classic film

Sai Paranjpye’s ‘Katha’ is a fabulous fable about the most charming chawl in the world

The renowned filmmaker’s 79th birthday is the perfect excuse to revisit one of her loveliest films, starring Naseeruddin Shah, Farooque Shaikh and Deepti Naval.

In a community of defined roles, men go to office and buy vegetables on their way back home. Wives cook and make pickles. Children attend school, play cricket in the courtyard and caper in the common verandahs. Dim lights, poor water supply and common toilets add their greyness to Bombay chawl life. Here, a female graduate’s hope is only for marriage and a male post-graduate aspires only to be head clerk.

The grim stuff of many a bleak film gets a surprising lift in Katha (1982), in which director Sai Paranjpye touches this lower middle class chawl with her wand of wit and gives a dry spin to the fable of the hare and the tortoise. The animated credit sequence at the beginning shows the director’s name beneath a bright- eyed cat flexing its claws – clearly, every character in Katha is up for jabs. However, each little dig of humour, no matter how irreverent, is delivered with an affectionate twinkle.

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The song Kaun Aaya from Katha (1982).

A nagging wife never knows that her seemingly attentive husband’s ears are plugged with cotton wool reinforcements. Chinnakka (meaning little sister), the largest and most rotund resident of the chawl, is always encircled by vessels similar to her own shape and size. Bapu (father) is the bell-ringing invalid who cheerfully interrupts anyone at any time – whether to change a radio station or to have a bottle of churan handed to him. For all the bickering of nosy neighbours and for all the shortages they may endure, no one is ever shortchanged. They are, after all, a family of bhaus, bhais, akkas and mais.

There is much to love in Katha over and above its stellar cast – Naseeruddin Shah, Farooque Shaikh and Deepti Naval – each at their endearing best.

Innovative techniques capture individual quirks. Conversations cleverly summarise socio-economic details – jobs, education, money, conveyance, even the census – while the soundtrack remains focused on the pulse of the story and the chitchat of the chawl.

Ticklish class and cultural obsessions are tackled tongue in cheek. The chawl secretary (his room is kitted out with space-saving furniture, a refrigerator and a television thanks to a son settled in Canada) accentuates his Hindi speeches with English synonyms (“ekta” and unity, “manoranjan” and entertainment ) and has an unread Time magazine to display. At a higher society party, all conversations begin with an identically vacuous “How are you?” as if everyone is recuperating from a mysterious disease.

Women’s liberation gets both a smirk and a nod, but as a refreshing and humorous alternative to sexual harassment, there is a dream-sequence temptation of Adam – apple and serpent included.

Naseeruddin Shah as Rajaram in Katha (1982).
Naseeruddin Shah as Rajaram in Katha (1982).

The two male protagonists have significant names. Naseeruddin Shah is Rajaram Purushottam, the king of men and the best among men. Generous, kind and painfully shy, he proudly walks the straight and narrow. Even though he is almost ridiculous in his sobriety, we root for him from the very beginning.

On the other hand, there is the gleaming eyed Farooque Shaikh (Vasudev), a thieving magpie who steals money, rings, hearts and thunder. Vasudev prefers to be called Bashu and not by his real name, thus cautioning us that he is a confidence trickster. From the desi cigarettes with which he fills Dunhill cartons to his tall tales of being the grandson of a dewan, Bashu is a charming cheat. From Dadi Amma (Leela Mishra), the seniormost member of the chawl, to mothers of runny-nosed children and the children themselves, Bashu knows how to play to the gallery. His repertoire extends to the impertinent daughter (Winnie Paranjpye) and the trophy wife (the glamorous Mallika Sarabhai) of Dhindoria, and finally, to Dhindoria himself.

Farooque Shaikh as Vasudev in Katha (1982).
Farooque Shaikh as Vasudev in Katha (1982).

Deepti Naval is the vulnerable and inexperienced Sandhya who stands between Rajaram and Bashu – in doorways and otherwise. She must choose between the glib and the good. In choosing one she realises how much she has taken the other for granted.

Paranjpye’s film is not about teaching lessons, but about happy endings for all. Rajaram wins his well-fought day. Sandhya, at first stirred silly and then shaken wise, is not doomed to disgrace. And Bashu whizzes out to conquer new horizons with his chutzpah. Katha is still about those who win – through foul means or fair.

Katha may lose out on flashy foreign locales, item numbers, chartbusting songs and super-speed storytelling. But the hare and the tortoise do not really need to run the same race.

Deepti Naval as Sandhya in Katha (1982).
Deepti Naval as Sandhya in Katha (1982).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

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What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.