An old fashioned but well-knitted murder mystery

In the dark hours of a night, a young girl clad in white clothes heads towards a magnificent mansion (whose architecture reminds of the British times) which is the residence of a rich man of royal lineage. The environment prevailing is eerie with the addition being made by the girl who appears to be a spirit. A hawk (apparently a pet) is visible in the house which is surrounded by trees oscillating with the gusts of the wind. A mystery-filled song (in female voice) is also floating on the air alongwith the movement of the girl clad in white. In a nutshell, the atmosphere prevailing is indicative of some undesirable happening which is going to take place soon.

The old servant of the house is putting off the lights and about to sleep. A renowned lawyer who happens to be the friend and legal adviser of the rich man is shown as handling and examining a sharp knife and shortly thereafter, he also moves towards the mansion known as Chandan Villa. And almost simultaneously the watchman doing his duty outside the mansion is thrown into unconsciousness by suppressing his mouth and briefly stopping his breathing process by an unseen stranger. This is the opening scene of the Hindi movie – Dastoor (1991).

This suspense-filled and somewhat scary scene cuts to the scene inside the house where the owner of that mansion, Thaakur Chandan Kunwar Singh (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) is drinking and waiting for a contract-killer whom he has called for. His awaited guest, i.e., the contract-killer who is a youth of barely 24-25 years of age, arrives. Thaakur tells the contract-killer that he is hiring his contract-killing services and his fee is there in the briefcase lying on the nearby table. The briefcase is full of currency notes.

The contract-killer youth shares a drink with him and asks the name of the would-be victim. He is startled when Thaakur tells him that himself  (Thaakur) only is going to be the victim and the contract-killer is to kill him only in return for the fee which lies in the briefcase.

Greatly surprised, the young contract-killer puts a logical question to him that when he can commit suicide and die free of cost, then why he wants to spend so much money for his death. ‘I am a man of royal lineage and have lived the whole of my life in a royal manner, hence my death also should be royal only’, answers Thaakur. The contract-killer inquires for the reason behind his desire to die. Thaakur tells that though this reason is not to be revealed, he will tell him because he appears to be a nice guy and can be trusted to keep the secret with him only. But !

But barely one sentence has come out of the mouth of Thaakur in this regard and he falls on the table flat on his face. Now the contract-killer finds that a knife has gone inside Thaakur’s body from the side of the back and he is dead. He rushes to see the murderer but finds none. When the contract-killer is out, looking for the murderer, the legal adviser of Thaakur enters and steals away some documents from the drawer of the table (on which Thaakur has fallen dead).

And just after that the girl clad in white enters the scene, reaches the dead body of Thaakur and pulls out the knife stabbed in his body with utmost indifference. Then she leaves in a car with the murder weapon (i.e., the knife) in her possession. She is not a spirit. It is known later that she is a sleepwalker knowing not in her sleepwalking condition as to what she is doing and where she is going.

Now starts the quest for the murderer. This young man (Pomy Dev) who is the hero of this movie and this young girl (Dolly Minhas) who is the heroine of this movie, are murder-suspects in the eyes of the police.

However there is no dearth of suspects otherwise also. In addition to these two, there are many other suspects, viz.

  1. The mother of the sleepwalker girl who is a courtesan (Sharmila Tagore)
  2. The friend-cum-legal adviser of the victim (Manohar Singh) who has stolen some documents from the victim’s table after the murder
  3. The old and faithful servant of the household (Alok Nath)
  4. The mentor of the young contract-killer who is a known bad character (Raza Murad) and who only had sent the young man to Thaakur Chandan Kunwar Singh in the first place for accomplishing the contract-killing job.

It’s a challenge for the investigating police officer (Suresh Oberoi) to single out the real culprit from amongst the available suspects. Who is the murderer ? The climax tells the answer.

Dastoor (custom) was seen by me on Doordarshan two decades back and thereafter neither I found it as being telecast on some channel, nor could its VCD / DVD be found anywhere by me. Recently only, I watched it again on internet. This is an old-fashioned murder mystery with no contemporary flavour.

All the same, the script-writer (not credited) and the director (Anil Mattoo) have done a fairly good job. I have seen very few murder mysteries made in Bollywood which are so well-knitted and logically presented on the screen, keeping the viewer engrossed for around two and a half hours.

Despite reading and watching a lot of murder mysteries, let me frankly admit that I was not able to guess the murderer when I was watching this movie for the first time. And that’s a matter of pride for any murder mystery maker.

This is a taut murder mystery and except some comedy (by Johnny Lever and others) and a little bit of romance between the young lead pair, there’s nothing in this movie which can be termed as superfluous. When the suspense is revealed, we can see that everything is logically connected to everything else.

Even Johnny Lever’s comedy track also has a strong link with the main track. This is a movie which shows the police investigation of the murder in detail. Despite introducing a young pair in romantic lead, the movies presents the investigator (Suresh Oberoi) as the real hero with ample footage given to his activities. He shows a lot of mannerism also just in the fashion of the stylish detective heroes created by many Indian and foreign authors.

There is a social drama in the background of the murder which is shown in flash back as the narrative proceeds after the murder. Different probable motives with different respective probable murderers along with the relevant facts associated with each one of them are revealed gradually and systematically.The source of this story is not known because no credit has been given either for the story or for the screenplay. But the stuff taken for making the movie is damn good and the director has ably presented it on the screen. The spectator keeps on guessing about the murderer till the climax. And it’s the climax only which I found an imperfect one with certain elements of that calling for an explanation.

Technically the movie is good. The art director has successfully created a mysterious environment on the screen which is somewhat scary also in the opening scene. The cinematographer has complemented him well. The complete milieu is in sync with the requirement of the story.indexAll the principal characters have done well. Suresh Oberoi has played a stylish investigator in a highly impressive manner. Seasoned actors Sharmila Tagore, Alok Nath, Manohar Singh, Raza Murad and Kulbhushan Kharbanda have done complete justice to the assigned roles. Johnny Lever has done good comedy. Debutantes Pomy Dev and Dolly Minhas have not done badly considering the fact that this is their maiden acting venture. However their performances leave a lot to be desired.

Anand Milind’s musical score is not bad. Aaja Baharon Ki Malika, Soona Hai Jahaan, Aao Milan Ka Jashn Manayen, Kaho Baharon Se Aayen Na Aayen, Idhar Bhi Nazar Ho, Hum Khade Hain Raah Mein etc. all have been decently written (by Majrooh Sultanpuri), composed and sung. The picturization of the songs is also good.

My final verdict – Dastoor is a highly admirable murder mystery which I am wholeheartedly recommending to all those who like murder mysteries.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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4 Responses to An old fashioned but well-knitted murder mystery

  1. Deep says:

    One of its song….Aaja Baharo ki Malleka, is my favorite one.

  2. Amjad says:

    Since it was Pomy Dev’s first appearance, directors could have struggled a little more on him as he could’ve performed much more than what he has done in this movie.

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