Asit Sen first tasted success in Mumbai when he remade his Bengali classic, Uttar Falguni (1963), as Mamta (1966). Both movies starred iconic actress Suchitra Sen.

After his next Hindi venture, Anokhi Raat (1968), which is set over the course of one night, was a critical success but a commercial failure, Sen returned to familiar territory for his new project. Khamoshi (1969) is a remake of Sen’s classic Bengali film, Deep Jele Jai (1959). It’s easy to see why Sen was tempted to revisit Deep Jele Jai for a pan-Indian audience. The blockbuster is regarded as one of the finest Bengali films from the ’50s and a landmark entry in Suchitra Sen’s acting career. Deep Jele Jai composer Hemanta Mukherjee (better known as Hemant Kumar in the Hindi film industry) once again scored the music as well as produced Khamoshi. This time, though, unlike Uttar Falguni and Mamta, Suchitra Sen did not reprise her earlier role. Waheeda Rehman stepped in to play the character that Sen had immortalised in the Bengali original.

Deep Jele Jai is arguably Asit Sen’s finest film. The questionable handling of the psychiatric angle aside, the movie is an extremely sensitive and moving humane drama centered on the heroine, Radha. With simple yet extremely effective storytelling, the film reiterates Sen’s belief that filmmaking was all about sharing emotions. Unless one has experienced pain, Sen believed, he or she could never be a filmmaker. His films were devoid of flashy techniques as he felt that resorting to technical gimmickry meant you had nothing of substance to say.

Radha (Suchitra Sen) is a nurse at a psychiatric clinic in Kolkata. She has just suffered a major heartbreak after treating a patient of acute mania, Debasish. In a revolutionary new treatment that is still in its experimental stage, Radha is expected to play-act the mother, lover and wife in turn, as the case may be, for the patient in order to cure him. In the process, she finds herself falling for Debasish, who after getting well, is grateful to Radha but weds his fiancé. When a similar case of a spurned young man, Tapas (Basanta Choudhury), is offered to Radha, she turns it down. However, in spite of herself, she gets drawn into Tapas’s case only to see history tragically repeat itself.

‘Ei Raat Tomar Aamar’ from ‘Deep Jele Jai’.

Deep Jele Jai is set in Kolkata and has a quintessential urban flavor. The movie avoids loud melodrama, is subtly told and lovingly shot with poetic use of low-key lighting that plays moodily with light and shade. The film uses songs only when it has to, in particular making splendid use of “Ei Raat Tomar Amar” (This night is yours and mine), which represents Radha’s unrequited love for Debasish. In the middle of a fine Bengali cast (including Pahadi Sanyal and Anil Chatterjee), you have the mesmerising Suchitra Sen. The film is full of ethereal close-ups of Sen, who, in spite of a limited acting range, could create absolute magic on the silver screen when she was correctly cast. Deep Jele Jai sees a seminal performance by Sen, whose silences speak volumes. Ever-so-slight emotions flit across her face, and you simply cannot take your eyes off her whenever she is on the screen.

Waheeda Rehman in Khamoshi.

The Hindi version hews closely to the original tale. Despite being an opportunity to improve on the earlier film, Khamoshi is a classic example of something having been lost in translation. Thinking that Hindi audiences were not as cine-literate as the Bengalis, Asit Sen makes Khamoshi far more obvious in its storytelling, even lifting the dramatic pitch a notch and often filling in the silences and gaps in its narrative flow. Khamoshi fails to create a proper geographical context for the story as it mixes shots of Mumbai and Kolkata even though the film is presumably set in Mumbai. The very factors that made the original such a fine piece of filmmaking get diluted in the remake.

In spite of some genuinely good central performances by Waheeda Rehman and, to a certain extent, Rajesh Khanna (in the Basanta Choudhury role), evocative camerawork by Kamal Bose, and a new and lovely score by Hemant Kumar accompanied by Gulzar’s highly poetic lyrics (“Humne Dekhi Hai”, “Tum Pukar Lo”, “Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi”, among others), Khamoshi fails to have the same impact as Deep Jele Jai. The Hindi version did not perform particularly well at the box office either.

Tum Pukar Lo from Khamoshi.

Deep Jele Jai versus Khamoshi is a typical case study of a remake losing its rootedness and specific milieu when it is retold for a larger Indian audience. In fact, if we study Hindi remakes of Indian language films, we more often than not find that the original holds up far better.

Fortunately for Asit Sen, Safar (1970), the Hindi remake of his Bengali film Chalachal (1956) that starred Rajesh Khanna, worked big time. One hasn’t seen Chalachal but as a stand-alone film, Safar is carried more than ably by Khanna’s immense charm at the peak of his popularity.

Asit Sen.