place in real time and with a few actors, apart from it having shades of Hitchcock’s Psycho, were hard to miss. The irony is that while Kaun is critically acclaimed, Ittefaq has been forgotten.