Smita Talwalkar’s ‘Kalat Nakalat’ (Knowingly-Unknowingly)!

‘Dev konicha nasto – ani phaar thodi manasa, manasa astat. Pann tyancha kadna hi chuka hotat’. (No person is a God – and very few people are genuine and humane. Yet even they do make mistakes). Words of wisdom shared by a father who is at the verge of parting with his young children. A classic scene from the movie.

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Smita Talwalkar’s Kalat – Nakalat               Image Courtesy – Wikipedia

‘For its delicate description of the tension of love in various facets; wife, mistress and children; and the resolution of tensions in favour of keeping a family together.’ So reads the National Award citation bestowed upon ‘Kalat Nakalat’. It was a popular Marathi movie that was produced way back in 1989 and that went on to win the National Award for the Best Feature Film in Marathi. 
Produced by veteran Marathi film personality Smita Talwalkar, the estranged couple of Madhukar Pant and Uma was essayed by Vikram Gokhale and Savita Prabhune respectively.  Ashok Saraf played the role of Chotu Mama, a mature brother to the wife and a doting uncle to the two cute kids (Bachchu and Chakuli) that form the family. Sulabha Deshpandey essayed yet another role of a sensitive mother. Nilu Phule and Ashwini Bhave play useful cameos as well.

The movie was well narrated and showed a ‘slice-of-life’ middle class story sans any hysterics. Vikram Gokhale played the role of a good traditional man who loves his family and helps everyone around him. His failing is shown to be the ‘one-mistake’ of falling for the widowed character, Manisha Salkar, essayed by Ashwini Bhave ( that is indicative of his feet of clay. And he does immediately regret it. The film derives the much-loved ‘creative tension’, thanks to the headstrong wife played by Savita Prabhune. She represents someone who is truly committed to the family and has not had any marital problems earlier. She is a lady who stands up for her sensibilities and genuinely struggles to come to terms with the incident.

The drama thus enacted does great justice to the above mentioned citation as it rings true of a portrayal of the one incident that can rip apart an otherwise normal and close-knit family. The mother deflects her frustration and anger even on the bewildered kids who sense the trouble but are still on good terms with their father. Ashok Saraf too plays a key role in moving the narrative forward and also provides the ‘much-needed’ comic relief with his running commentary on the personality of the archetypal ‘Marathi manoos’ and also including a popular song featuring the kids, ‘Nakavarchya ragaala aushadh kai …’. In a nuanced way it is a ‘poser’ aimed at Uma, goading her to re-consider her decision and acquiesce a reconciliation with her husband.He is shown to be struggling in financial terms, but otherwise is more mature and pragmatic than his sister. He genuinely tries to help the warring couple settle their differences.

It is a battle of sexes in some ways too – although the husband does concede the point early on and tries to make amends. Eventually when his contrition makes no impact and a reconciliation proves to be elusive, the matter ends up in the Court.  I read somewhere a critique of Maugham that mentioned as follows – ‘Maugham strikes a very modern note in his appreciation of man’s interest in the many-sided aspects of life and woman’s obsession solely with love. Only Schnitzler has shown as much perception in recognizing the chasm between the sexes, a chasm that nothing – even the greatest tact and wisdom – can bridge. Only Schnitzler has infused into the situation an equally autumnal loneliness.’ This insight could account for the exasperation that many male viewers must have felt when the wife genuinely is unable to accept the lapse.

It is to the credit of the characters that they persist to seek an amicable resolution. The ‘brother and mother’ duo do exert their influence while accepting that the wife was an adult who could make her choices and decisions in life. That approach itself was quite a rarity in those days and stands out in sharp relief of the more traditional narrative.

One of the highlights of the film to my mind is the conversation that the father has with his children just after he has lost the custody battle in the Court. He speaks in an understated style though he is very emotional and tries hard to explain the situation to them.The climax is in true filmi style wherein having the upped the ante and won the custody of her children, the wife suddenly feels remorse and makes up with the husband. And so we have a happy ending to the story and can feel emotionally satiated by the movie.

It is the end that seems to be debatable though – it is not quite consistent with the heroine’s character built up throughout the story. She reminds me of the dilemma that is faced by the modern, liberated woman. As P D James puts it, ‘How does a woman with both heart and brain reconcile the emotional and sexual side of her nature with her intellect? It is interesting how often unintelligent even stupid women manage their emotional lives more satisfactorily than do their cleverer sisters’. 

But I got an interesting counter to the above theory – it became possible because Uma won the custody of the kids and making peace with her husband no longer seemed to be a compromise to her ego. Talk about twisted logic!

Possibly the narrative was realistic in those days when India was, relatively speaking, a closed and conservative society. Patriarchy dominated and divorce carried a lot of social stigma. Things have changed now and possibly the movie’s climax might not find much favour with the modern-day audience. Divorces have become rather far too common now but sadly often its price is paid by the children instead of their parents.

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