Raj Khosla, India’s answer to Alfred Hitchcock and Bollywood’s master of thrills


Bombai Ka Babu (1960) is a Raj Khosla neo-noir family drama with an incest angle. PHOTO/Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times

Alfred Hitchcock would have turned 119 this month. A look at how Raj Khosla, one of the top Hindi film directors of the ’50s-’80s imbibed Hitchcock’s spirit, moulding it to suit the Indian audience

The night is black as pitch; a car makes its way through the rain and comes to a halt. The headlights show a woman in white in its path. The driver, a young doctor on his way home, asks her a few questions; her answers indicate this will be an interesting meeting.

He gives her a lift, she responds to him in a flat monotone throughout the journey, and says at one point that she “likes blood” as if she were expressing a liking for marmalade, and gets off at a graveyard whose gates creak open at her approach. [Many scenes later, the doctor (Manoj Kumar) has an arranged marriage with a woman (Sadhana) with an uncanny resemblance to the mysterious woman, and it nearly throws him and his marital life off gear.]

This opening scene of Woh Kaun Thi?, one of the most successful suspense flicks of commercial Hindi cinema, owes its spirit – the obsessive pursuit of a woman (as seen in Vertigo, Dial M for Murder) – and its pacing to Alfred Hitchcock, the master of psychological thrillers and crime noir in the ’20s-’70s Hollywood. The structure and content of the film are, of course, all Raj Khosla’s. Khosla was a top director-producer of ’50s-’80s Bollywood. His films of murder, suspicion and mayhem were all played out in the seemingly stable but most volatile of Indian institutions – the family.

In Bombai Ka Babu (1960), Woh Kaun Thi? (1964), Mera Saaya (1966), Anita (1967) and Naqaab (1989), Khosla focussed on the man-woman relationship with all its potential for sin, crime, misunderstandings, and, of course, reconciliation.

Raj Khosla was one of the top directors of Hindi films of the ’50s-’80s. PHOTO/HT

The inky-shadowed interiors of the home of the richest man of a village on the mountains into which an escaped convict Babu (Dev Anand in Bombai…) enters and is mistakenly welcomed as the long-lost son mirror Babu’s fear-stricken close-ups as he falls in love with his beautiful ‘sister’ (Suchitra Sen). They recall the great Hollywood director in the way Hitchcockian and noirish interior or mental states are expressed by exterior settings of place. [The word ‘noir’ was coined by the French for an American genre of films, the stylish crime dramas].

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