A remake of Raj Khosla’s Gothic-style suspense thriller Woh Kaun Thi? (1964) is on the cards. To be produced by KriArj Films, the movie will retain two of the biggest reasons behind its success: the songs Naina Barse Rimjhim Rimjhim and Lag Ja Gale. It might have been simpler to buy the rights to the Madan Mohan tunes, gorgeously sung by Lata Mangeshkar, and reuse them in another movie rather than tinker with Khosla’s classic, but then Bollywood never learns.
The casting for the new version is expected to be a coin toss between Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Deepika Padukone. Either actress works fine as the ethereal-looking woman who might just be a ghost. But like the original movie title, questions linger. Will the producers pay royalty to the estate of British writer Wilkie Collins, whose 1860 novel The Woman in White inspired Khosla’s movie? And how will colour affect the mood?
The original movie was in black and white, and cinematographer KH Kapadia created richly atmospheric sequences by playing with light. Sadhana, who plays the spectral heroine, is often lensed through close-ups, with strands of her hair delicately strewn across her enigmatic face. Kapadia and Khosla set up a stark play between other-worldly whiteness – signalled by the heroine’s sari and her alabaster complexion – and the darkness conveyed by the looming shadows and dark corners that entrap the hero.
The movie opens on a suitable sinister note. Anand (Manoj Kumar), a doctor, halts during a downpour when he sees a woman clad in a white sari standing by the road. His car’s wipers stop working when she sits inside the vehicle, and as he drops her off at a crematorium, the first strains of Naina Barse Rimjhim Rimjhim play. Recorded with an echo effect, the song is parcelled out throughout the movie, and is to Woh Kaun Thi? what Aayega Aanewala was to Kamal Amrohi’s Mahal (1949) – the leitmotif that will haunt Anand.
Sandhya (Sadhana) appears to have died – twice! – so Anand is understandably shocked when she turns up as his bride. He shuns her, convinced that she is out to get him in some way, but relents one night when she takes him to a lonely place and serenades him with Lag Ja Gale. The song speaks of a night of passion that may never be repeated. Sandhya tells Anand that she has been hunting for him through the ages, and he finally comes under her spell (the luminous close-ups help). Raja Mehndi Ali Khan’s lyrics create a sense of both timelessness and impermanence. Look at me with all your heart, for you may never be so fortunate again, Sandhya tells Anand. Her words prove prophetic, and the suspense lingers all the way till the climax.