Katha, window on a small world

Publié le 23 Mars 2011

still a child

The main beauty of this little film, Katha (Sai Paranjpe 1983), which suffers somewhat from clichés that are perhaps enjoyed by a certain type of audience, is the delightful portrayal of the Suburban chawl where a community of friends and neighbours live together, united by a community spirit which I have rarely seen as warmly described as here. It’s perhaps a little idealistic, but surely the level of good-natured friendliness belongs to the best of what one likes about India, that frank and open humanity, where each person can have a chance to be part of the whole. I had first been attracted to Katha thanks to Carla’s excellent review, where she underlines this quality too.

I am nevertheless more sensitive than she is to the movie’s weaknesses, and especially the characterization and story flaws. For me, Farooq Shaikh’s character, that obnoxious self-imposed buddy who decides to take advantage of his long-standing friendship with heart-of-gold Rajaram (Naseer), is just too grossly delineated. Yes, I see that he’s a caricature, but somehow I felt the story would have been much more interesting to follow if he’d been a genuine parasite, with a more ambiguous attitude. As it is, one cannot stop regretting Rajaram’s absurd subservient attitude: no one in their right mind would accept the bullying he has to undergo. Some reaction at least would have been normal, and just doesn’t come. It’s over the top (that’s why I was wondering if perhaps a certain type of audience, for whom satiric exaggeration carries some value, isn’t the film’s natural audience).


Washu 2


Same thing goes for Sandhya (Dipti Naval)’s infatuation for the crass superiority of “Washu”: Okay, we are in a “Katha” (a tale, a fable), but should she really have stooped so low as to let herself embezzled by this pretentious prig? There isn’t enough psychological truth there. I know women (that kind of women, at least) aren’t that easily taken in. Sandhya belongs to the type of lovely middle-class women who know appearances when they see them, and can be valued for their solid common sense. Or perhaps I’m carried away because in Sandhya I see Dipti Naval’s very satisfying femininity…

parents reactions

I enjoyed the movie’s quiet originality; the way it suddenly introduces a cartoon when one doesn’t expect it (at the moment when Wasu goes to meet his cuckolded boss in his office); the sudden change of Rajaram’s parents’ picture (above) when he yields to Wasu’s “improvement” of his flat, as the latter pins up a model in bikini on the wall; the day-dream that turns Rajaram into a mock-Washu, with Sandhya suddenly at his service the way he thinks she would be for his boisterous friend. Then there are pleasantly unassuming humoristic touches, for example when the wedding actually takes place between Sandhya and Rajaram, after having been cancelled between Sandhya and Washu: the two carriers lift the exultant cripple who had just gone back, forlorn, to his flat, thinking the festivities were off! What’s fun is that we see him pass in front of us, as if the screen was a sort of window, and he couldn’t see us, so engrossed was he is in the pleasure ahead.

quick, action

That’s what the film is: a tamasha, a spectator’s perspective from the window of cinema on a lovable community where life flows in and out, with its little and big moments. The stairs, doors and windows of the chawl represent the little flaps which the director lifts for us to see what occurs inside, and we open wide eyes on the private happenings; we laugh at the little secrets, we understand the humble lies, we frown on the ridiculous habits; we marvel at the love and generosity that are showered even on Washu the profiteer. Naturally, you need a story for all these modest “events” to take place, you need Washu to cast his magic charm on the inhabitants and make them realize what they’re losing. This pretext becomes the non-essential narrative of the essential background: and so I suppose we need Washu’s disruptive arrival, and his utterly improbable tricking of both Rajaram’s boss and his daughter. But the important is elsewhere, in the celebration of truthful and elemental community life in the chawl.


Naseer wasn’t at his gritty, slyish best yet, but you can already feel the talent he displays in personifying that half-dull, half-impish Rajaram of his. One cannot stop loving him, because like the children who jump around in the playground outside, and break the cantankerous old lady’s pot with their ball, he’s a child too. Unlike Washu’s character, which isn’t as finely-tuned, Rajaram strikes as a real creation. He’s the ideal mother’s boy, one that all the secretaries at work know they would like to marry, because they would have their way with him, and he would be depended upon not to fool around. Perhaps that’s what Sandhya saw too, up to a point. Compared to him (and of course on the surface), Washu certainly has more class, more maturity. But Katha tells us that purity of heart is way more satisfying than adventurous glory, and that family virtues, even if a tad quaint, are preferable to the self-assigned freedom and the flaunting of rules.

happy neighbours

Happy ma and pa!

future husband and wife

Future ma and pa!

Rédigé par yves

Publié dans #Film reviews

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No, I was not talking of the theatrical tradition of Washu's character but rather that of the chawl. I also understand your need for the 'genuine parasite' depiction of Washu. but that would be
much in tradition of French Cinema. The 'exaggerated' version of Washu is rather of how people percieve Washu or rather how they would talk aobut him later on rather than how he really was. A
sort of Don Juan and his depiction in opera (don Giovanni), theatre and novels. He his much more perception of the society rather than his true self. Thus, I find the 'exaggeration' quite

"it'slucky for Sandhya that she found her partner, but beware young girls, you might not be that lucky"

I don't see it that way. Since the story (Katha) begins with the old fable of Rabbit (Washu) and the Tortoise (Rajaram), I think Sandhya is just the victory. And the victory belongs to Rajaram
(Raja Rama?), Washu (Vasudev = Krishna) had his fun and gone. Sandhya (evening) belongs at the end of the day to the righteous (Rajaram).

So far so good!

But in Leela Mishra's end line "Yeh bhi koi jeet hui" I don't find any ambiguity, it is very clear (for my ears at least) she means although Rajaram comes out victorious, it is not really victory
since the fruits are 'jhoota' (already tasted). From a feminist director, I hadn't really expected such a line.

Have you seen any film of Vijaya Mehta? I remember vaguely her few movies for DD: Pestonjee, Hamidabai Ki Kothi, Haveli Bulund Thi,Rao Saheb. But I have no idea, where I can get hold of her
movies. She was good and also came from the Marathi theatre tradition. She is Durga Khote's daughter-in-law.


Hi Harvey,

Thanks for all these interesting comments; I appreciated especially that concerning the references in Rajaram and Washu's names. I am reading that little book about the Bhagavad-Gita these days
(by C. Rajagoplaachalari), and trying to understand more of hinduism!

Sorry I haven't seen any of Vijaya Mehta's movies, even though I had been told to before!



"For me, Farooq Shaikh’s character, ... is just too grossly delineated. "

i understand the wish for a 'genuine parasite'. But the character is not at all a real one. It is much more of what Rajaram would himself like to be or even what the women in their lives would
like to experience at least once. This is clearly seen in the fantasy scenes particularly of Rajaram.

The comedy elements are very much a part of the marathi theatre at that time. The Marathi theatre at that time was thank god quite independent of the film industry and had a clientele of its own.
And in the 80s a spate of dramas and serials came with the chawl as its main theme. Although at this time it (the chawl system) was very much endangered due to the mill strike (see Mahesh
Manjrekar's Marathi film Lalbaug Parel).

But the part which disappointed me most was Grandmaa's last line. When the tortoise wins the race (Rajaram gets Sandhya). Grandma (Leela Mishra) says "Yeh bhi koi jeet hui" (this is no victory).
I have a feeling she is alluding to Sandhya's lost virginity.


You know, what you say does indeed make a difference, because if behind the apparent exaggeration of Washu's character, there is an allusion to a theatrical tradition (which I didn't know), then
this exaggeration makes sense: you would need it to make viewers realise the film is alluding to the genre, and make them appreciate the fun of satirising it (or perhaps simply evoking it).

And could that line by the Grandma (which had also escaped me) bear on something central in the movie? Something along the conservative lines of: "it'slucky for Sandhya that she found her
partner, but beware young girls, you might not be that lucky"?

Thanks for the interesting message Harvey.


Oui j'ai pu constater que beaucoup de produits étaient en rupture de stock. J'ai commandé quelque chose hier, expédié aujourd'hui : pour l'instant c'est plutôt rapide.

De mon côté je commande souvent sur bollymarket, qui était loin d'être parfait il y a quelque temps mais a beaucoup amélioré récemment et la rapidité du service et la qualité de la communication
avec les clients en cas de soucis. Le problème reste les prix assez élevés.  Sinon sur ebay, notamment chez ce vendeur professionnel qui expédie super vite, et à des prix  intéressants,
des DVDs originaux depuis les Etats-Unis (mes deux commandes sont arrivées à chaque fois en moins d'une semaine) : http://myworld.ebay.fr/musicindiamovies/


Oui, bien sûr, j'avais oublié Ebay, où de fait il y a pas mal de choses, enfin, surtout les DVD récents! Je note le vendeur que tu m'indiques, je verrai! Par contre, bien que j'avais l'adresse de
Bollymarket, je crois ne leur avoir rien commandé (encore).

Merci en tout cas de ton message!


Super ! Merci pour ta réponse ! Je vais peut-être me laisser tenter alors !


You're welcome... as they say!

Au fait, Nehaflix a une liste absolument énorme, mais assez souvent il y a des films qui sont "out of stock", alors c'est pour ça que c'est bien de connaître d'autres vendeurs.


Bonjour Yves,

Mon commentaire n'a pas grand chose à voir avec ton article, désolée (article qui exprime d'ailleurs assez exactement ce que je pense de Katha). J'ai vu en parcourant d'autres articles que tu
avais parfois recours à Nehaflix. Est-ce que tu es satisfait de ce site ? Quels sont en moyenne les délais de livraison ? Tu l'auras compris, j'ai bien envie de commander quelques DVDs sur ce
site, je voudais juste être sûre que c'est fiable.

Merci d'avance,






Bonjour A2line,

Pas de souci de se communiquer de toute façon! Oui, Nehaflix est vraiment bien, je trouve même qu'ils ont vraiment accéléré leur délais de livraison; il y a environ deux semaines, je leur ai
commandé un lot de DVD et ils sont arrivés à peine une semaine après. Je me souviens il y a déjà un bout de temps leur avoir écrit parce que plus d'un mois et demi après la commande, je n'avais
toujours pas reçu le paquet. Ca s'est vraiment amélioré.

L'autre site où je commande des fois, c'est Induna, mais alors là, les frais d'envoi sont exorbitants (et les délais longs aussi, si je me souviens bien). Ils sont déjà assez chers sur
Nehaflix... Cependant, à Induna, ils t'envoient parfois un petit cadeau, par exemple un DVD bengali peu connu, ou un poster. La dernière fois j'ai reçu le DVD "The last ride" de Nabyendu
Chatterjee, mais sans sous-titres...


Bonne journée!


True..it is indeed an ongoing conversation. So what if the author/instigator is not there ? Has not the conversation taken a life of its own?

As far as Sai Paranjpé's films, I have seen only two and I recall only Chashme Baddoor scene-by-scene as I re-watched it within the last couple of years. I'll be interested to see what you think
of it. It has Deepti Naval, which is a great positive. She is very natural. I also like the naturalness of the settings - the suburbs they show, Deepti's home looks much like my own home when I
was growing up. The bachelor pad looks like bachelor-pads I know. Deepti dresses in ordinary saris the way my generation did, the guys are not super-handsome but look like men one knows. This
middle-class life speaks to me. And if there are weird happenings, its only in people's imaginations..that makes sense too. See it, its more 'real India' of those times than anything else I can


Thanks Suja, your description really makes one want to discover the movie!



Hi Suja,

Thanks for visiting; I suppose it's now up to me to see Sai Paranjpe other movies, which I trust I'll do in time; which one do you recommend?

And I liked your description of the table where a combination of factors bring about a unique experience each time; of course there is the input of the movie, the first gesture is done by the
author, but one might say that he too is prompted to make films because he wants to enter a kind a conversation with his prospective audience. The success of a movie a sign that the conversation
has actually taken place.

So perhaps what we're doing in this blogging of ours is carrying on the conversation. It's a pity that the authors themselves don't take part (some do, though, there are film-makers' websites
where they reach out  to the public), but this is something that is frequent in art: most artists are now dead, only their work survives, and enthusiasts continue the conversation which was
started (almost disinterestingly) by the artist. Artsists in this way are the initiators of a dialogue which in itself precious because it is raised from the start above the level of small talk
(not that I disregard small talk!) : their work is like a short-cut to important questions and meanings that we don't always have the time or the patience to reach in everyday exchanges.



Hi Yves, Actually this sounds like a movie I would quite like! I had enjoyed Sai Paranjape's Sparsh and Chasme Baddoor but haven't seen any other work of hers. Chasme Baddoor was interesting - I
had really good memories of it, then last year I re-watched it, I still enjoyed it but bits and pieces of it jarred badly. I have realised for a long time that both in movies and in music, it is
not a one-way dialogue (the film 'talks' and one 'listens') as one would naively assume but in fact is a 2-way dialogue - the film brings a story-music, the experiences of the
director-cast-others to the table. We bring our own experiences-expectations-sensibilities-opinions-heritage to the same table. And our movie-watching or music-listening experience is a unique
event which is a combination of these, never to be re-enacted because even if everything else is constant, we ourselves are not constant. But coming back to Katha, I would like to watch it.
Hmm..wonder if I can find it online...