You often lose the track of time watching suspense films because of their intensity. While Bollywood per se hasn’t been that much enamoured with the genre, the ’60s saw a spurt of them being made. The mysterious settings, haunting songs and good-looking men and women suspected of murder made for compelling viewing. At a time when we do need content which will tie us down to our sofas, we present a list of the best mystery thrillers to have come out of Bollywood in the ’60s. Sit back and enjoy.
Director: BR Chopra
Cast: Ashok Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Nanda, Mehmood
At a time when songs had a large hand in deciding the fate of a film at the box office, BR Chopra took a bold step to make a song-less courtroom drama. It’s said that his well-wishers asked him to reconsider, stating he was in effect committing professional suicide. But the filmmaker stuck to his guns and ended up making one of the best whodunits we’ve seen. Kailash (Rajendra Kumar) is a rising legal luminary and judge Badriprasad’s (Ashok Kumar) protege. He’s engaged to the judge’s daughter Meena (Nanda). His brother-in-law and friend Vijay (Mehmood) is in some financial tussle with a moneylender Dhaniram (Om Prakash). Kailash goes to the moneylender to sort things out and hides when he watches his father-in-law coming to meet Dhaniram. He’s horrified to see Dhaniram being stabbed by Badriprasad and runs away from there. When a small-time thief Kaalia (Nana Palsikar), is arrested by the police for the said murder, Kailash is duty-bound to defend him. He also, however, has to make sure that the truth never comes out. What happens next is an engrossing court drama with a nail-biting finish.
Bees Saal Baad (1962)
Director: Biren Nag
Cast: Biswajeet, Waheeda Rehman, Madan Puri, Asit Sen
The film is said to be based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Twenty years ago, a vengeful spirit had killed Kumar Vijay Singh’s father and earlier even his grandfather in his ancestral village. Villagers say that it’s the spirit of a girl whom the old Thakur had raped and she has vowed to end his line. When he comes to the village one fine day to investigate the truth behind the rumours, everyone warns him to move out but he doesn’t listen. He keeps hearing the song Kahin deep jale kahin dil, sung by a mysterious girl and wants to investigate. He falls in love with a local belle, Radha (Waheeda Rehman), who also warns him to go away. He doesn’t leave despite repeated attempts on his life, however and is hell-bent on finding out the truth. Whether there actually is a ghost bent on revenge or just someone taking advantage of the situation forms the crux of the film. Haunting music by Hemant Kumar, who had also produced the film, was the highlight of this mystery thriller. Breezy songs like Bekarar karke hame and Zara nazron se keh do ji are still popular today.
Woh Kaun Thi? (1964)
Director: Raj Khosla
Cast: Sadhna, Manoj Kumar, KN Singh
People might not remember the film’s story but Madan Mohan’s melodious tunes have survived the test of time alright. Lag jaa gale sung by Lata Mangeshkar is easily one of the most romantic songs ever. The haunting Naina barse rimjhim rimjhim, which the hero hears throughout the film on different occasions certainly has a matchless haunting quality about it. Dr Anand (Manoj Kumar) is in love with Seema (Helen) but she’s poisoned and killed. Her mother fixes his marriage to someone whom he has never seen before. On the wedding night, he’s shocked to see someone whom he has presumed dead to be his wife. His wife keeps singing the same song the girl was singing and even makes a painting of the bungalow where the doctor saw the dead body. He goes away alone to Shimla to take care of his mental health and there comes to know he has been haunted by the spirit of a girl whom he loved in earlier birth. Believing in the story, he wants to commit suicide but is stopped at the last minute by a former colleague. Anand is in for a shock when he learns the actual truth about the mysterious happenings.
Director: Biren Nag
Cast: Waheeda Rehman, Biswajeet, Lalita Pawar
The art director turned director Biren Nag died soon after the film’s release. Kohra is an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca but Nag changed things around and completely changed the ending. Also, he tried to make it a ghost story and put in supernatural elements without providing any explanation for them. The film boasted of sublime cinematography, however by Marshall Braganza, which contributed greatly to the haunting atmosphere of the film. The film was produced by Hemant Kumar and the composer gave some memorable songs as Ye nayan dare dare and Jhoom jhoom dhalti raat, the latter sung masterfully by Lata Mangeshkar. Rajeshwari (Waheeda Rehman) meets young widower Amit (Biswajeet) and the duo falls in love and gets married. When she comes to live with him in his palatial mansion, she finds herself being unfavourably compared to his first wife. Amit too becomes strangely aloof towards her. Certain portions of the house are off-limits to her. She begins to suspect Amit had killed his first wife and begins to investigate, leading to shocking results.
Director: Raja Nawathe
Cast: Manoj Kumar, Nanda, Pran, Helen, Mehmood
This is an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s best-selling murder mystery And Then There Were None. A motley crew of people comprising Asha (Nanda), Barrister Rakesh (Pran), Mr Kishan (Manmohan), Dr Acharya (Madan Puri), Mr Dharamdas (Dhumal), Miss Kitty (Helen) and Mr Sharma (Tarun Bose) win mysteriously get a chance to go on a foreign trip. The aeroplane carrying them makes an emergency landing on a deserted island and takes off when everyone disembarks. Anand (Manoj Kumar), the flight steward, too gets left behind. They hear the song Gumnaam hai koi and follow the sound, leading to a large bungalow, where the caretaker (Mehmood) seems to be expecting them. Anand discovers a diary which accuses them all of the murder and forewarns that everyone present will be killed in retaliation one by one. Though the group is disturbed, they take to the warning lightly. Soon, however, people keep dying one-by-one and the survivors must band together in order to ward off the menace. Besides the haunting Gumnaam hai koi, the film also had the frothy Hum kaale hain to kya hua dilwale hain, picturised on Mehmood and Helen.
Mera Saaya (1966)
Director: Raj Khosla
Cast: Sunil Dutt, Sadhana, KN Singh, Prem Chopra
It’s a remake of the Marathi film Pathlaag (1964). Thakur Rakesh Singh (Sunil Dutt) is happily married to Geeta (Sadhana). He learns of his wife’s illness while studying abroad and immediately returns back, only to see her dying in front of him. He builds a memorial in her memory and is unable to come out of his grief. One day, a police inspector informs him that a woman they had caught with a gang of dacoits claims to be his wife. He’s shocked to see the resemblance and goes into a deeper shock when the woman tells him things only his wife could have known. He accuses her of being an imposter and files a case against her. The woman is sent to a mental institution. She breaks away from there one night and confronts Rakesh, telling him the complete version of the story. He’s unwilling to believe it even then but circumstances force him to accept the truth. The film’s changing narrative kept you glued to your seat throughout. Madan Mohan’s tunes, especially the title song by Lata Mangeshkar and the frothy Jhumka gira re by Asha Bhosle remain evergreen.
Teesri Manzil (1966)
Director: Vijay Anand
Cast: Shammi Kapoor, Asha Parekh
They say there is no better stylist in our films than Vijay Anand and this film proves it one more time. Teesri Manzil was a musical murder mystery. The tunes crafted by maestro RD Burman made the listeners wake up and take notice of his genius. He wasn’t an unknown entity as he has been assisting his father SD Burman for quite a while but here he showcased his own brand of music which was drastically different from his father’s when it comes to orchestration but not that different when it came to the melody. Rupa (Sabina) falls to her death from the third floor of a hotel in Dehradun. Her sister Sunita (Asha Parekh) feels Rocky (Shammi Kapoor) is behind the death and travels to Dehradun to expose him. However, Rocky has been impersonating as Anil and has been flirting with her all the time. He truly falls for Sunita and confesses the truth to her, claiming his innocence about her sister’s death. She’s furious with him and doesn’t pay heed to his pleas. She changes her mind when an attempt is made to end his life as well. They unite to find the real killer. The twist ending comes as a real shocker. Tunes such as Deewana mujhsa nahin, O haseena zulfonwali, O mere sona re remain chartbusters still.
Director: BR Chopra
Cast: Sunil Dutt, Raaj Kumar, Balraj Sahni, Vimi, Mumtaz
Hamraaz was a rather Hitchcockian film made by BR Chopra. It’s various twists and turns kept the viewers guessing right till the end. Ravi provided the music and songs like Neele gagan ke tale, Tum agar saath dene ka, and Na moonh chhupa ke jiyo written by Sahir remain popular even today. Kumar (Sunil Dutt) is a well-known stage actor who performs plays along with his Shabnam (Mumtaz) who is in a little love with him. While on a trip to Darjeeling, he falls in love with Meena (Vimi). Her behaviour changes after his father’s death and Kumar begins to feel she’s having an affair. He means to investigate and disguises himself with the intention of following her but finds her dead. Soon, inspector Ashok (Balraj Sahni) starts suspecting him. In order to escape the murder charge, Kumar starts a parallel investigation of his own. His enquiries lead him to Captain Rajesh (Raaj Kumar), who confesses to being Meena’s first husband. He also tells him that they have a daughter who was given for adoption. The man who killed Meena now has the child and the duo come together to find out the truth about the mysterious happenings.
Director: Yash Chopra
Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Nanda
Yash Chopra followed the footsteps of his elder brother BR Chopra by making a songless film. It was a bold decision, especially at the time when Rajesh Khanna was starting to make a name for himself as a musical superstar. Dilip Roy (Rajesh Khanna) is accused of having killed his wife as per the testimony given by her sister (Bindu). His erratic behaviour during the trial prompts Dr Trivedi (Gajanan Jagirdar), a psychologist to examine him. Trivedi feels he should be kept under medical observation and gives orders to that effect. One stormy night, Dilip escapes and ends up at Rekha’s (Nanda) house. He finds a dead body there and suspects she has killed her husband. He asks her about it, only to find that the body has disappeared. However, he still calls the police who find the body outside. He’s accused by the police of another murder and future indeed looks bleak for him. He insists that the police are helping Rekha and he’s innocent of the crime. How he gets out of the dilemma forms the crux of this intriguing story.