[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.
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.
- 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.]