C.I.D (Raj Khosla, 1956), starring Dev Anand, Shakila and Waheeda Rehman, unlike some other classic golden-age B’wood stuff, has been amply reviewed, and very aptly so too. Leading the gang is Corey Creekmur, at UIOWA.edu, who writes an extremely well-informed analysis of the Guru Dutt production. It’s a masterful historical and artistic contextualisation review, where Creekmur underlines the influence of the Navketan cinematographic Institute, and focuses on the meaning of the songs as part of the Circle and encircling symbolism of the movie. In dustedoff’s review one will find a summary of the action and a very good description of the rhythm of the movie, a feature which all commentators have underlined. Madhu also solves the riddle of the dumb parrot! On thebollywoodfan’s blog, you will discover a very interesting account of the « communication etiquette » in the film, and Sharmi at oldfilmsgoingthreadbare will explain why she likes a movie she has seen 23 times! So, coming after all these reviews, what can I say? I enjoyed the film, of course, who can’t, but aren’t I at risk, like Richard S., to admit that everything has been said (especially after Corey’s fantastic job)?
Well, that’s where a masterpiece is a masterpiece. You can always find new things to say about it! Since everybody underlined the movie’s pace, and its clever balance of suspense and romance, its easy style, its “top-notch execution” (as Sharmi puts it), I thought I had to go and look at why all this was so well done, and where the smoothness all comes from. So this is what you’re going to read about: C.I.D.’s mechanism. As Corey Creekmur puts it, “Much of the film takes place at night and in deep shadows, and a consistent pattern of framing encloses “trapped” characters within windows and behind bars.” Yes, indeed, but what he doesn’t say (or not enough) is that the whole movie is based on the structure of hunting, traps and escapes. It’s the story of a hunter, inspector Shekar (Dev), who tries to trap the villains, but gets trapped as a result, and therefore has to escape that trap, before entering the trapper’s trap and trapping him! C.I.D. is like a game of cat and mouse, only one doesn’t know who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. Or you might say it’s like snakes and ladders: when you think you’ve climbed out, you’re precipitated down again!
What is a trap? It’s a mechanical device whereby you can catch an enemy or troublesome opponent in such a way that he knows he’s been caught only after he's caught. You’re using this ignorance as the means to lead him to his detention or worse. In almost all such pursuits, the prey senses that “something” is going to happen to it. The element of ruse means that a certain time is required before the trap can work, and in that time, the prey can react and try to avoid it. Now this is why this technique is essentially cinematographical: the cinema uses this duration before the catch climax, and that's called suspense. And once inside a trap, another type of suspense is created, because now escape can take place. Countless stories use situations of “impossible escape” which nevertheless happen.
In keeping with this first aspect, the romantic pattern also takes the form of a pursuit, where women are like spiders on their web (Bollywoodfan says “Through the case-solving process, though, he is caught in a web of lies”), the queen of spiders being of course Kamini (an entrancing Waheeda), who ensnares the poor little cop until she gets trapped herself, as we shall see. Hunting the baddies, Shekar is busy at the same time laying his own personal traps, and not too long after, he manages to catch Rekha (Shakila), after she had first succeeded to catch him unawares (the episode of the car pursuit at the beginning). It wasn't so clear then whether Dev was going to be a goodie all along (see the rather scary pic below)! Personal beauty and seductiveness belong to this trap-structure too. And this isn’t reserved to women: the handsome inspector’s good looks turn him into a dishy bait as well!
The film is like a game of chess (or hide and seek) between the two adversaries: Shekar, and Dharamdas the villainous mayor who pulls the strings of power and corruption, and who had started the story by having the Bombay newspaper editor (presumably about to reveal facts about him) assassinated. Who’ll be the cleverer of the two? Who will manage to catch the other at his own game? The film focuses first on the initial moves of the two players, with a decisive advantage for Dharamdas, who manages to trap Shekar, and have him condemned for killing his suspect in prison. With the help of his female assistant (Kamini, what a queen on his board!) he seems to be able to play with Shekar as he wishes, drugging him and transporting him here and there at will. But he knows that his opponent will eventually reach the “House” where he was once driven, and where the queen spider (and her telephone threads) reigns among a bevy of silent submissive women.
And this is the arch-trap: Dharamdas knows that Shekar (having escaped the trap of the court condemnation) will want to come there to find the information he needs. He tells Kamini to expect him. But Shekar arrives wounded, and Kamini falls into this new trap: pity for the handsome Dev! (more on this later on) So when he wakes up, having been looked after and almost healed, he cannot believe at first that she isn’t up to some kind of new trick. But anyway, he’s got to accept her version, because the owner is now coming, ready to close the trap on him. What can be done, wonders Kamini, now free from her boss’s spell? Escape, of course! But Shekar has now honed his strategy: he’s staying, he’s sacrificing himself to trap the trapper (at chess, sacrifices are often the only move a player doesn’t foresee). He knows that Dharamdas is counting on his fear, he knows he’s inside his enemy’s lair, and therefore assumed vulnerable. So his best move is to stay, and outtrap him. Meanwhile, Kamini tries to ward off the danger, and stop her evil master from finding Shekar (the famous song Kahin Pe Nigahe Kahi Pe Nishana), but the confrontation is inevitable.
It happens in the trap of traps, Dharamdas’s cellar, which opens with a secret mechanism and a lifting trapdoor. According to his sacrificial strategy, Shekar enters the trap, becomes the prey and waits for the revelation: the villain’s face. Everything depends on this, because Shekar now has a witness with him, who will be able to testify in court, like Master (Johnny Walker), the petty thief who had been present when the Bombay newspaper editor had been murdered, and who was instrumental in nailing the murderer. So the cop should see his enemy, and hopefully, not be seen by him. But, inside the cellar, Dharamdas switches on the light! What’s Shekar next move? Switch it off? No, break the light! And this indeed enables the fleeing pair to escape the villain, who sees them too late. The metaphor of light and darkness is essential to the “film noir” (and is enhanced by the black and white cinema): it dramatizes the heuristic dimension of the enquiry, and here it is associated to the judicial necessity of visual proof. But light can of course be deceptive, and evidence manipulated. So it is coherent that the villain is discovered in darkness instead!
One might also add (while we’re at it) that Master, the comical thief played by Johnny Walker, increases the importance of the theme: as a pickpocket, he needs to be invisible, or at least to be unseen, when he steals, and the same is valid for Dharamdas and his female counterpart, who in a very Hitchcockian fashion, we only see from the back at first. But this aspect connects also with the trap structure: indeed, if you see the trap, it ceases to be one. Traps have an essential invisibility, and so have hunters, up to a degree. If one wants to trick the hunter, one has to fade, or darken. Within this symbolic frame, what, then, can act as a revelation agent? Shall we say darkness reveals? But full darkness is purely negative; there has to be some object, in the darkness, which can see or be seen.
The film answers, I believe, by saying that feelings are the revealing agents. When it’s dark, you have to recognise your way by feeling around you. You have to trust these feelings, because feelings are born and exist in the dark of one’s self, and they “see” with their own radiance when normal light is blind or absent. For example, Rekha knows that Shekar is innocent. Her “conscience” tells her so. And her father, the superintendant of police (K.N. Singh), scoffs at that sort of knowledge. He has no idea that feelings contain a truth and a proof which is far clearer than visible and factual evidence. And how does Shekar finally win? He wins because Master the thief tells him he has to escape from the trap Dharamdas has laid for him. Without this suggestion, Shekar was going to remain tied to the “innocent gentleman” who had bailed him out. But what has fastened the bond that exists between him and Shekar? Shekar’s trust. Indeed, when Master had been arrested because he had been seen in the room where the murder was accomplished, Shekar had told his subordinate to let him go, because he knew that he was just a petty thief. This bond of trust, spoken at that critical moment, when suspicion might well have overruled it, and the principle of precaution might well have prevailed, was crucial later on for Shekar.
Now, Kamini’s change from darkness to light should not be only categorised as a commercial arrangement. When C. Creekmur writes: “C.I.D. remains a commercial Hindi film: it can’t quite allow its femme fatale to be really bad, and redeems her in the end”, it's true, but we might add that she changes also thanks to the process of pity, which has been called the most elemental of all human feelings. Having had to look after Shekar’s injury, she is no longer his enemy; his suffering has been stronger than her antagonism. The human heart retains some seeds of goodness, one might say. But it faces daily the risks of violence and lying. The fact that the film was so often linked to Guru Dutt’s influence allows one to put it within his conception of the individual as oppressed by the crowds, of his denunciation of urban wrongs, all things which are connected to the song Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan sung by Master the thief in C.I.D. , where he suggests that Bombay’s perilous society makes it difficult to live there.
There are probably many other aspects which I have overlooked, but in order to ascertain this, you have to watch (or watch again) the mysterious and beautiful C.I.D.!