Howrah Bridge (1958)

Economics and politics converge for the aam aadmi (common man) when times are bad. This big week on Wall Street (with the biggest bankruptcy in American history) and around world markets should make for interesting times with less than 50 days to the election. Might as well add Om Prakash and Madhubala -- both good people who had a pulse for the aam aadmi, and both self-taught economists in their own right in this film -- to the mix.

Mystery, romance, excellent music, captivating dialogue, halki-phulki (i.e. some) comedy, and fine actors presenting the package thereof, usually combine for a fun film. A fun and entertaining film is exactly what Howrah Bridge is! Starring Ashok Kumar, Madhubala, Om Prakash, Madan Puri, K. N. Singh, and others, with music by O. P. Nayyar, and directed by Shakti Samanta. One song in particular led me to the film, but it was hardly the only highlight. Here are some notes.

1. In Rangoon, Prem Kumar (Ashok Kumar) a.k.a. Rakesh's father discovered a valuable family heirloom was stolen by his other son, who wanted to sell the 'Dragon' (pronounced 'drag on') to Mr. Chang (Madan Puri), who had him killed instead on Howrah Bridge in Calcutta (Howrah Bridge in real life is an important infrastructural complement to the city). The key here, witness Bhikarilal (Sunder), who survived.

2. Rakesh traveled to Calcutta to investigate, hoping to recover the heirloom. On his way was when he met Uncle Joe (Dhumal).

3. And who Joe would like for us to believe was his niece Edna (the lovely, fabulous, heart-stealing, glamorous, one-and-only, Mumtaz Begum a.k.a. Madhubala). He had her perform here, and daily at a hotel he ran in Calcutta. This was where the song Dekh Ke Teri Nazar by Asha Bhosle (watch it here) was placed.

4. Shamu (Om Prakash) the taangewala was the primary assistant to Rakesh.

Liked how he structured his interactions around commissions earned (fair to be referred to as bribes in some very specific cases). This even gave Edna a chance to demonstrate her business savvy, acquiring a customer for her uncle's hotel, from a competing outlet...

...that was well-served to have someone named Helen as the showcase for hospitality. She gave us one of the most memorable songs of the decade, Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu (Geeta Dutt):

5. So Edna attracted Rakesh to her uncle's hotel (agreed with Rakesh's choice here). Some classic dialogue-baazi (retaliatory but friendly exchange of words) followed.

Aside: Reference number 4,015 of 22,265 (assuming a daily frequency for 61 years) since India's independence to 'talking with the eyes'. You know, it never feels old. Not even in old movies.

6. Aaiyye Meherbaan (Asha Bhosle), featured Madhubala at her finest. Here it is:

Yes, yes, Mr. Chang, I agree! I didn't even dislike the antagonists in this. Mr. Chang and Pyarelal (K. N. Singh).

7. Edna had the hots for Rakesh, but discovered he was driven by motivations other than love.

8. Bhikarilal, in the mean time, was excited about a reward for information on the murder at Howrah Bridge.

Along with his lady love, he sang a delightful song in Mohabbat Ka Haath (watch it here), which even contained a reference to Taare Zameen Par about 50 years before its formalization on about foresight! :o)

Found this fantastic video on the making of the song (with Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle). If you watch one video in this post, make it this one. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

He was made to understand bureaucracy, but would it get the better of him?

9. Rakesh ordered a replica of the heirloom and earned the attention of Mr. Chang. This bit was interesting because he was introduced as an Arab, and was dressed as an Arab, but spoke as a Persian (and in some cases, in Faarsi)! Noteworthy because in the real world, the Arabs and Persians are quick to distinguish themselves, about with as much enthusiasm as Indians and Pakistanis do!

10. Yeh Kya Kar Daala Tu Ne (Asha Bhosle) was beautiful, as was Edna, yet again.

11. A couple of frames on the direction of the climax:

Howrah Bridge was well worth the watch for many, many reasons, the most obvious being quality entertainment provided by the actors and the soundtrack. Madhubala quite clearly stole the show, not once failing to enlighten.

Ashok Kumar was very good too, as was the supporting cast, led by Om Prakash, who was quite brilliant. There was even an appearance by Mehmood!

A must-see if you appreciate musicals and do not mind the slightly slow pace with which the plot unravels (especially in the second half).

Movie rating: 3.75/5 (Very very good!)

Music rating: 4.25/5 (Excellent!)

My classification: PG (For theme, some violence)


Anonymous said...

Looks interesting. I'll put it on my rental list. Thanks for sharing.

ajnabi said...

Thank you so much for posting about this! I can't wait to see it. :-)

Anonymous said...

Ah lovely. I really love this films and others from that same period (filmi noir) :-) The cast is just great. Even Mehmood and his sister Minoo Mumtaz are dancers in it! I've seen a lot of Sunder lately too. And Madhubala is just breathtaking.

Nicki said...

Thanks. Sounds very interesting.

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi all, and thank you for your comments.

Joss and Ajnabi: Hope you enjoy it!

Memsaab: Any Sunder recommendations? And filmi noir types from the decade? The cast really made this work so well. And Madhubala was indeed breathtaking!

Nicki: Interesting it is. I'd check it out if I could.


Anonymous said...

"the lovely, fabulous, heart-stealing, glamorous, one-and-only, Madhubala"

Takes your breath away, doesnt she? With her in the movie I usually dont need anything else but this one has DadaMani and the most fabulous songs, too! Filmi gold, indeed.

Great video about song-making. Asha-Rafi is my favorite pair. She looks lovely here, and I have never seen Rafi singing before! He looks like he is having fun.

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Glorious- utterly amazing. I absolutely need to see this.
I am not a fan of the young Ashok, and would think Dev would have rocked that. But no one compares to Madhubaba [heart]. Bolly noir is the best fun ever!

theBollywoodFan said...

Bollyviewer: 'Filmi Gold' is an absolutely appropriate term to use here. I've been guilty of not having seen many of Madhubala's movies, but want to change that soon. Would appreciate your recommendations. The songs were amazing, and Asha-Rafi were fantastic together. Was surprised to find the video, and am glad you enjoyed it!

Here's the thing with Rafi (and you probably know this, just that after watching some of these films from the 1950s, I've definitely gained a greater appreciation for his works). In each of Mother India (1957), Pyaasa (1957), Taxi Driver (1954), and now Howrah Bridge (1958), he's sung for different comedians and has sounded very specific to each! That comedy is one of the most difficult genres to perform in seems to be the unanimous agreement among filmmakers and actors across the world, and I think this alone is worth recognizing in Rafi's case, since we could apply the framework to singers as well.

Shweta: Haven't seen too many of either actor's works to be qualified to form an educated opinion here, but Dev would certainly have done well here too. Can you imagine the possibilities for old school Bolly noir in the current Bollywood?!

All: Please see request for recommendations for Madhubala works in my comment to Bollyviewer above.


Pitu said...

6) is enough to make this movie eminently watchable :-D

Anonymous said...

I like Jaali Note and CID a lot too. You can skip CID999 though :-)

Anonymous said...

"I've been guilty of not having seen many of Madhubala's movies"

That omission needs to be corrected ASAP! ;-)

She is usually great in almost everything though I am not a big fan of her tragic roles. My personal favorites are Mr and Mrs 55 (1955), Ek Saal (1957), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958), Kala Paani (1958) and her first big hit Mahal (1949).

Shweta Mehrotra Gahlawat said...

Oh there is so much wonderful noir out there:
There is CID of course, but you will also find: Baaz, Baazi (, Aar paar (, Mahal and then unheard of Marine Drive (
There is also 12o'clock (which I have just procured) and the wonderfully named Black Cat, among others :)

theBollywoodFan said...

Pitu: Yes, what a great song! I've been playing the DVD just for the songs, they're all really good. This one in particular is splendid. So subtle yet so...fine! ;)

Memsaab: Thank you!

Bollyviewer: That omission needs to be corrected ASAP!

It does! And I'm going to hold myself accountable to see her films, starting with these. Thank you!


theBollywoodFan said...

Shweta: Thank you! I never knew of a film named 'Marine Drive' -- that's made it to the top of the list. I'll be sure to get the others too.

Bollywood procurement budgets are so easy to (happily) lose control over! ;)

S said...

Sounds interesting...the only thing about this movie that i have seen is the song "aiyee meherbaan "...will give it a try...

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Reviewer: I think you'll enjoy it. Aaiyye Meherbaan and Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu must be among two of the most recognizable tunes from the era, I think. Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Howrah Bridge is one of my favorite movies too. Not long afterwards, I had the pleasure to see Singapore (1960), which was also directed by Shakti Samanta, involves many of the same people, and has many references to Howrah Bridge. It also might be called a noir film, though more comic noir, with Shammi Kapoor as the hero and another beautiful woman (who was also the greatest dancer ever), Padmini, as the heroine. I tried to write a review of this, but it turned out to be half about Howrah Bridge, because the connections are unavoidable:

theBollywoodFan said...

Hi Richard, and thank you for your comment. Singapore sounds very intriguing, and I cannot wait to see Padmini! Shall be heading over to your blog soon, thanks for the link!

theBollywoodFan said...

Farewell, Shakti Samanta. :'(