Watching the film 40 years after its release on 3 April 1981 provides some incidental nostalgic pleasures as well.
40 years of Kudrat (1981) – Chetan Anand’s meticulously crafted reincarnation thriller
New Delhi - 03 Apr 2021 22:12 IST
Many people would remember the timeless melody of the song 'Humein Tumse Pyar Kitna' sung by the classical vocalist Parveen Sultana. However, not many may remember the film in which it was featured — Chetan Anand’s reincarnation thriller Kudrat (1981). With an impressive star cast comprising Raaj Kumar, Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini and Vinod Khanna, the film has been eclipsed by other more glamorous reincarnation dramas and has faded into relative oblivion.
A reworking of Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958), the story of Kudrat unfolds in the picturesque locales of Shimla. Chandramukhi (Hema Malini) is travelling to the hill station with her family. Although she had last seen the town as an infant, she starts to find it strangely familiar.
Her parents are eager for her to meet a suitable young man, the psychiatrist Dr Naresh Gupta (Vinod Khanna). The two get along and start getting to know each other. They also perform an awkward dance as part of their courtship, which unfortunately remains etched in memory long after the film is over.
Meanwhile, on a parallel track, the most prominent man in town, Chaudhary Janak Singh (Raaj Kumar), is looking for a suitable match for his daughter Karuna (Priya Rajvansh) and approves of her fondness for Mohan Kapoor (Rajesh Khanna), who is a lawyer like Karuna. Mohan is indebted to Karuna’s father for his many kindnesses and finds himself agreeing to the alliance even though he does not seem really enthusiastic about it.
Chandramukhi and Mohan run into each other and feel a strange attraction drawing them together. He, too, is captivated by the town and feels a familiarity with the place though he is not troubled by it nor believes in past lives. Chandramukhi, meanwhile, starts getting flashes of her previous life that haunt her in her dreams and permeate her reality. There is a rather eerie dream sequence that harks back to what had happened to her in her previous birth.
Luckily, there is help at hand. Naresh decides to hypnotize her and get to the root of the matter. He is also quite perturbed by her rather obvious attraction for Mohan and wants to do more than be a mute spectator. Through the hypnosis, he realizes that Chandramukhi is a reincarnation of Paro, who was in love with Madho (Rajesh Khanna), and is playing out scenes from her previous birth when she meets Mohan. In a scene when Chandramukhi and Mohan meet in front of a particularly symbolic tree, the two are dressed in the same green colour, prefiguring their union.
Naresh decides to aid her in figuring out why she is so distraught and starts encouraging her to dwell on her past life. The film then concentrates on piecing her past life together and resolving the wrong done to her in her previous birth, which involves a courtroom drama where Karuna has a face-off with Mohan.
Kudrat bears the imprint of Chetan Anand’s eye for painstaking detail that permeates each of his films. The stunning flashback vividly conjures up the colonial era and the era of the sahibs when Shimla was the summer capital of the Raj. The scenes are rich with visual imagination layered with details about the attitudes of the colonizers towards the local people and the supremacy of the zamindars gestured at briefly yet effectively.
Hema Malini is the pivot around whom the drama unfolds and she looks absolutely ravishing, along with Vinod Khanna, who resolutely refuses to be sidelined by the more affected performance of Rajesh Khanna. Incidentally, Chetan Anand gave Rajesh Khanna his first break in Aakhri Khat (1966), but despite the shared history, this film became a bone of contention between them.
According to a narration by director-producer Sorab Irani, captivated by his own stardom, Rajesh Khanna wanted to emerge as the shining star amidst the ensemble cast. This desire was fuelled in part by his wariness about the rapid rise of Vinod Khanna. In connivance with the producer BS Khanna, the erstwhile superstar sought to re-edit the film to reduce the roles of the other actors. Enraged by this, in an unprecedented move, Chetan Anand went to court to try and stop the release of his own film! However, the judge ruled in the favour of the producer as he felt that the distributors would lose a lot of money due to any delay in the release.
Priya Rajvansh is a disappointment with her monotone mode of dialogue delivery, but she does look rather beautiful and is comparatively easier to watch in the court scenes. Deven Verma and Keshto Mukherjee provide the humour and are a delight.
What truly makes the story riveting is the suspense and the air of mystery that lures one in. There are flecks of horror in the execution of the nightmare sequences and the digging out of the clues that piece the puzzle together. Remember the scene from 100 Days (1991), where a certain something is found buried behind a wall? Well, that was most probably taken from this film.
Watching the film 40 years after its release provides some incidental nostalgic pleasures as one views the pastoral landscape of Shimla, which is far removed from the tourist monstrosity it has become now. There are shots of the popular Gaiety Theatre, the hub of cultural performances for the well-heeled crowd, scenes from Mall Road, the railway station with movie posters adorning the platform, just to name a few.
The film also presents us with the very intriguing subtext about a woman’s desire as Chandramukhi openly expresses her desire for another man though she is to be engaged to Dr Naresh. This desire gets sublimated in the playing out of the reincarnation story. Nonetheless, it was an urge largely reserved for the vamp and not the heroine in Hindi cinema.
Along with this is the comment on getting married as an obligation, as Mohan is all set to do with Karuna, though he reneges on it for the greater good of Chandramukhi’s mental well-being, which is supported by their undying love that spans multiple lifetimes.
To top it all is the curious case of Raaj Kumar playing the father of Priya Rajvansh, though they had played star-crossed lovers in the classic romance Heer Raanjha (1970)! In an industry where women age several times faster than men and heroes continue to play college boys well into middle age, this was a welcome change!
The film won the Filmfare awards for Best Female Playback Singer (Parveen Sultana), Best Story (Chetan Anand), and Best Cinematographer (Jal Mistry). The music by RD Burman was a huge success as well. Click here to watch the full movie.