Friday, June 26, 2009

Kathaa

[There's a spoiler in the first paragraph.]

I have one issue with Sai Paranjape's Kathaa (1983), and I'm going to get it out of the way up front. If the subtitles are to be believed, Deepti Naval's Sandhya is styled as a modern girl, yet while discussing a potential marriage with Rajaram (Naseeruddin Shah), she puts herself down, saying that it's too late, that she's slept with the first boy she was engaged to, and "I'm not fit for you anymore." He quickly says "I haven't changed my mind." She leans back against the door, whispering his name in relief. What's going on here? Do the writers want us to applaud Rajaram for taking on a partner that would generally be considered sloppy seconds? Is this just one more brick in the wall of his sterling, sacrificing, do-gooder character? (Especially in contrast with her ex, the rascally, no-good Bashu, played by Farooq Shaikh.) Is his approval supposed to change how she feels about herself? But on the other hand, the film doesn't seem to judge her in any typical ways and she gets a happy ending with no additional external commentary on her decisions. It's nice to be loved for who one is and one's mistakes accepted. She's also honest about her past, albeit in a self-deprecating way. Hmm. HMMMM. I don't know.

Other than that, I liked this movie very much. It's even-keeled but has plenty going on. The director clearly had fun scatteirng symbols and phrases throughout the film and then tying them together before the end. For example, Bashu constantly twirls a big set of keys (and Rajaram does so too when he imagines living like Bashu does); before their real significance to his character is revealed, they worked equally well as a symbol of his big ambitions and ability to wriggle his way in to various situations. Both Rajaram and Bashu are caricatures. The one is unbelievably naive and sweet (pure, even), and the other is so smarmy that it's a wonder people don't catch on to his schemes sooner.

Does Naseeruddin remind anyone else of a young Obama here?
Kathaa also reminded me how much I like films set in chawls - they provide concise but rich physical settings and so easily incorporate lots of side characters whose interrelationships are unforced and varied and have lots of opportunity to eavesdrop, spy, and gossip (see also Holiday in Bombay and Dulha Dulhan).


I didn't catch the names of anyone in the chawl, but they serve as a big, rambling family and are lovingly featured in two songs in which they serve as a sort of Greek chorus.

My favorite part of the whole film might be the song "Tum Sundar," in which Bashu cavorts with all three of his loves to the same basic song set in three different, girlfriend-appropriate styles. It's very funny to watch him in a typically filmi seaside segment with Sandhya, a sultry nightclub with his boss's wife, and a sort of go-go/disco-hybrid set in an early 80s graffiti aesthetic with his boss's daughter. The disco segment kicks off the clip below.


Fame flashbacks.
Not only do these three blend together, the whole thing segues way from a frustrated Rajaram feeding a similar line to a forgetful actor in the play staged for the chawl's annual fair. Another highlight is Rajaram's dream sequence in which his naughty colleagues* try to tempt him into a dalliance, grabbing at him and laughing at his uptight ways.

Zebra stripes feature prominently in the office sets. Zebra=?
Even if my Sunday school-based reading of female apple-wielding is irrelevant, it's still a hoot to watch nervous Rajaram run away from the vixens who make the child-like refrain of "A is for aaaaapple" sound lascivious. (See it here at about 1:10.) These two sequences contrast each other well, with Bashu revelling in his multiple women and Rajaram scared out of his wits.

Really, the whole thing (with exception noted above) is very charming. Compared to the more bombastic style of Indian film I tend to watch, it seems quiet and calm, but it has plenty of paisa vasool.The story is engaging, the writing is rich, and the actors carefully portray the shades of their characters. And not least, the whole thing has a great sense of humor - with a few cheeky bites, too.

Miscellaneous other:

  • There are animals everywhere in Kathaa, especially dogs, who roam for handouts at parties and romp in the surf. So cute!


    They don't figure in the plot (unless the cat is the harbinger of Bashu's evil?), but they make the whole setting seem more real and layered. Also, I think this is the first time I've seen a dachshund in an Indian movie. Cho chweet!
  • One more example of thoughtful use of animated titles,
    and there's another funny animated bit later that shorthands the consequences of one of Bashu's schemes.
  • Two excellent subtitles:
  • imdb says Tinnu Anand is in this, but I couldn't spot him. Help!
  • Is this Farrah Fawcett (in an unexpected coincidence), or do I have my early 80s California-ishtyle bombshells confused?

    [Update to post, almost immediately after publishing it: that's Cheryl Tiegs. Close, but not quite.]
* I can't manage to integrate this thought, but I think it's important: Rajaram has several female colleagues, all of whom flirt with him despite his protests or take advantage of his willingness to do their work, while Sandhya, whom he adores, has a BA but apparently no job outside her parents' home. That is, I guess Rajaram is a simply wonderful good Indian boy, maybe so much so that he's a bit of a joke, and the woman he loves may make claims towards being modern but buckles at Bashu's hey-baby references to women's lib (seen in the "1982" subtitle above) and in fact mostly does what her parents want. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure we ever see Sandhya outside the chawl except in a song - talk about homely.

9 comments:

Anarchivist said...

I speak fluent 1982 girl: I believe that's Cheryl Tiegs.

katherine said...

Anarchivist beat me to it -- yep, Cheryl Tiegs. But I'm thinking that photo is from the 1970s.

Although between Farah Fawcett and Cheryl Tiegs, I'm suddenly feeling very old. Not like a 1982 girl at all anymore.

bollyviewer said...

Tinu Anand was there and looking incredibly young! He was playing the director of a film shoot (or was it an ad film shoot?) with Sarika in one of Farooq Shaikh's flashback incidents.

I usually love Sai Paranjpe's movies but this was quite disappointing. Rajaram was as "pure" as Meena Kumari at her suffering best and about as attractive! And inspite of seeing his friend lie again and again, he doesnt learn to protect himself. The last scene that you refer to, was wrong on so many levels. She is in love with him (I think thats what we are supposed to think) because he is willing to accept her inspite of her "polluted" status! Would any woman be willing to settle for such a wet noodle, no matter how noble his character and lofty his ideals?

On the plus side though, it was great to see Mallika Sarabhai in her rare filmi appearance - she was gorgeous.

"the last time I saw these three leads together, in the director's Chashme Buddhor" - was Naseer in the film? I dont remember him there.

Beth said...

Anarchavist and katheirne - So right!

bollyviewer - AHA! I have already sealed up the DVD to send it back to Netflix but I can easily picture that part. Good catch!

I'm hoping both Rajaram and Bashu, but especially Rajaram, were supposed to be exaggerated for comic effect? Rajaram is a real idiot when it comes to himself (he offers good advice to other people, though, I think).

You are so right about Chashme Buddhor. No idea what I was thinking about that and have fixed it in the text :)

Arjun said...

I love this movie. All the actors have done an amazing job

sunil said...

Sai, Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Basu Chatterjee are the masters of "melieu" cinema. As the title cards make it clear - this movie IS a parable of the hare and the tortoise. :)

radhika said...

when is saw the movie as a kid, the big takeaway was the supreme sacrifice of rajaram in getting "second hand maal" - with the old grandma saying in the end "was this really a victory?". but as an adult, i wonder if rajaram was really that innocent. as you said, the chawl is a big happy family. they assume that bashu is a good guy because rajaram vets him - if rajaram had really been ethical he would have warned them that bashu is a crook and not gotten tied up in knots about whom his loyalty lay with. if sandhya got into a mess, rajaram is in many ways morally culpable too.

Beth said...

Arjun - Agreed, the acting was superb!

Sunil - "Milieu cinema" is a new term for me - I'll have to investigate. It's a really simple story played out with interesting details.

Rahika - You know, that's a really interesting point. I hadn't thought about that. Rajaram came off as sort of hopelessly "nice" - that is, he's afraid to make any kind of judgment whatsoever, or at least to share his opinion. It's almost as though he's so child-like that he lacks any kind of courage of his convictions. He clearly feels responsible to the other people in the chawl in many ways, but maybe he's just too worried about saying anything bad, even when necessary, do the needful in this case, as it were.

deewane said...

IMO Rajaram wants so desperately to be like Bashu that he doesn't really see him as the scum that he actually is. I remember one scene in the movie where Bashu actually says it to RR that he is taking advantage of him, and Rajaram still doesn't react. It's like how I imagine most regular people would be in the presence of a ridiculously famous rockstar or movie star. Totally enamored. Where even if they were to see them being a total ass, would justify their actions (and may be even emulate). How else do you explain him allowing Bashu to trick his boss AND the woman he loves?!? And yes the last scene always throws me off, it seems that Sai "had" to show Sandy full of remorse and shame for the movie to be accepted by the junta, even the dialogs seem like a carbon copy from any 70-80's film mouthed by the actress right after the "hero" saves her from jumping to her death. No other justification whatsoever!