Kadakh: Cards on the table

Aditya Mani Jha | Updated on July 10, 2020 Published on July 10, 2020

The party must go on: The story revolves around friends who attend a Diwali evening gathering in a house that has witnessed a violent death earlier in the day

Rajat Kapoor’s new film is a dramedy where Everyman characters are brought out of their comfort zones, kicking and screaming

* Kadakh is a well-shot, well-edited, perfectly serviceable black comedy

The unnerving opening scene reels the viewer right in. On Diwali afternoon, Raghav turns up on the doorstep of Sunil, the man who’s sleeping with his wife Chhaya. Sunil is the older, married man from Chhaya’s office and now Raghav wants to talk things through “like adults”. However, it becomes increasingly clear that Raghav is a troubled young man.

The rapidly escalating emotional stakes in the scene from actor-director Rajat Kapoor’s latest black comedy Kadakh (which premièred on SonyLiv on June 18) are not unlike Sriram Raghavan’s opening salvo in Badlapur (2015). It is also a kind of an inverse Sleuth, the classic two-man Anthony Shaffer play (and 1972 film) where an ageing mystery writer confronts his wife’s much younger lover.

Just when you think things cannot get any more intense, the scene ends on a shocking note: Raghav (Chandrchoor Rai) blows his brains out in front of Sunil (Ranvir Shorey). Blood and brains spatter the wall behind him. Sunil lies to his wife, telling her that the dead man was someone he had just sacked and who could not deal with the pressures of unemployment. The two clean up, stash the body in a trunk — and decide to go ahead with the Diwali card-playing party they were supposed to host in the evening.

From that point on, it becomes clear that while Kadakh opens on a distinctly Sleuth-like note, its larger narrative sprawl owes more to an even earlier Hollywood film, the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock classic Rope, where most of the action takes place inside an apartment with a hidden body. Rope and Kadakh also show us the psychological unravelling of its main characters across the course of a single evening — for Rope, this was the fate of the murderers, a pair of prep-school snobs who wanted to commit the perfect murder as a depraved intellectual exercise.

Kadakh, however, extends this treatment to just about everybody on display here. Sunil and his pragmatic wife Maalti (Mansi Multani, quite superb in a challenging role) obviously bear the brunt of both his secret and theirs. Their marriage is evocative of two different Bollywood pairings, the first of which is Basu Bhattacharya’s Aavishkar (1974), where Amar (Rajesh Khanna) and Mansi’s (Sharmila Tagore) house is adorned by a nameplate that says ‘Ghar Amar Mansi Ka’ — a similar one saying ‘Ghar Maalti Sunil Ka’ can be spotted in the corner of the frame during the opening scene in Kadakh. The second, and more obvious, hat-tip is to Kapoor’s own 2005 film Mixed Doubles — again about a couple called Sunil and Malti, who are looking to enter the world of ‘wife-swapping’ parties. Kadakh’s Sunil and Maalti, too, find their relationship disintegrating during the course of the film.

Their friends scarcely fare better — the recently divorced Joshi (Sagar Deshmukh) realises that his friends look at him as a bit of a court jester. Out-of-work writer Rahul (Rajat Kapoor) is similarly patronised after his long-delayed novel finally finds a publisher. It should have been an evening of uncomplicated celebration for him, but instead his ‘deal-making’ friend Yogesh (Cyrus Sahukar) starts suggesting ways in which he can scam the publishing system (a buyback scheme, wherein an author buys his own book covertly, making it look like it’s a bestseller). A French woman named Francoise Marie (Kalki Koechlin, having fun with an accent) unsettles more than one guest with her mind-reading performance.

Black comedies are difficult to pull off because of a simple truth — once the gruesomeness is acknowledged by the characters, there is absolutely no room for cheap humour in the story. If you, the director, expect viewers to laugh beyond that point, you better believe you’ve earned it. Luckily for Kadakh, the screenplay holds up well, especially in the second half (the film clocks in at a lean 90 minutes) after the guests (or what remains of them) discover the body and the truth behind the death, including the affair between Sunil and Chhaya (Palomi Ghosh).

By that point, of course, the audience knows how all of these people are, to varying degrees, shallow and selfish (with the possible exception of Maalti). Yogesh cites Murakami and Rumi casually, but admits in the same breath that he has read neither (Sahukar, who is also credited for additional dialogues in Kadakh, certainly picked the right middlebrow examples for this scene). Sunil lies to his wife until the very second Maalti throws the telltale trunk open for everyone to see. Joshi sees no problem in Sunil’s cheating and lying — according to him, the problem lies in getting caught. Predictably, he sings a very different tune once the corpse comes into the picture.

The quick sociological sketches strewn throughout the film are on point, for the most part. These are precisely the kind of people who would cancel a party because they had an upset stomach (as Sunil did that one time, we learn) but not for a dead body, as long as it’s tucked away out of sight. These are precisely the kind of people who would make polite murmurs about their writer friend — and then whisper about financial troubles behind his back. These little narrative rivulets are achieved in rapid, utilitarian cuts and the overall air of this middle section of the film isn’t entirely unlike Govind Nihalani’s alt-classic Party (1984).

Kapoor’s filmography now has a number of dramedies where Everyman characters are brought out of their comfort zones kicking and screaming, thanks to quirks of fate and their own hubris. And while Kadakh (which means centrepiece, in this case the trunk on which the card players place their bets) isn’t nearly as effective as his Mithya (2008) or Ankhon Dekhi (2013), it is still a well-shot, well-edited, perfectly serviceable black comedy.

Aditya Mani Jha is a Delhi-based writer

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Published on July 10, 2020
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