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 film...talk 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)