Mahesh Bhatt's Kaash, starring Jackie Shroff and Dimple Kapadia, is a convincing exploration of the theme of death

Gautam Chintamani

Jun 24, 2018 14:44:51 IST

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Emotional dramas in Hindi films usually have a tendency to overplay the elements that create the drama and, in the bargain, often end up falling short of potential. Perhaps this is the reason why there have been only a handful of films in Hindi films where the theme of death as a part of the narrative has been convincingly explored. Mahesh Bhatt’s Kaash… (1987) is often left out from conversations about Hindi films with death as a theme — because of Asit Sen’s Safar (1970), Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand (1971) or Mili (1975) and Sunil Dutt’s Dard Ka Rishta (1982) — but it remains one of the finest examples of a popular Hindi film which addresses a multitude of issues without going overboard. Fundamentally, Kaash… is about circumstances that force an estranged couple to come together and, while they rediscover the lost love between them, they also have to witness their only son die a slow death in front of their eyes. But unlike Anand or Safar where the impending death of a character becomes the reason to live it up before dying, Kaash… also unapologetically tackles the deep-rooted misogyny and sexism common to male characters in the universe of Hindi films.

 Mahesh Bhatts Kaash, starring Jackie Shroff and Dimple Kapadia, is a convincing exploration of the theme of death

Jackie Shroff and Dimple Kapadia in Kaash. Image via Facebook

The film begins with Ritesh (Jackie Shroff), a successful film actor, losing everything following the failure of a film he produced for himself. An embittered Ritesh turns into an alcoholic and cannot come to terms with the fact that it is his wife, Pooja (Dimple Kapadia), who is now taking caring of him and their seven-year-old son Romi (Makrand). The differences become manifold and the fact that Pooja is now working adds to Ritesh’s frustration. At work, a man molests Pooja and had it not been for Alok (Anupam Kher) a businessman, who intervenes things would have gotten ugly. Alok offers her a job and promises to be a friend and nothing more. Later, the same night when Alok drops Pooja at her home, Ritesh accuses her of having an affair and assaults her in a fit of rage. Pooja refuses to take any action but later Ritesh tells her to choose between work and her family. Pooja decides to leave home for she tells Ritesh that she needs her own identity that is not limited to being someone’s wife or someone’s mother. She also tells Ritesh that the day she is capable of taking care of Romi, she will fight for custody. With Pooja walking out, Ritesh tries to change but his ego is bruised beyond repair — he continues to drink, gamble and pick up fights at the drop of a hat. Ritesh is arrested for beating a shopkeeper and Pooja takes him to court to contest Romi’s custody. The judge asks Romi to pick a parent and although the child chooses Ritesh, Pooja is allowed weekly visits. Fate intervenes and Romi is diagnosed with brain tumour. Both Pooja and Ritesh decide to get back for a few weeks to let Romi be happy before it's too late.

Kaash… would be one of the very few Hindi films where the elders behave like children and the child becomes the voice of reason. Portrayed by Master Makrand, Romi is a typical Hindi film child – smart, confident and a tad too mature for his age – but what makes Kaash… unique is that none of the elders peddle any infantile nonsense to him. When Romi confronts his father about his imminent death, the father does not lie to him. When he asks his mother if things would ever work out between her and his father, the mother does not show any illusions. Even when Alok wants to marry Pooja and asks them to sign the divorce papers, he asks them right in front of their son.

One of the great achievements of the film is the perfect casting that Mahesh Bhatt, who also wrote the film, manages with Dimple Kapadia, Jackie Shroff, and Master Makrand. Made at a time when Jackie Shroff was largely considered to be a non-actor and even labeled wooden, Kaash… saw him pitch in a great performance where his Ritesh hits the right notes. The manner in which he splits Ritesh into two distinctive characters – one who is a frustrated alcoholic and the other who is a caring father willing to fight fate to make his son smile – is pitch-perfect. In fact, the film’s narrative generously uses flashbacks to jump back and forth and it is only then that the viewer realizes how Shroff effortlessly evokes the two extremes existing within the same person. Shroff’s portrayal would not have been as effective had he not had Dimple Kapadia to match steps with. Kapadia is as organic as an actor could ever be and it is scary the kind of realism that she packs in because the viewer physically experiences whatever Pooja is going through. Although a pervading sense of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) seeps into the film yet there is enough resonance from Kapadia’s own personal reality, in a way, which adds to her character. Kher, too, packs in a wonderful performance where despite being a ‘character’ actor, he gets to play someone real with a ticking heart and desires that he is not shy of expressing even at the cost of making him look bad.

Kaash… mirrors the basic theme and execution of most films that Mahesh Bhatt made in the 1980s. There is a great deal of realism and at the same time an art-house kind of execution does not bog the film down. The film featured two great songs in ‘Baad muddat ke,’ one of the last Kishore Kumar solos to be released before his death and the duet ‘O yaara’ (Kishore Kumar, Anupama Deshpande), composed by Rajesh Roshan and penned by Faruq Qaiser. Roshan’s background score, too, is very effective and unlike today where the background score preempts a reaction, here it is minimal and almost like a character unto itself. At times, when a film tries to talk about many issues, it runs the risk of being scattered but Kaash… is about a lot of stuff that forms the journey called life and yet never loses its centre.

Updated Date: Jun 24, 2018 14:44:51 IST