Madhu (Asha Parekh) runs out on her wedding and goes to her lover Kailash (Prem Chopra) only to find he is little more than a gold digger and is also involved with another woman, Shabnam (Bindu). She returns to find her uncle has died due to the shame faced on her running away. Shattered, she decides to leave town to start life afresh elsewhere. At the station she meets an old friend, Poonam (Naaz), a widow and a mother of a child a few months old, who is on her way to meet her in-laws for the first time. She convinces Madhu to go with her. However, the train meets with an accident and Poonam is one of those who is injured fatally. Before dying, she convinces Madhu to look after her child and to take her place. So Madhu becomes Poonam and goes to Nainatal to live with her ‘in-laws’. There, she meets Kamal (Rajesh Khanna), the forest officer, who saves her from a crooked taxi driver. Kamal finds himself falling for ‘Poonam’ and her for him. Madhu finds out that her intended husband, whom she jilted without even looking at his photo, was none other than Kamal. And even as she continues to keep up the facade of being Poonam, Kailash and Shabnam re-enter her life threatening to expose her…
Kati Patang is one of the most popular films of the Shakti Samanta-Rajesh Khanna-RD Burman-Kishore Kumar-Anand Bakshi combination. Supposedly based on a story by Gulshan Nanda, which it appears, does also have germs from the Cornell Woolrich book I Married a Dead Man (also made into a film No Man of Her Own starring Barbara Stanwyck), Kati Patang makes for immensely engaging viewing looking at Rajesh Khanna at his peak as the ultimate romantic hero. The film is also aided by Asha Parekh’s arguably best ever performance and of course a fantastic music score by Panchamda.
The film narrative has an energetic pace and engrosses the viewer immediately. With a minimum of fuss we see Madhu running out on her wedding, discovering her lover Kailash is nothing but a gold digging cad, her returning to find her uncle dead and deciding to leave the town, meeting Poonam and her child at the waiting room in the station, the train accident, her surviving and taking Poonam’s place with the child so that we get to the crux of the story quickly enough though it does appear a mite illogical that Madhu was all set to marry Kamal and had not even looked at his photo! Anway, the subsequent love story between Madhu and Kamal is nicely developed with quiet, subtle looks and gestures even if some of their moments are needlessly underlined by freezing the frame at ‘crucial’ moments and though the film boasts of some extremely well written dialogue, the title is hammered in a mite too often within them. As it is the film has a title song as well. Still… The fact that Kamal is the man she rejected and left at the mandap lends a further dimension to their romance. The film also explores Madhu’s helplessness rather well as she finds herself torn between her love for Kamal and having to continue being Poonam while the narrative focus shifts quite easily once Kailash and Shabnam re-enter the plot and frame Madhu for her ‘father-in-law’s’ murder and expose her true identity.
The performances too are extremely effective further lifting the film. Rajesh Khanna, in his second film with Samanta, shows exactly why he had the entire female species of the country swooning after him, yellow pants or no yellow pants! His romantic mannerisms and come hither gestures are used to great effect but it has to be said that he is spot on in his performance – be it his falling in love with Asha Parekh or his subsequent hurt at what he considers her to be her betrayal later on. Kati Patang proves there was much more to Khanna than just the romantic star, as seen in Anand the same year as this film and subsequently in Basu Bhattacharya’s Avishkaar (1973) as well.
Asha Parekh, otherwise an adequate actress at best, responds with perhaps the most mature and comparatively reined-in act of her career as the young woman who has to pretend not only to be a widow, but a mother of a young child as well even if she provides the film with its biggest continue gaffe in the sequence where she reaches s her in-laws’ house carrying a suitcase in one hand and they child in the other, both of which miraculously appear to switch hands as we cut to her from entering the house to entering the house! She would go on to win the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for the film.
Of the supporting cast, Prem Chopra and Bindu have a whale of a time as the scheming baddies. Bindu absolutely sizzles in the Mera Naam Shabnam ‘song’ while Sulochana Latkar, Naaz and Nasir Hussain (in his typically hammy manner) lend adequate support. While it’s fun to see a grown up Honey Irani in a small role in the film, moppet Pankaj Sharma, less than a year old, makes a cute, chubby but often distressed – who wouldn’t be in front of the camera at that age – Munna!
RD Burman’s music is a big, big asset. Each of the songs be it Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai, Pyar Deewana Hota Hai (taken from an earlier RD Bengali composition from the Uttam Kumar-Tanuja starrer Rajkumari (1970)), Na Koi Umang Hai, Mera Naam Hai Shabnam – hats off to Asha Bhosle for her incredible ‘rendering’ – and Yeh Shyam Mastani are brilliantly composed. But my pick goes to that much underrated Mukesh solo Jis Gali Mein Tera Ghar Na Ho Balma. Mukesh is in fine form and it is sad that he and RD joined hands but for a handful of songs. Shockingly, RD was not even nominated for the Filmfare Award for his wonderful score in the film.
A point here. On one level, while the film was lauded in its time that it dared to support widow remarriage, one has to say this gives the film a couple of undue brownie points as ultimately since Madhu’s true identity is found out and she gets her love in the end, it is not really a situation of widow remarriage and the issue is thus conveniently avoided. Also, some aspects of the film do appear dated especially its shot taking and other technicalities but that can be forgiven as ultimately, content does score over technique. And special mention has to be made of the expert manner in which Samanta picturizes and maintains the axis right through the Pyar Deewana Hota Hai song.
Little surprise then that the film was a huge, huge success at the box office helping Rajesh Khanna consolidate the super stardom, he acquired the previous year with Aradhana. It was also re-made into Tamil as Nenjil Oru Mul (1981) starring Prathap Pothen and Poornima Jayaram while Hollywood too did a loose adaptation – Mrs Winterbourne (1996) starring Ricki Lake, Brendan Fraser and Shirly MacLaine.
Hindi, Drama, Color