Shabnam Still Gets Fan Mail

Bolly
Bindu's item number, Prem Chopra's animated villainy, Rajesh Khanna's romantic gestures and Asha Parekh's tears. Kati Patang was the quintessential Bollydrama.

On the surface, Kati Patang is a quintessential weepie, but you'll find a social drama with a message of widow rehabilitation tucked in it. The film is immensely relevant in Bollywood's fact file: it was the second coming together of producer-director Shakti Samanta and superstar Rajesh Khanna following 1969's Aradhana (the hit made Khanna a sensation overnight). Kati Patang too was a success and with 1971's Amar Prem, the formidable duo had made a hattrick.

Kati Patang has all the ingredients of a straight up Bollydrama: a suffering heroine (Asha Parekh), a hurt-in-love hero (Khanna), a sleazy villain (Prem Chopra) and a sexy vamp called Shabnam (Bindu). There's also a train accident, lots of coincidences and quirks of fate thrown in.

Gulshan Nanda's story was inspired by Cornell Woolrich's novel, I Married a Dead Man, which was later adapted into the 1950 film, No Man of Her Own. Samanta added his brand of social romanticism to the story. The music score, courtesy the stellar team of RD Burman- Anand Bakshi- Kishore Kumar, gave us timeless classics like Yeh jo mohabbat hai, Yeh shaam mastani and Pyaar deewana hota hai.

Samanta had planned to reunite the Aradhana couple in Kati Patang. His association with Sharmila Tagore was strong, having introduced her in Kashmir Ki Kali and later casting her in Sawan Ki Ghata, An Evening In Paris and Aradhana. But Tagore was pregnant and unavailable and so Samanta approached Asha Parekh who had worked in his Pagla Kahin Ka. The switch proved fruitful as Parekh won an award for her portrayal of a woman pretending to be a widow.

In an interview, Samanta had said that Kati Patang was a "risky subject". He had misgivings about the audience's reaction to the nation's loverboy wooing a widow, but went ahead with the conviction that the audience would know from the beginning of the film that Parekh wasn't really a widow.

Parekh, who terms Kati Patang a "tailor-made, heroine-oriented film", took up the movie to get a respite from the glam roles she was doing. "I had done a deglam role in Baharon Ke Sapne but after that, I was only getting glamorous roles. Kati Patang offered me an author-backed, performance-oriented role which I couldn't refuse," she says. Khanna and she shot Aan Milo Sajna back-to-back with Kati Patang. They bonded over desserts. "We both had a sweet tooth and throughout the shoot we would hog all the desserts," she says. Her best Kati Patang memory is the song Jis gali mein tera ghar na ho balmaa, which was shot in Nainital. "Throughout the film, I was in a white sari but in this song, I was photographed beautifully in a boat," she says.

A lot of Kati Patang rests on its antagonists. As the philandering and greedy boyfriend Kailash, Prem Chopra came up with a superlative turn. You hate him for his antics but have to commend the way the actor hammed up the sleaze quotient by flaunting medallions and unbuttoned shirts. Chopra credits his impressive performance to Samanta. "He was a very fair director. He didn't favour anyone. He did whatever was best for the shot," says Chopra.

Samanta would call Chopra "RADA" which became a joke on the set. It all began when Chopra gave a shot which was cheered by the crowd gathered to watch the shoot. "They all clapped for me so Shakti saab quipped that I've been trained at RADA, not the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but the Rohtak Academy. Somehow, RADA stuck," says Chopra.

Chopra's accomplice in all the mischievous shenanigans was Bindu who played Shabnam, she of the iconic Mera naam hai Shabnam, pyar se log mujhe kehte hain Shabbo fame, which went on to become a major set piece of the film. The item song, choreographed as a cabaret, has become the definitive vamp song in Bollywood. For Bindu, it remains a career high. "I had just entered the industry with Do Raaste (1969) and this song from Kati Patang established me as a dancer," says Bindu.

Initially, she was hesitant to do the song. "Helenji was my icon, she was the queen of cabaret. I wasn't sure if I could get the hang of this style of dancing," she says. Samanta told her to approach the song as storytelling. "He said your character is harassing the heroine and the lyrics are also in the form of a dialogue," she says. Bindu still gets fan mail for the song's enduring appeal. "So many years have gone by, but people still send me letters. I can just be grateful," she says.

harneet.singh@expressindia.com

Play List

Year: 1970

Director: Shakti Samanta

Cast: Rajesh Khanna, Asha Parekh, Bindu, Prem Chopra

DVD: Moserbaer, Rs 99

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