Director: Rajat Kapoor
Cast: Chandrachoor Rai, Cyrus Sahukar, Kalki Koechlin, Mansi Multani, Palomi Ghosh, Rajat Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey, Sagar Deshmukh, Shruti Seth, Tara Sharma
Streaming Platform: SonyLIV
The first half of Kadakh makes you feel like a hostage, like you are stuck within a naturalistic tableau you just want to get out of. Not because it is awful, but because it is uncomfortable. (The title credit is followed by ‘a-moral tale’) There’s a dead man, there’s an extramarital affair, and there’s the perfect excuse for all of this to explode in the face of the protagonists- a crowded Diwali dinner party of gambling and guzzling, beer and bacchanal. At one point the dead man literally becomes the kadakh, or centrepiece, for the gambling game. You know this is all simmering to explode on impact, but you just don’t want it to, because the characters that are introduced in a rapid onslaught, like how relatives airdrop in hordes for parties, begin to endear.
The chief protagonists are a married couple Malti (Mansi Multani) and Sunil (Ranvir Shorey). All the action takes place in their apartment in a Mumbai high-rise. Like most dinner parties hosted, they invite their close friends a few hours prior to help set up, and so the friends hover. There are strains of tension as there are in most groups, but nothing seems sinister. They are just odd in the way most humans are odd- one is a writer who plagiarizes the life of his friends for his book that is now finally up for release, one is the bland corporate-kind , filled with unsolicited advice and an entitled air, (“If you are not oil, no one is looking for you,” he tells his writer friend who is waiting to be ‘found’) one is an ageing goof who flirts away, and one is Sunil, another corporate guy with a hot head. Then there are the women: one is a latent alcoholic, one is a single mother, one is an overbearing mother, and one is… Malti. Do you see the issue here? Perhaps there is some commentary here about how women, however ambitious otherwise, end up becoming domestic in social situations, relegated to child-rearing, but I fear this might be a blind-spot in the writing of the film. (There is, however, a sweet moment where Malti is wondering in the middle of a sprawling, distracted conversation with her female-friends as they are getting ready, if the blouse is too tight- a wonderful earthen brown print blouse for her deep pink silk sari. Everyone says no, and the conversation moves on, but in the next scene she is seen in an emerald green silk blouse, visibly looser. Was this just about comfort or was she trying to minimize the fleeting glances?)
However, it is in the second half that this film confounded me, because from this heavy portrait of naturalism, it turns to the absurd, to Macbeth and magic. There is a moment when Sunil smells rot that no one else smells, and he hallucinates the dead man. Kalki Koechelin comes in as a French woman who reads minds and performs magic.
Increasingly, you are noticing that the writing is getting more contrived and also gearing up for the final reveal(s). Plural because there is a wife who has to find out she has been cheated on, and a guest list who have to find out they have literally gambled over a dead body. The latter is satisfying, and bleak, but the former is quite far-fetched, almost unbelievable that someone would connect such distantly placed dots. I wish this part was better written, and I wish the absurd had been tempered down. It didn’t feel odd per-se, but it just dammed the narrative speed and coherence which was built up so well thus far.
The film plays out to a Jazz ensemble, and there is, like in Rajat Kapoor previous take on naturalism-meets-the-absurd, Aankhon Dekhi (2013), a moral question underlying all of this. But you wonder if the moral question is a bit of a stretch. Is it about adultery? Is it about suicide? Is it about harbouring a dead body? (I am reminded of Deepika Padukone’s controversial VOGUE Empower women where she said it is the right of every women to choose whether or not to have sex outside marriage, taking adultery out of the moral-immoral binary. In the context of this film then, is it immoral to cheat on your loved one? Or is there a poignant ethical point on taking one’s life here? Or is it the entitled impunity?) The moral question that the film promises is ambiguous. Not much else is, certainly not the caper-fun.
(Kadakh was dropped from the 2018 JIO MAMI Mumbai Film Festival due to the #MeToo allegations made against Rajat Kapoor. Kapoor had issued a tweet-apology)