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06 September 2022

Kati Patang (1971)

Directed by: Shakti Samanta
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Starring: Asha Parekh, Rajesh Khanna,
Prem Chopra, Bindu,
Naaz, Nasir Hussain
Sulochana, Satyen Kappoo,
Daisy Irani, Jr Mehmood

Since I’d made an impromptu decision to make September ‘Rajesh Khanna Month’, I reached out to my watchalong partner to see if she wanted to join me in celebrating RK. Shalini, who had just finished watching an ageing Rajesh Khanna and a ‘goddawful Tina Munim’ [her words] in Alag Alag and Souten, jumped at the idea of watching Rajesh Khanna in his prime. So here we are, officially announcing the start of Rajesh Khanna Month and Watchalong Month with a film of which Javed Jaffrey famously said, “Kake ne patang udaayi, to film hit!”

 Kati Patang opens with a baraat winding its way down narrow streets. Interestingly, the music being played is Mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu?, a bit of self-referencing that we found amusing. The bride, Madhavi/Madhu (Asha Parekh) however, is not very happy. When her friends run out to see the baraat arrive, she tearfully picks up a letter to re-read; it’s from her lover, Kailash, returning all her love letters to her and wishing her a happy married life.

Shalini: That letter is a great bit of emotional blackmail!

While Madhu is weeping, Kailash (Prem Chopra) is busy cavorting with Shabnam (Bindu), a hotel dancer, and is not as heartbroken as his letter suggests. Just as the action is heating up, there comes a knock on the door, and Shabnam dives behind the curtains. When Kailash opens the door, who should be standing there but Madhu? She has left everything to come to him she says, but Kailash’s reaction is obviously not what she hoped for.
S: I know I am not supposed to, but I feel bad for PC. Imagine having a nice time with the fab Bindu and then having screechy Asha turn up to spoil the fun!
[I agree.]

Just as Kailash is explaining that it is concern for her that is stopping him from accepting her, Madhu notices Shabnam and realizes that her beloved has feet of clay and an avaricious heart. Disillusioned and heartbroken, she runs back only to discover that the baraat has returned sans bride, the guests are leaving, voicing their opinions on her behaviour and that her uncle, her only living relative has died of the shame.
Me: Her ‘Nahiin’ face is one for Memsaab’s ‘Nahiin’ gallery!
S: This movie has a lot of Asha’s ‘Nahiin’ faces for us to ‘enjoy’.
Me: So… she owns this house and is obviously pretty wealthy, so why is she running away?
S: I know! Especially since mama didn’t have time to disinherit her.
[We are both so unsympathetic to her plight that we were more interested in admiring her lovely Batik sari and tasteful one-string pearl necklace.]

Madhu makes her way to the railway station but has no idea where to go. In the waiting room, she runs into Poonam (Naaz), an old school friend. She is shocked to find that Poonam is a widow. Poonam explains that her husband died in a recent accident, and she’s now on her way to Nainital to her in-laws’ place. She has never met them before.

Madhu is perplexed; Poonam has a baby and yet? Poonam explains that her husband had married her against his parents’ wishes. Now that he is no more, her father-in-law had written asking for forgiveness and begging her to bring their grandson to live with them. She shows Madhu her husband’s photograph (Sujit Kumar) and her father-in-law’s letter. Learning that Madhu has no idea where to go, she insists that Madhu join her in Nainital. She will introduce Madhu as her sister, and they can be each other's solace. With no one to call her own and nowhere to go, Madhu agrees.
Me: For someone who had the guts to run away on her wedding day, she’s rather spineless, isn’t she?
Unfortunately, there’s a train accident and Poonam dies, but not before exhorting Madhu to take her place as Munna’s mother at her in-laws' place. (and not before Asha makes another ‘Nahiin’ face). 
S: I told you the movie is chock full of ‘Nahiin’ faces!
M: I want to see Kaka!
S: I know! Haven’t we suffered enough of Asha?
Meanwhile, Madhu (as Poonam) has hired a taxi to take her and Munna to Nainital. On the way, she asks the driver to stop and buy some milk for Munna. Upon opening her handbag to give the driver some money, she unwittingly allows him to see its contents.
Me: What’s with all these women who open their handbags wide and allow everyone to see they are carrying huge amounts of cash and jewellery?
S: I think we have already established that Asha is too stupid and too lazy to live.
When he returns with the milk, the driver takes a route that he assures Madhu is a short-cut. When a suspicious Madhu insists he go back to the highway, the driver turns threatening. Madhu’s screams for help are fortunately heard by a man travelling in the other direction.  

Me: Kaka! Praise be to the universe that heard us!
Kamal [Rajesh Khanna] quickly reverses his jeep and gives chase. It’s raining by now, and after a long [unnecessarily long!] fight, he retrieves Madhu’s handbag.  
Me: The driver is also stupid, no? Leaving the taxi and running away? Where did he think he was going?
S: The movie is populated by people who don’t think.  
[But she’s too distracted by Kaka’s eyes, which she points out were as melting as Shashi’s to say anymore.]

Kamal introduces himself to Madhu as the forest officer, and learning that she is travelling to Nainital, informs there that she's on the road to Almora. Besides, the hill roads are impassable in the rain. He offers to host her and Munna for the night and drop them off at Nainital in the morning. Madhu agrees.
S: I like how soft-spoken he is, in contrast to Asha’s shrill nasal tone.
Me: And such a lovely smile, too. I melted when he looked at Asha and said, “Achhi baat hain.”
S: He’s no AB, but his dialogue delivery is very good.
M: I
love the way he modulates his voice. 

Back at Kamal’s house, he begs Madhu to make herself at home, and instructs his manservant Shambhu kaka to take care of her. He apologizes for leaving her, but he has to go to a party. As Madhu sits down to dinner, Shambhu kaka tells her that Kamal hadn’t always been this way. It’s only since he was left at the altar when the bride ran away that he’s been drinking every day. Realizing that she was the runaway bride gives Madhu quite a shock. [It also gives Asha the chance to make yet another ‘Nahiin’ face!]

Me: So… Asha could have married nice Kaka instead of slimy PC if she had had any sense?
S: Yes, though personally, I think that both Kaka and PC are too good for her!

Meanwhile, Kamal is singing Ye jo mohabbat hain at the party.

S: I understand that it’s a bummer to be jilted by your would-be bride but why exactly is he heartbroken? He’s never met the woman!
Me: I have no idea, though personally, I would have been happy to be rid of a person who didn’t want to marry me!
S: Exactly! It would be one thing if he had been in love with her, but he didn’t even know her. Plenty of other fish in the sea, move on!
Me: I think we are supposed to feel sorry for a good man’s downfall or something. I can understand it being a bit embarrassing, and a blow to your ego, but so much depression? Gah!
[I think we have already established that we are two very unsympathetic women!]

When Kamal returns (in the morning), Madhu has already left for Nainital. She finds Diwan Dinanath (Nasir Hussain) and introduces herself as his daughter-in-law, Poonam. The Diwan is nonplussed; he had been told that his daughter-in-law died in the train accident. Madhu offers his letter to Poonam as proof of her identity.

S: Why couldn’t Asha just hand over Munna to his grandparents and get on with her real life?
Me: Or say she’s Poonam’s friend or sister instead of ‘bahu’?

But Madhu is being welcomed by both her parents-in-law (NH and Sulochana) who are sincerely apologetic about having rejected her sight unseen and delighted to have her there. Kamal drops in just then and is charmed to see how she’s settling in. Madhu is also introduced to Dr Kashinath who is the family doctor and a family friend.

‘Poonam’ assures the good doctor that she will oversee her father-in-law’s care.
And so, she goes off to local chemist’s store to fill his new prescription. She runs into Kamal, who’s genuinely glad to see her. But she’s also recognized by the shopkeeper, who is an old college classmate and who refers to her as ‘Madhavi’. Madhu hurriedly insists she is Poonam, and tries to deflect further questioning. In this, she is helped by Kamal who insists the shopkeeper is mistaken. Before she leaves the shop, she gently advises Kamal not to use alcohol as a crutch.
S: She’s a fine one to give Kamal a bhashan on how to cope with the disappointments of life!
Me: Especially when she doesn’t have a clue how to manage her own.

But Kamal is being increasingly drawn to this sad-eyed  young woman and his genuine friendship is a balm for Madhu’s grief. Their initial attraction to each other has settled into a warm companionship and a slowly growing affection for each other. But Madhu is still moping about being like the kati patang in his poem.

S: Yeah, babe, you chose to make your jeevan a kati patang.

Me: How seriously depressing is she!
Poonam’s in-laws are insistent that their ‘bahu’ be happy and go out and enjoy herself, so when Kamal invites them for his birthday party, they insist that ‘Poonam’ go and represent them. [It’s just an excuse for another great song, but who’s complaining?] Post the party, when Madhu gives him a gift, Kamal expresses his feeling of kinship when he inadvertently addresses her as ‘tum’ instead of ‘aap’.
Me: Rajesh Khanna really did have the most endearing smile!
S: And very expressive eyes. Man, how can she refuse him when he looks at her like that?
Meanwhile, Kamal’s father is increasing the pressure on him to marry. And so are Poonam’s in-laws, who are like Kamal’s surrogate parents. He refuses, tell the Diwan to write to his father saying he doesn’t want to marry.
Me: I like that he looks at Asha when he says it.
S: He manages to infuse so much intimacy in a seemingly banal exchange.
The Diwan and his wife are not deterred. They hand Madhu the responsibility of ensuring that Kamal agrees. And so, she goes with him to meet a potential bride. An entertaining interlude occurs.
Me: I like Kaka’s genuine amusement.
S: Me too. He’s adorable in this slightly naughty avatar.

But danger is lurking for Madhu… the entertainer at the hotel is Shabnam. And she is not above lobbing a few hints about Madhu’s real identity. And where Shabnam is, can Kailash be far behind? Kailash... and blackmail, skulduggery and even murder.

Kati Patang is a breezy entertainer with all of Shakti Samanta’s trademark touches – hill stations, drama, great music, especially our favourite Ye shaam mastani. Based on Gulshan Nanda's book of the same name (which was based on either the movie called “No Man of Her Own” or on “I Married a Dead Man”,  the novel by Cornell Woolrich) the Indianisation of the tale dilutes the heroine’s motives. The script tells us we should feel sympathetic towards the heroine, that she is the ‘kati patang’ of the title, buffeted by the winds of fate. But she creates those situations and then compounds them by deceit, so it is very hard to feel sorry for her.

Asha’s portrayal of Madhu/Poonam also falters. I was a little more forgiving of her, thinking that she had done her best with a thankless character, but Shalini disagreed.
S: She plays her as a one-dimensional character. I think a better actress would have been able to bring something more to the character than mopey self-pity. I’m thinking a Meena Kumari or Nutan would have been able to give some dignity, some gravitas to this character than Asha is capable of doing.
Me: I have to agree with that. I was thinking what a young Meena would have done with this material.

As Kailash says in the film, what’s the difference between me and you? You are also taking advantage of the old couple. What’s worse – especially because she is the ‘heroine’ – is that, at no time does her conscience bother her. It is hard to feel any sympathy for a woman who deliberately makes bad decisions and then is full of self-pity. “Mar mar ke jee rahi hoon doosron ke liye,” is how she puts it. At which point, we both just gave up on her.

We couldn’t help contrasting Madhavi with another widow – Sheetal from Andaz, who is in dire straits because the man she loves and who marries her, albeit in an informal ceremony, dies in an accident. A single mother, she still lives her life with courage and dignity. She grieves her late beloved but can laugh and enjoy her life and even come to love another man and have the guts to tell him so. At no point in the film do you see Sheetal weeping over her circumstances.

Madhavi, on the other hand,  is an educated, independently wealthy woman who made one bad decision. Being deceived in love is not unique. Lesson learnt, move on. She could have begun a new life elsewhere. No, she chooses to compound one bad decision with another, is perfectly willing to deceive decent folks, and acts like a wet dish rag throughout the movie.

If Kati Patang, though technically a ‘heroine-oriented’ movie, is made watchable, it is purely because of Rajesh Khanna, who single-handedly stops it from descending into a maudlin melodrama. He infuses his Kamal with a soft-spoken graciousness, and the romance with gentle intensity. The only reason the romance works is because of Rajesh Khanna; he gets no help at all from Asha.

RK uses his eyes and his voice to great effect, cementing his place as possibly the best purely romantic hero of all time. No one, not even Shammi or Rishi come close. And we are huge fans of both. 

We also loved that Prem Chopra and Bindu are so good at being bad. And even though we, as the audience, know that Kailash is manipulating Shabnam, the conversation they have about an unexpected pregnancy is unexpectedly sensible. Prem Chopra could play the sleaze so well and here, he does it in style. And Bindu was not just the villain's moll, she actually got to emote as well, playing an important part in the latter half of the movie. 

The central conceit of Kati Patang is truly interesting – a man falling in love with the supposed  widow of his best friend, and a mother, at that. The romantic progression is equally praiseworthy – from attraction to friendship to love. With the RDB-Kishore-RK combination at its zenith, we also got a bouquet of lovely songs, even if Na koi umang hain is Shalini's pet peeve.

Final verdict? Watch Kati Patang purely for Rajesh Khanna and for the lovely, lovely songs picturised on a great 'song-actor' who truly brought them to life.

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