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26 September 2022

Kudrat (1981)

Directed by: Chetan Anand
Music: RD Burman
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Starring: Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini,
Priya Rajvansh, Vinod Khanna,
Raj Kumar, Aruna Irani,
Shammi, Pinchoo Kapoor,
Om Shiv Puri, Keshto Mukherjee,
Deven Varma

Kudrat may seem like an odd choice to celebrate the phenomenon that was Rajesh Khanna, given that it was released well after RK’s ‘star’ had set. Yet, our endeavour throughout this month has been to showcase the actor behind the star, even as we thoroughly enjoyed the trappings that his stardom brought in its trail – like the beautiful heroines, the great songs, and lovely locations. 

begins with Chandramukhi (Hema Malini) returning to Shimla, the place of her birth, with her parents (Pinchoo Kapoor and Shammi). They had left Shimla when she was barely two months old, but something about the place strikes Chandramukhi as familiar.

Arriving at their rented cottage, the mother runs into an old friend who’s staying next door. They plan to meet for dinner, when the latter’s son will be home as well. The two mothers obviously hope that they can set their children up. The man in question is Dr Naresh Gupta (Vinod Khanna), a psychiatrist. He is clearly attracted to Chandramukhi, and she’s not averse to him either. 

Shalini: See? Even in this movie, I find VK uninteresting and forgettable.

Me: Poor VK.

The cottage belongs to a local landowner, Janak Singh (Raj Kumar), who lives in town with his only daughter Karuna (Priya Rajvansh). Karuna is a lawyer, and is fond of her father’s protégé, Mohan. 

S: I like Raj Kumar. He’s sui generis.

Me: He’s a hit or miss for me.
S: This must be one of the rare instances in Hindi films where an actor plays father to someone he starred opposite as romantic lead.
Me: Though the reverse is usually true.

Her father is very pleased to hear that and tells her that he will speak to Mohan when he arrives. Mohan has been appointed the public prosecutor in Shimla thanks to his mentor’s connections. Janak Singh speaks to him about Karuna. 

Me: I love that senior RK is not just laying down the law; he’s giving RK time to think and decide.

S: Yes, and RK, at this point has no reason not to agree.

As days pass, Naresh and Chandramukhi spent time getting to know each other. Mohan and Karuna are obviously more at ease with one another and neither couple minds the match that has been arranged for them.

But something weird is happening to Chandramukhi. She has already discomposed her parents by telling them the old name and the historic details of the cottage where Naresh and his mother are staying.
Naresh has also been noticing her strange behaviour – she recognizes places where she’s never been, and people whom she’s never met. And one evening, accompanying her to the local theatre, Naresh notices her instinctive reaction to a stranger. 

And inside the venue, she’s disturbed by the local artiste, Saraswati Devi’s (Aruna Irani) singing. Saraswati had, in fact, changed the evening’s programme, after a chance meeting with Mohan.

S: I do like how the atmosphere builds up with each new weird detail.
Me: I like that the flashback is coming in bits and pieces, a jigsaw for Naresh to piece together.

As Chandramukhi and Naresh hurriedly leave the theatre, Naresh is beginning to wonder. She had earlier reacted strangely to a large tree in the forest nearby. When they visit the forest again, Chandramukhi has a confrontation with Karuna, much to her consternation.
Me: Poor Priya! Some strange woman landing up and telling her to shut up!
S: I know… nice of her not to respond in kind. I’m finding Hema’s performance a little lacking.
Me: Strangely, Priya is on point.
S: Yes, she is. Which is not what I expected. I like Hema more than Priya but here, Priya’s acting is better.

By now, Chandramukhi is having horrifying nightmares where she’s chasing a man through the mist, only to see him fall off a cliff. Each subsequent nightmare shows her visions that frighten her. 

Her worried parents consult Naresh. He is head over heels in love with Chandramukhi and is very concerned about her. But he takes her out on a date [the transition is very abrupt] where Chandramukhi confesses that her nightmares were becoming more and more frequent – and terrifying. 

So, Naresh suggests hypnotherapy. With her consent, he will put her under deep hypnosis; perhaps then, he can delve into her subconscious and discover the root of her trauma? Chandramukhi willingly agrees.

But Naresh is horrified and panic-stricken when, at his questioning, Chandramukhi tells him she’s 20-year-old Paro, the daughter of a gardener at the haveli. She’s engaged to Madho, a young man from a nearby village, who works for a British Army officer, Tom Walters (Tom Alter). Terrified at what he had wrought, Naresh struggles to bring Chandramukhi back to the present.

Me: I like that VK is really worried  because he doesn’t have the experience.

[I am also amused that Hema is Chandramukhi in the present and Paro in the past. We are both gratified that VK is very cautious in proceeding further, unlike other superhero doctors.]

But Naresh is also determined to help her find out the truth behind these unnerving experiences. He requests her parents not to refute anything Chandramukhi might say in the character of her alter-ego. 
But while trying to trace the haveli of which Chandramukhi has visions, Naresh and she run into Mohan and Karuna again. Perhaps due to the hypnosis, Chandramukhi regresses into her past life again, much to her embarrassment and the others' consternation. 

Since Chandramukhi seems to connect Mohan to Madho, Naresh asks the latter to help Chandramukhi. Mohan scoffs – not only does he not believe in past lives or reincarnation, but he also has no interest in being involved with a random young lady whose mental health is so precarious.

Me:  I like that RK is not in love with her, or interested in being involved.

S: Yes, but he’s not immune to her beauty either.
Me: It is nice that he tells Karuna and asks for her opinion.
S: And that she’s nice enough to tell him that he should help.

Slowly, the relationships become complicated. Mohan, already drawn to this beautiful woman with the haunted eyes, finds himself becoming convinced of her truth. 

Poor Naresh and Karuna!

When the search for the ‘haveli’ fails, and no one seems to knows anything about Madho in his village other than that he died, Mohan begs Naresh to hypnotise Chandramukhi again. A reluctant Naresh finally gives in – what they learn shocks both men and has ramifications for Karuna that no one had expected.

Written and directed by Chetan Anand (with major inputs by Priya herself), Kudrat  was a far better film than I remembered. The writing was a lot more sensible than the usual run of reincarnation movies though we could nit-pick if we choose. Setting the film in Shimla was a great choice, since it made it plausible that the characters would keep running into each other. And like in all movies of the Anand brothers, one of the heroines has a job, and she actually gets to perform it.

The relationship between both couples is also that of equals. This is the rare film where the men ask the women what they think of the parents’ decisions and actually listen to their answers. And when the men say stupid things, the women call them out as well. The maturity in the inter-personal relationships don’t just end there. Naresh continues to support and help Chandramukhi as a good friend, even though she has transferred her affections to Mohan. In fact, the scene between the two men is not, as you may expect, filled with jealousy and accusations, but of wanting to help the woman that they both love.

Vinod Khanna was his competent self though he cannot dance for toffee and shouldn’t even try. But he made us [well, me] feel sorry for him when he loses the woman he loves to a past-life lover. “Lekin pyaar woh tum se karti hain,” he tells Mohan, and there’s both sadness and frustration in his voice.

The confrontation scenes between VK and Rajesh Khanna, and between the latter and Raj Kumar were restrained and controlled and made perfect sense. It is how normal people behave and talk. Unfortunately, when the courtroom scenes began, Rajesh Khanna went berserk, shouting out his questions at the top of his voice. 

But until then, he was fabulous at conveying his character’s conflicting emotions – happy with his fiancée but intrigued by the young woman who thinks he’s her lover from a past life. It is clear that he’s driven partly by curiosity and partly by something he can’t explain.

Which brings me to Raj Kumar. His natural arrogance helped him find the pitch of his character and he chewed the scenery with great relish, if with more restraint than is his wont. But his portrayal is key to the plot, and he aced all the flaws and virtues of his character. Except in a confrontation scene with Rajesh Khanna, where the latter’s chilling quietness was much more effective.

The revelation in this film was Priya Rajvansh. I have never considered her a great actor, so to see her be hands down the best performer in this film was quite a [pleasant] shock. Because she had a hand in writing this script, perhaps, but she had some lovely lines to deliver. “Aur pichhle zindagi mein vishwaas kar liya?” she asks Mohan when he comes to tell her why he cannot marry her. Heartbroken but still level-headed, she walks away from him saying, “Dene wale ne kismat to nahin dii lekin dil bahut bada diya hain.” Her accent may be anglicized, but her diction is perfect (as were RK and RK’s). 

Priya is also achingly lovely, and very good at conveying that sense of aristocracy. “Hamare sar kaatne ke liye hamaare hi talwar maangne aaye hain?” she asks, with a sense of noblesse oblige. The sarcasm is biting. She even triumphed over RK in the court room scenes. Her quiet certitude is a lot more effective than RK’s yelling. Karuna is so decent that it’s hard not to feel bad for her. And Priya really brought out the inherent grace and dignity of her character. Logical, soft-spoken, and sensible, her character does the only thing she could do at the end. Priya is, as we noted, the most effective performer in this movie. I certainly came away impressed.

A note about the music – the score is not one of RD's best, but they are all pleasant songs, and easy to listen to. However, Parveen Sultana’s classical rendition of Humein tum se pyaar kitna is beautiful and Aruna Irani lip-synced well but it is the Kishore version that gave me goose bumps.

So, what’s the problem, you ask? Well, the script. It couldn’t make up its mind on which side of the fence it wanted to land on. On the one hand, it pooh-poohs reincarnation as superstition; it talks about science and logic and truth. On the other, this is very much a reincarnation story. Secondly, the age of the actors. Neither Hema nor RK looked the age they were supposed to be in the film. 
What was even more bothersome was that the usually competent Hema couldn’t seem to find her footing. Never the greatest of actresses, Hema still usually acquitted herself credibly on screen. Not so, here. She looked stunningly beautiful, of course, but couldn’t handle the complex and complicated character that was Chandramukhi or put across the frustration and fear that a person suddenly reliving a traumatic past life regression would feel. 

Neither could she evoke the urgency of wanting to convince Mohan that he’s her Madho. As Shalini points out, Hema’s weakness was always her line delivery and it’s very apparent here. And when the whole film hinges on her portrayal, this was a big let-down. [We discussed what Sridevi would have done with this role.
In fact, RK surrendering to the inevitable in a wordless scene was so much more convincing than all of Hema’s exhortations of love. [I wondered why Mohan should love Chandramukhi even if Madho and Paro were lovers in a previous life. Shalini wondered that I had never watched a janam janam ke saath Hindi movie before.] The problem also, is that the script is telling us that we should be rooting for Chandramukhi-Mohan and that they belong together. But that doesn’t translate on screen, and neither does the Rajesh-Hema chemistry which was so evident in the 15-minute cameo in Andaz, and we end up feeling very sorry for both Naresh and Karuna.

The medical and legal procedures were iffy at best, even if Chetan Anand did attempt to make some sense. But if you do apply some stringent suspension of disbelief (we did), Kudrat was a fairly well-told entertaining movie.

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