The debt that Indian cinema owes to Wilkie Collins and his ‘The Woman in White’

From ‘Raaz’ to ‘Humraz’, the British novel has directly or indirectly inspired several films made in the subcontinent.

British author Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1860) has given popular culture some indelible images, the most powerful being a mysterious, distraught woman dressed in white standing by the side of the road.

The popular novel has inspired several adaptations, and India too has not been able to resist the yarn of two similar looking stepsisters, a valuable marriage settlement, scheming friends and relatives, and identity swaps. Over 1958 and 1959, even as Guru Dutt was making Kaagaz Ke Phool, the first Indian film in CinemaScope, he simultaneously announced a project for his assistant, Niranjan, to direct. The thriller was also planned as a launch pad for RD Burman as an independent music director. It was to be called Raaz and was to star Waheeda Rehman in the double role of two sisters and Sunil Dutt as an Army doctor. Kum Kum was to play the third sister, while character actor S Nazir was to round off the cast as the villainous uncle.

Production on Raaz proceeded in fits and starts. Guru Dutt replaced Sunil Dutt as the lead and some scenes were shot in Shimla with the new pair. Burman recorded a song with Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum and Asha Bhosle, which was to be filmed on three nautch girls. However, Guru Dutt was unhappy with the way the film was shaping up and scrapped it.

Courtesy Film Heritage Foundation.
Courtesy Film Heritage Foundation.

According to Nasreen Munni Kabir’s seminal book Guru Dutt: A Life In Cinema, Raaz was based on The Woman in White. Collins’s tale revolves around the switching of stepsisters Anne Catherick, the mysterious woman in white who is committed to a mental asylum, and heiress Laura Fairlie, in order to grab Laura’s inheritance. Apart from radio, film and television adaptations, The Woman in White has also been made as a stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 2004. One of the better-known screen versions is the 1948 film by Peter Godfrey, which stars Eleanor Parker in the dual roles of Laura and Anne.

The Woman in White (1948).

Although Guru Dutt had abandoned Raaz, the movie was destined to be made. His former assistant Raj Khosla, who was by then a successful filmmaker in his own right, got permission to use the unfinished film’s story. Khosla reworked Raaz with writer Dhruva Chatterjee as the well-crafted suspense drama Woh Kaun Thi? (1964). The film starred Sadhana in the enigmatic roles of twin sisters, one good and one evil. Both are switched at will by the villain (Prem Chopra) to drive the hero (Manoj Kumar), who is married to the good one, insane and cheat him out of his inheritance. Woh Kaun Thi is the first in a trilogy of mystery films that Sadhana did with Khosla, the others being Mera Saaya (1966) and Anita (1967).

Even though Woh Kaun Thi? works beautifully as an engaging thriller and is aided greatly by Sadhana’s performance and KH Kapadia’s moody camerawork, its greatest accomplishment is its brilliant musical score by Madan Mohan. In a film in which every song is perfectly composed, the anthemic Naina Barse and the deliriously romantic Lag Ja Gale, one of Lata Mangeshkar’s great numbers, stand out.

Lag Ja Gale from Woh Kaun Thi?

When Khosla’s films started failing after Dostana (1980), he revisited the mystery genre with Naqab (1989), starring Rishi Kapoor and Farah. The film, a Muslim social with thriller elements, is actually a closer adaptation of The Woman In White than Woh Kaun Thi? However, Naqab also flopped miserably, bringing about an undistinguished end to Khosla’s filmmaking career.

The success of Woh Kaun Thi? inspired remakes in Tamil and Telugu, both starring the up and coming J Jayalalithaa. Yaar Nee? (1966), the Tamil version by Sathyam, co-starred Jaishankar as the befuddled hero, while in the Telugu film by BS Narayana, Aame Evaru? (1966), Kongara Jaggaiah played the male lead. Both films, produced by PS Veerappa, were faithful copies of the Hindi movie, to the extent that music composer Vedha re-used most of Madan Mohan’s tunes in both films.

Ponmeni Thazhuvamal from Yaar Nee?

The Woman in White also travelled across the border. Acclaimed music director Khwaja Khurshid Anwar’s Humraz (1967) stars Pakistani star Shamim Ara in the double role of the sisters. While one is a Westernised woman with a terminal heart problem, the other is the traditional type. Anwar also co-produced and scored the music for Humraz. Mohammad Ali plays the doctor trying to solve the mystery even as he falls in love with one of the sisters, while the actress from the Lara Lappa song, Meena Shorey, is seen in one of her last roles of any substance. She plays a wicked governess who is the wife and accomplice of the villainous uncle who is eying the family property. Humraz is an extremely loose adaptation of the Collins story and is clumsily plotted and tackily produced. Anwar’s music just about passes muster, and cannot be compared with his more memorable scores in such films as Intezar (1956) and Koel (1959).

The lobby card of Humraz. Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.
The lobby card of Humraz. Courtesy Omar Ali Khan.

While the novel was published in 1860, all adaptations have been set in contemporary times, thereby proving that Collins’s story has a universal quality and has held up well down the years. The Woman In White has also been adapted as a Marathi television serial, Swetambara, sometime in the 1980s. The serial is still remembered for the fine performance of character actor Raghuvir Nevrekar, besides being the debut of actor Mohan Gokhale.

The title sequence Marathi serial Swetambara.
We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Why should inclusion matter to companies?

It's not just about goodwill - inclusivity is a good business decision.

To reach a 50-50 workplace scenario, policies on diversity need to be paired with a culture of inclusiveness. While diversity brings equal representation in meetings, board rooms, promotions and recruitment, inclusivity helps give voice to the people who might otherwise be marginalized or excluded. Inclusion at workplace can be seen in an environment that values diverse opinions, encourages collaboration and invites people to share their ideas and perspectives. As Verna Myers, a renowned diversity advocate, puts it “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Creating a sense of belonging for everyone is essential for a company’s success. Let’s look at some of the real benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

Better decision making

A whitepaper by Cloverpop, a decision making tool, established a direct link between inclusive decision making and better business performance. The research discovered that teams that followed an inclusive decision-making process made decisions 2X faster with half the meetings and delivered 60% better results. As per Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino, this report highlights how diversity and inclusion are practical tools to improve decision making in companies. According to her, changing the composition of decision making teams to include different perspectives can help individuals overcome biases that affect their decisions.

Higher job satisfaction

Employee satisfaction is connected to a workplace environment that values individual ideas and creates a sense of belonging for everyone. A research by Accenture identified 40 factors that influence advancement in the workplace. An empowering work environment where employees have the freedom to be creative, innovative and themselves at work, was identified as a key driver in improving employee advancement to senior levels.


A research by stated the in India, 62% of innovation is driven by employee perceptions of inclusion. The study included responses from 1,500 employees from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico and the United States and showed that employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new and innovative ways of getting work done.

Competitive Advantage

Shirley Engelmeier, author of ‘Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage’, in her interview with Forbes, talks about the new global business normal. She points out that the rapidly changing customer base with different tastes and preferences need to feel represented by brands. An inclusive environment will future-proof the organisation to cater to the new global consumer language and give it a competitive edge.

An inclusive workplace ensures that no individual is disregarded because of their gender, race, disability, age or other social and cultural factors. Accenture has been a leading voice in advocating equal workplace. Having won several accolades including a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate equality index, Accenture has demonstrated inclusive and diverse practices not only within its organisation but also in business relationships through their Supplier Inclusion and Diversity program.

In a video titled ‘She rises’, Accenture captures the importance of implementing diverse policies and creating an inclusive workplace culture.


To know more about inclusion and diversity, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Accenture and not by the Scroll editorial team.