Kati Patang


Director: Shakti Samanta
Music: RD Burman; Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Year: 1970
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes

Hold on to your hat because this film gets off to a jump-start. It begins with a sad looking Asha Parekh sitting in the midst of her wedding celebration waiting for her groom to appear. It turns out that this is an arranged marriage and that she has never even seen her prospective husband. She receives a letter from the man she truly loves declaring his affection for her. On the spur of the moment she rushes to him leaving the wedding ceremony behind. She goes to his door to declare that she is willing to break with all tradition by marrying him – only to discover that he has a disreputable woman (Bindu) coyly hiding behind his curtain.  Asha realizes immediately that he had been playing her all along in order to get a connection to the wealthy uncle who brought her up.

Asha? – what exactly did you expect! Prem Chopra who plays the fellow is probably the sleaziest character actor ever in Indian film! In the films in the 1960’s and 70’s there were two actors who almost always seemed to play the villain – oily haired Pran who tended to be the sneering type of villain who would calmly puff on his cigarette holder as he planned his evil doings and Prem who was more the leering kind of bad guy – he always looks as if he has just peeked up a girl's dress. He also generally has his shirt unbuttoned far down to show his hairy chest, gold medallions swung around his neck and sideburns sliding far down his face – a definite bad hair, bad attire sort of bad guy. He has the look of someone who would sweat oceans in an airtight freezer. So how Asha could have believed his offers of love is a bit difficult to swallow – of course we all make mistakes of the heart – but with Prem?
Anyway, she realizes what a wanker Prem is and goes home to beg her uncles forgiveness for what she has done – only to find him dead from shame. Knowing her future in this town is a dead end, she goes to the train station to leave and sees an old friend of hers named Punam. It turns out that Punam has her own tragic story to tell – her husband married her against the wishes of his parents and they were both disowned. The husband died though and she is going to see her parents-in-law for the first time with her son – a strange kid who looks like a baby Oscar Wilde! Hearing of Asha’s predicament, she asks her to come along and pose as her sister. On the way though the train crashes and Punam – now minus her legs and about to die – makes Asha promise to take her place so that her son can be brought up as the family heir. Asha seeing that her own life has little hope agrees to carry this out.
On the cab ride to her faux parents-in-law, the driver tries to rob her but she (and baby Oscar) is rescued by a forest ranger (Rajesh Khanna) who then brings her back to stay at his place for the night. His servant sorrowfully informs Asha that Rajesh has become heartbroken and a drunkard because the woman he was supposed to marry disappeared at the ceremony. Take a wild guess who that was! Talk about a small world – and it soon gets even smaller. Now how he became a drunkard since the wedding day – which seemed to be only the day before – is a little difficult to understand – did he take a crash course in “How to be an alcoholic in 24-hours or your money back”. Learn how to sing while intoxicated, dance while inebriated and spill drinks on complete strangers! Rajesh also just happens to be the best friend of Punam’s husband! Is this getting complicated or what and at this point in the film we are only at the 20-minute mark! I need to take a rest and catch my breath. There is still 140 minutes to go!
You probably see the irony headed right at you. Asha falls in love with the man she unknowingly left at the alter – he falls in love with her – but she is of course now a “widow” and the widow of his best friend. What is a couple to do? In India it is customary – or at least it was until recent times – for a widow to grieve always for her dead husband and never remarry. In the really old days of course they sometimes tossed the widow on the funeral pyre (sati) – so I guess grieving isn’t such a bad alternative. There have actually been cases in which a young girl who was in an arranged marriage but had yet to start living with her equally young husband had to take on widow status if her husband died before they even consummated the marriage – forever! On top of this very repressed love angle, good old Prem and his vamp Bindu show up and soon we have a tale of blackmail, murder and heartbreak on our hands. All good stuff!
Asha won the Best Actress Award for this performance – she is as always very appealing in a girl next-door kind of vulnerable way. The big eyes in full bloom – eyelashes so long that you could hang your laundry on them to dry and a sad and tentative smile playing around her mouth. She and Rajesh were at opposite trajectories in their careers when the film was made in 1970. Asha was a huge star in the 1960's but she was slowly winding it down at this point. Rajesh on the other hand was in the mouth of a hurricane. His film Aradhana in 1969 had made him a gigantic star with hoards of fans following him everywhere and the press detailing his every move. He is generally considered the first Indian actor who could truly be called a “Superstar” in the modern sense. It didn’t last long. By the mid-70’s his films began to flop and he went into a deep depression. A different type of actor had come along – no longer the gentle lover type – but an intense fiery type by the name of Amitabh Bachchan had replaced him and his style of acting.

My rating for this film: 7.0

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