Kadakh and the art of copyingKadakh is director Rajat Kapoor’s rendition of the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock-directed Rope with firecrackers and goddess Laxmi references.
A hundred years ago, TS Elliot wrote “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it something better or at least something different”. Rajat Kapoor’s film Kadakh (2020) makes you think of him as a good poet, in the sense that he took Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and localised it to the core. Hitchcock’s casual get-together becomes a Diwali party with firecrackers and goddess Laxmi references.
Both Rope and Kadakh are socio-psychological thrillers primarily set inside an apartment. Rope’s apartment is a fancy penthouse with the view of New York’s skyline. Kadakh’s apartment is set in Mumbai and includes a small balcony that can hardly fit four people. The plot of both the films unfolds and culminate within a single night.
The storyline of the two films is this: the residents of both these apartments host a party. But this is not your average party, because there’s a dead body tucked away inside a trunk.
Both stories are told through the hosts’ point of view. And, in both films, someone dies in the first five minutes which propels the story forward with suspense. In Rope, Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger) choke and murder a fellow classmate. They hide the body inside a trunk and set a dinner table above it. Then, they wait for their party guests to arrive.
In Kadakh, host Sunil (Ranvir Shorey) opens his door to Raghav (Chandrachoor Rai), who introduces himself as the husband of the woman Sunil is in an affair with. Raghav invites himself inside for “a civil conversation”. However, with tension already present, Raghav becomes hostile, brandishes a gun, and kills himself. Sunil’s wife, Malti (Mansi Multani) comes home to find a dead body in their living room. Both husband and wife then decide to hide the body because the guests start arriving. In both films, the guests are unaware of what has happened.
Both films explore the story through its characters and their intentions, and we learn who they are through their interactions. In Rope, pre-school housemaster Rupert Cadwell (James Steward) plays the investigator who figures out something is wrong. He investigates through philosophical conversations about murder and killing. In one scene, he says murder would solve all problems in the world like “unemployment, poverty, and standing in line for theatre tickets”.
There’s no Rupert in Kadakh. But the film has an array of interesting characters that are either defined by their jobs or relationship status. Yogesh (Cyrus Sahukar) works as a motivational speaker who gives bad advice to his friends. He and his wife Alka (Shruti Seth) have problems in their marriage and are in therapy. Paro (Nurpur Asthana) is a single mother, who is still struggling to come to terms with her reality. Joshi (Sagar Deshmukh) is a recent divorcee. He is dating a French girl Françoise Marie (Kalki Koechlin). Writer/director Kapoor is Rahul, a struggling writer. He is quiet and observant.
As the film progresses, we learn that these characters are long-term friends who might know a little too much about each other. They are judgmental and ask intrusive questions. As the night progresses, the characters react to each other with anger and loud outbursts that reveal more of their hidden emotions.
The film seeks to reveal the dark underbelly of the middle class populace: People have metaphorical dead bodies hidden in corners of their homes. The point of view character, Sunil, however, has an actual dead body as a result of which, he is psychologically distant from all the commotion. This distance compels him to look at his friends objectively. At one point he laments, “I don’t feel like I know any of them”.
In Rope, Hitchcock and his writer Arthur Laurents primarily focus on the act of murder, and the loss of life, everything else in the film is secondary. And this focus is evident from the first few minutes—right after their heinous crime: Brandon and Philip justify murder with privilege because they’re intellectually superior to their victim. This idea appears multiple times in the film, and almost all the characters in the film weigh in with their opinion. In Kadakh, however, Kapoor’s focus is on exploring the middle class culture, particularly their attitude towards marriage. Within the film, we are explicitly made aware of the relationship status of every single character. Also, the main character is more worried about his wife discovering his affair rather than the guests finding out about the dead body.
Hitchcock directs his actors with precision and order. And this might seem restrictive to today’s audiences. But James Stweart is the highlight of the actors from his ensemble. He has a calming and most relatable presence. And he is my personal favourite among the actors of early Hollywood talkies. Since the film is set in a single location, the film’s treatment needs to be dynamic. Hitchcock meets his mark. He shines here as a visual storyteller. He uses extreme long takes and blocking combined with camera movements to keep the story brisk.
Kapoor, who works as an actor in Bollywood, shows more empathy towards his actors. He allows his actors to improvise, which results in organic dialogues and natural delivery. They have a strong rapport with their director and other co-actors and it shows in their performances. The film’s tone shifts from realism to psychological thriller to dark humour and the actors meet every beat. Ranvir Shorey and Manasi Multani as husband and wife share a chemistry that’s too real. In certain scenes, they speak to each other through signs and gestures and the performance is so beautiful that the audiences understand every single thing.
Unlike Hitchcock, Kapoor doesn’t use too many long takes. Along with his editor Suresh Pai he shifts to various smaller stories within the main story. This allows him to maintain the pace, and construct a suspenseful psycho-social thriller.
Coming back to Elliot and why this review is a comparison between Rope and Kadakh. It is because Kadakh shows us how one can steal, and yet construct unique art. But that does not mean that both these films are perfect, because they are not. They have serious problems.
First, Rope’s point of view characters are coded homosexuals and framed as evil. Right after Brandon and Philip commit murder, both men talk about it as if they’re talking about sex, asking each other how they felt. The murderers are assigned queer traits throughout the film. Rope makes it perfectly clear that their homosexuality is the possible roots of villainy. Now, queer coding (an academic term, worth a Google) in cinema isn’t necessarily problematic. But when you equate murderous intent with queer behaviour, it reinforces the idea that LGBTIQ populations are the ‘other’ or bad.
Unlike Rope, Kadakh’s problems are not within the film. The problems are with the filmmaker—Rajat Kapoor, who was accused of sexually harassing young aspiring filmmakers. Subsequently, the film was pulled out of MAMI 2018 and it took two more years after Kapoor’s apology on Twitter for the film to see a release. Even though the filmmaker did apologise for his condemnable behaviour, we cannot discount the fact that his actions are unacceptable. Nobody’s talent should be their weapon to exploit another person in any way or form. And I bring this issue up in this review because art cannot exist on its own; we cannot separate the art from the artist.
Writer, Director: Rajat Kapoor
Additional Dialog: Cyrus Sahukar
Ranvir Shorey, Malati Multani, Kalki Koechin, Shruti Seth, Cyrus Sahukar
3 and a half stars