Our recent trip to Nainital prompted me (actually, even before we left on our trip) to read Gulshan Nanda’s novel Kati Patang. Gulshan Nanda, for those who may be unfamiliar with his work, wasn’t just a hugely successful writer of Hindi social-romantic popular fiction, but also a script writer for Hindi cinema: he wrote the scripts (many of them based on his own novels) of blockbusters like Saawan ki Ghata, Khilona, Kati Patang, and Jheel ke Us Paar. This insightful article about Nanda’s writing, as well as its adaptation to the big screen, is worth a read.
But, Kati Patang. I read the book (and, as you can see from my review of it), found it to read rather like a Hindi film. It prompted me to rewatch the film, which I hadn’t seen in at least a decade, though I remembered a good deal of it. And since I had never reviewed it on my blog… here we go.
The story begins with Kailash (Prem Chopra) and Shabnam (Bindu) cavorting around in a room, the action just beginning to heat up [or as hot as it gets in 60s-70s Hindi cinema]. There’s an insistent knocking at the door, and when Kailash goes to open it (Shabnam hides behind a curtain in the meantime), he finds that it’s Madhavi ‘Madhu’ (Asha Parekh). Madhu is his girlfriend, and—for love of Kailash—she’s run away from the bride groom she was supposed to marry this evening. She’s run away, too, from the considerable legacy she would be heir to from her sole living relative, her uncle.
Kailash is upset: why would Madhu spurn all that wealth? He basically hints that a Madhu minus her wealth is no use to him. A shocked Madhu realizes then just what a rat this fellow is, and just as that realization is setting in, she notices Shabnam hiding behind the curtain. Madhu is furious and disillusioned. She rushes out, and goes home…
… to find that her baaraat has gone back, and that everybody is passing snide remarks about her behaviour. Madhu sneaks up to her room, and discovers that her uncle is there, dead of a heart attack. With no-one to call her own now, disgraced and guilty, Madhu decides to run away. Where, she doesn’t quite know when she arrives at the railway station, but the decision is soon made for her: there, in the waiting room, Madhu runs into an old friend, Poonam (Naaz).
Poonam has recently been widowed and is going to Nainital along with her toddler Munna (Moppet Pooran), to be with her in laws, whom she’s never seen. It emerges that Poonam’s husband Shekhar (Sujit Kumar, who is seen only in still photographs in Kati Patang) had married Poonam against his parents’ wishes, and so his parents never accepted her. Now, with Shekhar having died in a road accident, they’ve asked Poonam to come so that Munna, the scion of the family, may be united with his grandparents.
Discovering that Madhu is trying to flee her past, Poonam persuades her to come along. She will be passed off as Poonam’s sister; they will look after each other, be companion and friend to each other. Madhu agrees. Poonam shows Madhu some old photos, letters of Shekhar’s, and the letter from her father-in-law, inviting Poonam to Nainital.
But the train crashes and Poonam is fatally injured. Dying, she extracts a promise: Madhu will go to Nainital, posing as Poonam. Poonam dies, and Madhu considers this a matter of keeping a promise [not that she actually gets around to promising a hysterical Poonam anything; but as it appears later, Madhu seems to just be predisposed to lying]. So she gives her name as Poonam, and taking Munna with her, sets off in a taxi for Nainital.
Midway, she stops to ask the cabbie to buy milk for the baby; opening her handbag to give the man money, she also allows him a good look at the contents of her handbag. The next thing Madhu knows, the driver has gone off the highway onto what he tells her is a shortcut—but when Madhu, now suspicious, starts questioning him, he threatens her. Madhu’s screams attract the attention of a man, Kamal (Rajesh Khanna) in a passing jeep. It’s pouring rain by now.
Kamal manages to chase the taxi, frightening the driver into stopping. The man gets out, grabs Madhu’s bag, and runs off. Kamal follows. Then [while the lashing rain does nothing to hide that this, instead of being a Himalayan jungle, is actually a Bombay garden we’ve seen in umpteen songs] Kamal beats the stuffing out of the driver, retrieves the bag, and goes back to Madhu.
Since Madhu is nowhere near Nainital, Kamal (who is a forest officer) kindly offers to take her to his home nearby, where she and Munna can stay the night. Madhu agrees.
That evening, while Kamal goes off to a party (and sings Yeh jo mohabbat hai)—he has apologized to Madhu, telling her he cannot back out of this invitation—Madhu stays at home.
Kamal’s servant, Shambhu Kaka (?) gossips to Madhu, saying he wishes Kamal wouldn’t drink so. But really, he adds, Kamal isn’t to blame; not after what happened… from Shambhu’s words, Madhu realizes the truth: Kamal is the man she was supposed to marry, and whom she ran away from to be with that rotter Kailash. Kamal was devastated by this act of hers, and his daily drinking of his derives from that.
Anyway, next morning, before Kamal is even back home, Madhu has taken Munna and gone off to Nainital, where she turns up at the home of Poonam’s in laws, Diwan Dinanath (Nasir Hussain) and his wife (Sulochana Latkar), who are overjoyed to finally have their bahu with them. Madhu settles in soon, is made much of, and is such a self-sacrificing, devoted bahu that the old people regret having rejected her sight unseen back then.
On her very first day there, Madhu meets Kamal, who was a close friend of Poonam’s husband Shekhar, and who is therefore almost like a son to his bereaved parents.
Madhu is also introduced to Dr Kashinath (Satyen Kappu), not just the family doctor but also a good friend of Dinanath’s. To the doctor, too, Dinanath raves about his daughter-in-law, what a fine woman she is, how much she cares for her in laws.
All seems to be going well. Kamal is friendly and attentive, her ‘in laws’ are kind. The maid Ramaiyya (Daisy Irani) is a bit of an airhead, but her little brother Sheetoo (Junior Mehmood), a precocious child [when did Junior Mehmood not play a precocious child in the years he was a child actor?] seems more intelligent and worldly-wise than her.
Then one day, when she goes to a chemist’s shop to buy medicine for Dinanath, Madhu is accosted by the shopkeeper: it turns out he had briefly been a classmate of Madhu’s at college. Kamal also happens to be there and is surprised, but Madhu manages to deflect suspicion—somewhat—by denying it all and insisting she’s Poonam. The chemist is still sceptical, but Kamal, who has not the slightest suspicion of Madhu’s true identity, comes to her rescue.
But more danger lurks: because when Madhu goes to a restaurant, who should be the dancer there but Shabnam, Kailash’s girlfriend? And Shabnam, never one to back down, flings barbs at Madhu, openly teasing her about her real identity.
And where Shabnam is, Kailash—greedy, unscrupulous, outright criminal—cannot be far behind.
What I liked about this film:
The music. RD Burman’s compositions and Anand Bakshi’s words come together in a stellar album that featured one hit song after the other. I personally feel that the songs of Kati Patang are the pinnacle of the Kishore Kumar-RD Burman pairing: Yeh jo mohabbat hai, Pyaar deewaana hota hai and Yeh shaam mastaani are my three favourite songs from this film. The other songs, including the title song, Mera naam hai Shabnam, Aaj na chhodenge bas humjoli, and Jis gali mein tera ghar na ho baalma, are also good.
And, the overall entertainment value of it. While it has its melodrama, its clichés and other fairly predictable elements (the silly comic characters, the crazy coincidences, and more), Kati Patang is, on the whole, fairly good time-pass, as we say.
What I didn’t like:
The needless urge on the part of Madhu to lie. It’s not as if this woman promised Poonam anything (and Poonam, all said and done, was a hysterical, dying woman: her pleas for Madhu to impersonate her should not have been taken seriously at all). Madhu could easily have fulfilled whatever duty she felt by going to Dinanath’s home and introducing herself for who she was, handing over the toddler to them. There was no need to hoodwink them.
But Madhu does lie, and goes on weaving a tangled web of deception—down to the climax, when yet another lie gets her into really deep trouble.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Kati Patang is based on Gulshan Nanda’s novel of the same name. Nanda also wrote the screenplay for this film, so it’s hardly surprising that the film is a fairly faithful copy of the book. Even then, there are some differences (besides the superficial ones, like some names being different). Kamal’s servant, Shambhu and Ramaiyya’s brother Sheetoo, for instance, are not there in the book; and the way the climax plays out is somewhat different.