House No. 44 (1955)

If I have one major failing when it comes to selecting films to watch, it is the stubborn (naive?) belief that any film which has good songs and a good cast must also necessarily be good. This has been proven to be a completely baseless criterion for film selection, but I plod on optimistically, buying and renting films that have superb music but fall absolutely flat on other fronts: House No. 44, for example, a Dev Anand starrer that tries to be noir but doesn’t quite make it.

Dev Anand in House No. 44

The film starts off promisingly enough, with my favourite song from the film, Teri duniya mein jeene se toh behtar hai. This is sung by Ashok (Dev Anand), a pickpocket who just about manages to make ends meet for himself and the sidekick he calls Jamoora. Ashok and Jamoora sleep on the pavement, but shift into the nearest verandah one night when it starts raining. They are woken up the next morning by Nimmo (Kalpana Kartik), the girl who lives in the house. She is a little miffed at these interlopers.

Nimmo boots Ashok and Jamoora out of the verandah

Nimmo’s father (Shivraj), a chowkidar, pacifies her while Ashok and Jamoora go off. Shortly after, Ashok successfully picks the fat wallet of a passerby, Sundar (Bhagwan Sinha). Unknown to Ashok, Sundar also is a crook—though substantially more crooked, unscrupulous and big-time than poor petty Ashok. Sundar discovers that Ashok’s filched his wallet. He confronts Ashok, and is impressed by Ashok’s jaunty acceptance of the crime.

Sundar is impressed by Ashok

Sundar offers Ashok better, bigger employment and takes him to House No. 44, a dilapidated wreck occupied by the sinister, bare-bellied Kaptaan (K N Singh). Kaptaan is in a foul mood because one of his henchmen, Jebu (Rashid Khan) has just quit the gang. Interestingly, unlike in other films where this would have meant Jebu being summarily despatched, in House No. 44 Kaptaan’s main worry seems to be the resultant shortstaffing, since Jebu’s daughter, who also helped out the gang, has deserted along with Daddy.
Ashok joins the gang and is given an advance to get his kit (he must look a `gentleman’).

...and introduces him to Kaptaan

That night, Ashok and Jamoora are wandering around near the railway tracks when they spot Sundar and one of his cronies trying to break into a railway shed. Ashok and Jamoora go investigating (though it’s never explained if Ashok recognises Sundar), and at the same time, a chowkidar arrives. Sundar and his buddy run, bang into the chowkidar, and kill him, leaving the corpse to be found by Ashok. Ashok, fortunately, has the good sense to inform the police.

A chowkidar stumbles upon Sundar and a crony

The chowkidar, of course (and where would Hindi cinema be without its coincidences?) is Nimmo’s father. She is now all alone, and among the neighbours who come to console her are Sundar and his mother. Sundar remembers that with Jebu’s daughter now no longer part of the gang, they are in need of a girl to do all the tasks only a ‘woman can do’ (an ambiguous explanation he’d given Ashok earlier). So Sundar persuades his mother to take Nimmo under her wing. Nimmo, who should’ve had the sense not to trust a man who looks so oily, is grateful and agrees to go live with them.

Nimmo agrees to go stay with Sundar and his mother

We’re now given a taste of what Ashok’s expected to do as part of Kaptaan & Co. This consists of dressing up in a suit, going to a club and sitting near a wealthy woman wearing a supposedly expensive necklace. Ashok smiles at the woman, blows smoke around her from his cigarette, and hovers expectantly around her back while a dancer (Sheila Vaz) struts her stuff.

A dancer acts as an accomplice for Ashok

The song ends with the necklace in the dancer’s hands (the actual stealing isn’t shown and one is expected to imagine that Ashok managed to slip a heavy necklace from around the victim’s neck in the middle of a well-lit room, while surrounded by people. I’m sceptical). The dancer slips the necklace into a guitar which she later hands over to Ashok, with instructions to pass it on to a woman Sundar will send.
This happens to be Nimmo. They recognise each other, and are also obviously attracted to each other in a friendly, sweet sort of way. Ashok escorts her back home—or rather to her foster home, since she’s now staying with Sundar and his mother.

Nimmo is sent to collect the guitar

Sundar isn’t overjoyed to see Ashok being so chummy with Nimmo, and after Ashok tells him off for sending a lone girl out on errands so late at night, he gets even more irritated and advises Ashok to mind his own business.
Meanwhile, the local police has figured out that Sundar was most probably responsible for the old chowkidar’s murder (don’t ask me how they know; we’re just given a glimpse of an officer—Jagdish Raj—telling his subordinates that. Very mysterious). Sundar’s photograph’s put on a Wanted poster, and he decides it’s time to lie low.

The police offer a reward for information of Sundar

After trying to make a pass at Nimmo, Sundar sends her off on another errand, this time to deliver a package to Ashok. What this package consists of is kept a mysterious secret; to me it seems a mere pretext to have Ashok and Nimmo meet again and walk around in the moonlight.
The main outcome of all this mooning about is that Ashok decides enough’s enough and Sundar had better stop using Nimmo for his nefarious activities.
(Another mystery: I can’t see why a woman is needed to fetch and carry stuff like a guitar or a packet in the middle of the night; Sundar’s explanation that there are some tasks only a woman can do doesn’t hold water here). Also, why is there such a difference in Dev Anand’s and Kalpana Kartik’s heights in this shot? They’re supposed to be walking together, not him standing on a box. Something wrong there.

...and Nimmo is wooed by Ashok

The next morning, Ashok comes to meet Sundar and warn him to stop using Nimmo for these potentially dangerous errands. Sundar laughs in his face, and when Nimmo enters the room, tries to manhandle her. Ashok, of course, rescues her by knocking Sundar down. He tells Sundar, and later Kaptaan, that he’s out of the gang and will be leading an honest, upright life from now onwards.

Sundar manhandles Nimmo - and is knocked down by Ashok

Ashok rents a room for Nimmo to stay in (what, by the way, happened to the house where Nimmo used to stay with her father? Where other films conveniently forget minor details and characters, this one takes the cake by forgetting an entire house). He then sets off to find a job, and ends up in a succession of jobs—all of which he loses because Kaptaan & Co. sabotage stuff so that the blame falls on Ashok.

Kaptaan & Co. get even with Ashok

Finally at the end of his tether, with no money either for himself or to pay Nimmo’s rent, Ashok goes to the police. The reward money for information leading to Sundar’s capture is Rs 500, and Ashok lets the police know where Sundar lives. The police reach Sundar’s home, he panics and shoots at them—they shoot back, and Sundar dies. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say, but Ashok, with the Rs 500 in his pocket, can’t get rid of the thought that this is tainted money.

Ashok is disgusted by money he thinks is tainted

From this point onwards , as if it wasn’t already incoherent enough, the film slides into what memsaab refers to as “the curse of the second half”. It gets more and more difficult to keep up with the events that follow—and more importantly, with the logic behind those events. If it hadn’t been for the songs, and for the fact that I was hoping to see a reason emerge for the convoluted story, I’d have given up well before the end. As it was, the last 45 minutes or so proved very difficult to sit through.

What I liked about this film:
The music. S D Burman has always been one of my favourites, and this film has some lovely songs, including the beautiful Chup hai dharti chup hain chaand-sitaare and Phaili huin hain sapnon ki baahein.

Dev Anand and Kalpana Kartik look great together. His acting is accomplished, though hers is a little stilted and overdone by turns: she’s nowhere as good as she was in Nau Do Gyarah, just two years later.

What I didn’t like:
The sheer pointlessness of much of the film. There is just too much that doesn’t make sense, too many mysteries. For example, why does Sundar use Nimmo to run these useless errands which could so easily have been entrusted to one of his other goons? Where does Nimmo’s father’s house disappear? What was in the package Sundar got Nimmo to deliver to Ashok? Why do Kaptaan’s goons waste so much time and energy in trying to discredit Ashok when they could be more gainfully employed in other illegal activities?

I could ascribe (and I think with reason) some of these discrepancies to Shemaroo, notorious for editing that verges on the criminal. Unfortunately, too much is obviously just never explained in the film, or explained in a way that’s cursory, illogical or just plain unconvincing. And, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a series of utterly irrational events that follows. In hindsight, I have a feeling this was supposed to resemble the sort of clever plotting that falls into place at the end of a good suspense thriller, when you have a sudden “A-ha!” moment and realise where all of those seemingly mysterious actions were leading up. In House No. 44, this falls unbelievably flat: all that convoluted and puzzling action leads up to a climax so unsatisfactory it made me want to kill someone!

Such a disappointment. I’m usually kindly disposed towards Navketan: they made some delightfully entertaining films. But after this one, I’m going to be giving them something of a wide berth for a while at least.

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18 thoughts on “House No. 44 (1955)

  1. Sounds like Woh Kaun Thi, where we are subjected to things that make no sense, and are thrown all kinds of red herrings which never go anywhere and just make it look like the film was made basically without a script.

    I feel like there should be something we could DO to prevent these DVD manufacturers from mutilating our films willy-nilly, too. Arghh.

  2. “I feel like there should be something we could DO to prevent these DVD manufacturers from mutilating our films willy-nilly”

    Yes, I have a feeling parts of House No. 44 were definitely chopped off without a thought by Shemaroo. This was a 2-disc VCD, and on each disc, at least 50 mb of space was devoted to advertisements of Shemaroo’s other products. If I’m paying for a film, I’d like to see it, not the entire range of the manufacturer’s product line.

    Oh, how I hate these morons.

    BTW: The main difference in basics between this and Woh Kaun Thi is that Woh Kaun Thi is (as you point out) full of red herrings that are unnecessary and never cleared up. This one’s just full of holes in the plot. It’s a very basic plot, no real mystery as such – but just so badly written, I had no idea what was going on through most of the second half.

  3. Who is the director?
    House no. 44 does have good songs and I love all of them.
    But have never seen it as yet.

    “Also, why is there such a difference in Dev Anand’s and Kalpana Kartik’s heights in this shot?”

    KK was shorter than Dev. I remember seeing their Honeymoon photos in a film magazine, where there are posing before a guard and Dev is bending towards her and even then she manages just to bring her head up to his shoulder.

    BTW I always confuse this films title with that of Post Box 999. Unfortunately, couldn’t find the latter in Bombay!

    I think there are too many Dev film with somewhat same plot. Dev a small time thief with K. N. Singh as the villain. It surely can get tedious.

    In Bombay I had started watching Paying Guest and there was something of his and Nutan’s mannerisms, which totally irritated me and I was very glad when the VCD just broke down (It was a Shemaroo!).

    WAs just watching Lakhon mein ek. Highly recommended for people who are tired of seeing the Meena Kumaris of the hindi cinema doing their sacrifice acts and rona-dhona. Here we have Mehmood playing the goody goody chap. I think he picked up some tips from his sis-in-law Meena Kumari. Great songs but utterly lousy!

  4. You can just imagine what Shemaroo’s like when I tell you I don’t know who the director is – Shemaroo cut out all the credits except the name of the film and the names of Dev Anand, Kalpana Kartik and K N Singh! But a little research seems to suggest that the director’s M K Burman – no idea if that’s right or not.

    Ah, so that’s why the difference in heights. It puzzled me because in other parts of the film she’s definitely taller; just in this scene is she so much shorter!

    I actually like Paying Guest quite a bit – it has gorgeous songs, and when it gets into the real plot of the story (Shubha Khote’s dilemma – between her old husband and Dev Anand, whom she’s fascinated by – and what happens as a result of all of that), it’s quite interesting. The first bit can be irritating because of the silly bickering between the leads, but it gets better later.

  5. That necklace stealing scenario has featured in many bollywood movies, a similar one happens in Suraj where Rajendra kumar steals from the king and then hides it in a guitar, a similar thing happens in Shaan where Parveen steals Bindu’s necklace and puts it in Amitabh’s walking stick and in Roop Ki Rani choron ka raja Sri Devi steals from Bindu only for the necklace to end up with Anil Kapoor who had also come there to steal, looks like the case of robbing the necklaces in a well lit room should make it onto the next bollywood mysteries list

  6. This is one movie where I’ve managed NOT to follow the songs into a bad film! I was sorely tempted by the presence of Dev Anand, but then Kalpana Kartik somehow just fails to be interesting (except in Nau Do Gyarah). Plus, it took a while for me to accept Hemant Kumar playbacking for Dev – he sounds way too philosophical and soulful for Dev Anand!

    I dont think I’ve ever seen K. N. Singh look ruffianly before! he is usually the suave and sophisticated villain who conveys more menace in one lifted eyebrow than Amrish Puri could with two bulging eyes!

  7. You are not alone in this, dustedoff!! I have quite a collection of films which I bought just because it had such lovely songs only to find out that the film itself was difficult to watch.
    The result is that I have over a dozen half-watched films.

    Now I’m wondering what to do about this film :-/
    I’m in the midst of collecting Dev Aanand films.

  8. bollywooddeewana: Wow, that’s more than I could list! I was reminded of Kismat, though, where the crooks hide a valuable piece of information (I think in the form of a microfilm or something) in Biswajit’s guitar. And in Waqt Raj Kumar was gearing up to steal Shashikala’s necklace while dancing with her – but they’d arranged to turn off all the lights at the crucial moment. Even then, that would’ve been a dicey affair, I think!

    bollyviewer: K N Singh as a ruffianly, half-clad goon was unusual: he’s always so suave and elegant! I found it easier to accept Hemant singing playback for Hemant, though: he’s also Dev Anand’s singing voice in some songs in Patita and Solvaan Saal. The strangest actor-singer combo I’ve seen was Hemant singing for Shammi Kapoor in Bluffmaster!

    pacifist: So how many Dev Anand films have you managed to collect? He worked in some really delightful films, though I can’t bear his later ones – the 70′s films opposite Zeenat Aman, for instance. But the 50′s and the 60′s have some gems.

    Ava: I don’t suppose I will lose faith, actually! ;-) Navketan did make some fabulous films, in fact some of my favourites too.

  9. Oh, I don’t mean the mathematical ‘midst’. *says sheepishly*

    I’ve just started and may have about …15 :-(
    They are mostly 50s and some 60s.
    Mostly the ones you or memsaab have reviewed.

  10. 15 is not bad at all – that’s more Dev Anand films than I own! Though I must admit I’ve seen a whole lot more than I’ve reviewed. Like Shammi Kapoor, he’s another of my favourite actors, mainly because he can usually be counted upon to be quite entertaining (and his films generally had excellent music).

  11. aww, I like this one. It’s sort of like Taxi Driver and is reasonable well made so I’m willing to look past the perhaps weak story.

    [cit]Sundar use Nimmo to run these useless errands which could so easily have been entrusted to one of his other goons?[/cit]

    Sundar says a girl would arise less suspicion than a guy. This is why he uses Nimmo.

    Police could be on to transportation of smuggled goods in guitars, etc. and putting heat on Sundar’s men.

    [cit]Where does Nimmo’s father’s house disappear?[/cit]

    Maybe it’s not proper for Nimmo to live by herself without family. Or maybe her Father didn’t fully pay for it and it was seized after his death.

    [cit]What was in the package Sundar got Nimmo to deliver to Ashok?[/cit]

    No idea. It is a pretext. :)

    [Cit]Why do Kaptaan’s goons waste so much time and energy in trying to discredit Ashok when they could be more gainfully employed in other illegal activities?[/cit]

    It’s daytime; they cannot pull off any major operations. And it serves as a warning to anyone who decides they want to leave and begin a legal career path. Kaptaan wanted to get Ashok back too (coz he’s such a wiz. ;)

  12. Oh Shemaroo! Don’t get me started on them. They mindlessly chopped off almost half an hour of the film from Funtoosh! I had trouble keeping up, and the songs got boring and repetitive after a while… but anyway. How come there’s no mention of “Peeche Peeche Aa Kar”, one of my favorite songs? (I bet it’s the director (as you correctly put it) at one of Hindi cinema’s JFAS plot twists again?) I’m really starting to have second thoughts about watching this now, (Dev IS tempting me, though…) Perhaps I should revisit Kala Bazaar instead? Oh, and I didn’t know this was a Navketan production! Came as a surprise, actually, since I thought all Navketan films were either directed by Chetan/Dev/Vijay.

    • Peechhe peechhe aakar isn’t one of my favourite songs, that’s why there’s no mention of it. Frankly, with songs like Phaili hui hain and Chup hai dharti, for me, at least, every other song from the film pales into insignificance. ;-)

      Shemaroo, Friends, Eagle, Indus… they’re all in the same league. Huge gaudy logos all across the screen, mindless chopping (most of them seem to think that as long as you retain the songs, you can edit most of the other scenes as much as you like, and viewers will be happy). One of the few exceptions to the rule I’ve seen was a VCD of Waqt, where instead of the regulation 2 CDs, they made it a three-CD pack, and retained all the songs and all the scenes. That certainly came as a surprise!

      House No 44 should probably be closer towards the bottom of your Dev Anand-to-watch pile. A rewatch of Kala Bazaar would be a better idea, I think. Enjoy!

  13. Sometimes newcomers give a fresh naturalness than seasoned actors with filmi nakhras & dramatic expressions which are annoying. For example Kalpana Kartik here, Vimi in Hamraaz (although wooden), Priya Rajvansh in Haqeeqat, Tina & Poonam in their earlier films. On the contrary I was completely pissed off by Nimmi in Ann & Amar with expressions like from an out dated road side drama company!

    • I agree to some extent re: Priya Rajvansh in Haqeeqat – the only film in which I liked her, probably because the film itself was so well-made and because she had fairly limited screentime. Also Kalpana Karthik – but Nimmi in Aan and Amar and Vimmi (I’ve only seen her in Humraaz – that was enough to put me off her!) make me shudder.

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