Shakti Samantaâ€™s films in the late 1960â€™s and the early 1970â€™s were often about female characters trapped in undesirable circumstances and trying to battle their way out of their own problems.
In â€śKati Patangâ€ť, a series of unfortunate incidents strike Madhavi (Asha Parekh). On the day of her wedding, Madhavi receives an emotional letter from her lover, Kailash telling her how he cannot live without her. But he is a nasty villain actually. And how do we know that? Well, he is played by none other than the sneering Prem Chopra. On the day Madhavi is due to get married, Kailash is busy engaging in a little hanky-panky with Shabnam (â€śPyar se mujhe log kehte hain Shabbo, ha ha!â€ť), played by Bindu. Madhavi disobeys her common sense and escapes from the wedding. When she lands at Kailashâ€™s house, she catches him in the act with his girlfriend. Having seen him for who he truly is, a depressed Madhavi goes back and sneaks back into her home. By this time, it is too lateâ€¦ The wedding has been cancelled, the guests have gone home and the rejected groom and his family have left in a huff. But Madhaviâ€™s trauma does not end there. She discovers that her father has died of a heart attack.
All alone (she has no other family), Madhavi prepares to leave town. At the rail station, she meets a dear old friend, Poonam. Poonam, too, has not had an easy time of it lately. Once a happily-married woman, she is now a grieving widow and her only khushi is her baby son, Shekhar. Poonam is now on her way to meet her in-laws who have invited her over. They have never met because Poonam and her husband had married against everybodyâ€™s wishes. Recognising that Madhavi has no real place to go, Poonam invites her to go along with her. Poonamâ€™s plan is that Madhavi can pretend to be her sister and this way they can stay together (her in-laws obviously donâ€™t know very much about their bahu then!). Madhavi reluctantly says yes to this idea and goes along with Poonam on the train. No, the film does not end there.
There is a big train accident and Poonam is seriously hurt while Madhavi and Shekhar manage to escape with a few scratches. Aware that she is about to die, Poonam makes Madhavi promise that she will look after Shekhar for her. To do this properly, Madhavi must pretend that she is Poonam and go to her in-lawsâ€™ house. Poonam dies and Madhavi is forced to carry out this plan. This means that Madhavi wears only a white sari throughout the rest of the film. I am sure that this cut a significant part of the production budget that is spent on the film heroineâ€™s clothes and the director must have been quite happy about it. Madhavi aka Poonam endears herself to her new family and meets Kamal (Rajesh Khanna), a former close friend of Poonamâ€™s late husband. Kamal is going through the blues and Madhavi wonders why this is so. A friend of Kamal tells her that he was happy when his marriage was arranged to a girl called Madhavi. But on the day of the wedding, the girl ran away and broke his heart. Madhavi works out that she must have been the bride and sets about trying to make up for what she has done by trying to make him forget his unhappiness. A romance of sorts develops but this is not helped by the fact that Kamal sees Madhavi as Poonam, a widow with a child who is unlikely to marry again. Still, she will not have to act as Poonam forever as Kailash and Shabnam (â€śPyar se mujhe log kehte hain Shabbo, ha ha!â€ť) turn up to throw a spanner in the worksâ€¦
One thing noticeable about â€śKati Patangâ€ť is the absence of Sharmila Tagore. While she has done a few typical heroine roles in Shakti Samantaâ€™s films (â€śKashmir Ki Kaliâ€ť, â€śAn Evening In Parisâ€ť etc), her most serious roles have been in â€śAradhanaâ€ť and â€śAmar Premâ€ť. â€śAmar Premâ€ť released after â€śKati Patangâ€ť but all the female roles in these three films fit the same mould. The mould is of a woman who has become an outcast in society for upsetting the moral codes through a simple mistake on her part. She then lives her life as a condemned woman and every bit of kindness or love becomes precious to her because it is something that is rare in her life. Surprisingly, Asha Parekh performs in this film quite well and shows restraint in the emotional scenes (though the occasional overacting can be forgiven). She was a huge star but she was a weak actress and that shows through the way that she hammed in a lot of her films. â€śKati Patangâ€ť actually has the best performance by Asha Parekh in her entire career. Samanta has the ability to make his actors to give their best and Parekh shines. In contrast, in Nasir Hussainâ€™s â€śCaravanâ€ť (released the following year), Parekhâ€™s portrayal of a similar character is wooden and artificial and Aruna Irani steals the limelight in a supporting role. But then Nasir Hussain rarely ever concentrated on trying to make actors give their best.
One thing I love about this film is the development of the romance between the two lead characters. While some typical scenes are thrown in (for example, Kamal saves Madhavi from a baddie), the progression of their love for each other is understated and heartrending. There is no love at first sigh, it grows over a period of time through the bond of friendship. The conversations that Kamal and Madhavi share are nice to watch and the background sound of Lata Mangeshkar humming adds a haunting but touching quality to the scenes. In the song, â€śJis Gali Main Tera Ghar Na Ho Balmaâ€ť, Kamal and Madhaviâ€™s hands reach out to each other. But just as they are about to hold hands, they remember the boundaries of their friendship and withdraw their hands. The film freezes this moment and gives a frozen close-up of their hands. Maybe it is unsubtle but it works because it is trying to tell us that the two characters value deeply these moments where they grow ever so closer to each other. They freeze these precious moments themselves and hold it in their memories to be cherished in secret.
Shakti Samantaâ€™s films often give the message that what society thinks about an individual is not important. Why should an individualâ€™s life be ruled by what a society thinks about them? This message is played out through the character of Kamal. He invites Madhavi to his birthday party. Madhavi hesitates, thinking that a widow has no right to be at a party and also, what will people think? Kamal argues that what people think is not important. What is more important is that he desires for her to come to his birthday party as it would make him happy. A similar message is echoed in â€śAmar Premâ€ť where Anand Babu (also played by Rajesh Khanna) croons, â€śKuch to log kahenge, Logon ka kaam hai kehnaâ€ť. Rajesh Khannaâ€™s wistful performance complements Asha Parekhâ€™s thoughtful portrayal of her character. It helps that they share nice chemistry and I canâ€™t think of an actor that Parekh has ever had better screen chemistry with (although the same cannot be said for Khanna as I think his best pairing was with Mumtaz). Prem Chopra and Bindu are electric together especially when they are in their evil conniving mode. The rest of the supporting cast are adequate.
The album, composed by RD Burman and set to mesmerizing poetry by Anand Bakshi, is an absolute classic. At least five numbers are all-time favorites among music-lovers.
The Unforgettable Songs:
â€śYeh Jo Mohabbat Haiâ€ťâ€¦ Singer: Kishore Kumar
â€śPyar Deewana Hota Haiâ€ťâ€¦ Singer: Kishore Kumar
â€śJis Gali Main Tera Ghar Na Ho Balmaâ€ťâ€¦ Singer: Mukesh
â€śYeh Shaam Mastaniâ€ťâ€¦ Singer: Kishore Kumar
â€śNa Koi Umang Hai, Na Koi Tarang Haiâ€ťâ€¦ Singer: Lata Mangeshkar