There are very few movies that merit a second time watch in the theatre. This was the first movie that I watched in theatre for the second time; and by how much it has impacted and captivated me, I won’t mind a 3rd or 4th.
This is not a critical analysis of the movie but a view of a rasika who is an appreciator of both classical music and the play. Katyar can be considered a milestone in Marathi cinema, a confident attempt of introducing classical music to that section of society that doesn’t realize the richness of our musical history.
Katyar Kaljat Ghusli translates to “Dagger pierced through the heart”. Now this isn’t a love or action movie, which is usually the first impression of the title. It’s a through and through musical film based on a musical drama of the same name.
King of Vishrampur holds a singing competition where the winner will be bequeathed with a dagger [that pardons one murder committed in self-defense], the honor of being a Royal Singer, cash prize and a mansion. The then-royal singer, Pandit Bhanushankar Shashtri, willingly stands up as a competitor to Khansaab, or Aftab Hussain Bareiliwale, and wins for fourteen years straight. Once started as a healthy contest to spread the love for music and different styles of singing turns ugly when Khansaab can’t take his repeated defeat in stride.
Panditji, as he’s endearingly referred to, is a simple man of kindness and trust who has pure devotion and love for music. Khansaab, on the other hand, shares the same love and devotion for his music, but only for his kind of music. He appreciates music in general, but increasingly gets narrow minded about it.
Whereas the character of Panditji is consistently good-hearted and simpleton, Khansaab has a remarkable character development. He goes from being a man wanting to spread and prove his gayaki [singing] to turning into a snobbish, arrogant but extraordinary singer who possessively guards his peals of knowledge. His transformation happens until the very end and is probably one of the highlights.
Sadashiv Gurav [Subodh Bhave, also the director] is a disciple of Panditji and returns
after fourteen years to continue to learn music from his guru, only to find out that Panditji has been overthrown as a Raaj Gayak [royal singer] and now doesn’t sing at all. The movie is basically his journey of finding his voice, his teachers and understanding the power of music that is beyond religion, voices, people and self.
The song that repeatedly appears [thrice, if I counted right] and is sung by almost every singer in the movie—only a different ‘personalized’ version of it—is “Ghei Chanda Makaranda”. Panditji wins the first competition by singing this song—and deservingly so. After 14 years, he loses to Khaansaab who apparently “steals” the same song and presents it in his own style.
The narrator of the movie, interestingly, is the Katyar [dagger] who is a close witness to all the events. This was an interesting addition to the story, amongst all other.
Now to the main lead. As Subodh Bhave puts it, the real hero of the movie is the “soor” or the note or music, responsible for everything that happens in the first place. The songs that are the lifeline and backbone of this film are blended into the scenes in a way that, instead of pausing the story to play them, they rather move it forward.
One of my favorite songs [if I don’t list down all] was the Qawwali, Yaar Illahi [God, my friend]. It is a beautiful composition with lyrics that touch you deeply. Here, Khaansaab and Sadashiv reply each other by singing. Sadashiv tells him how beautiful the world is, the same world Khaansaab is criticizing.
The picturisation and the expressions Subodh Bhave emotes in the song are apt to the words. Sadashiv’s eyes that speak more than any dialogues could, hand gestures and the smirk that says I-know-exactly-who-you-are-and-I’m-not-letting-you-get-away-with-it are just perfectly done for the situation.
For a split second, Khaansaab [with one look] seems to be appreciating the beauty of Sadashiv’s singing and the meaning of his words, but then he’s back to his nasty-competitive self. It has to be the best reply in the history of musical competitions—both lyrically, musically and expression-wise. And the singer—drumrolls please—is Arijit Singh.
“Mann Mandira” is another song that tells an entire background story in it and leaves you teary
eyed at the end. This is the highlight of the movie in terms of visualization. This is where you see Panditji teaching his young disciple Sadashiv. This song is sung by Shankar Mahadevan and his youngest [real] son, Shivam Mahadevan, who you can tell has a gifted voice. The young Sadashiv is adorable and delightful in the movie and I can easily imagine the boy growing up to be a great actor.
There are a lot of elements and details that add depth to the characters and scenes. One of it is the way Sadashiv sits—on his heels on the floor, especially in presence of his gurus. It might seem like an insignificant attribute, but it establishes Sadashiv’s character. It shows how humble he is and the respect he has for music and his gurus. It’s like he thinks he is still not learned enough to perch on a stage. His humbleness is evident when he chooses to sit like that in the courtroom full of people at the end; although he is apparently the only person in the room good enough to challenge Khansaab.
Another best scene [Maybe I should stop saying that, since every scene is best in my view] is the candle light conversation. There is no light in the scene except the one candle Zareena [Amruta Khanvilkar], Khansaab’s daughter, is holding and the candles Sadashiv’s lighting. He shares his dream with her during their brief one-sided conversation. Well done to that one.
Sakshi Tanvar [Khansaab’s wife], as usual, is a natural and very believable. She acts with a kind of ease that tells you she was born to do this.
Surprise package was Shankar Mahadevan’s acting skills. He feared people were going to laugh, but that’s the last reaction he stirs in us. Most of the time, we either sympathize with him, cry with him or marvel at his singing. And there is no denying that the innocence and purity Mahadevan brings to the character of Panditji is not forced or “acted” at all. It is exactly how he is in person, or so claims Subodh Bhave. And I don’t doubt that. There is an innate innocence in his eyes and clarity and purity in his voice.
Another scene that doesn’t fail to impress me is the one where a grownup Sadashiv first meets Panditji at the temple. Sadashiv’s one action of holding his guru’s hand and the look Panditji gives him when he recognizes his disciple speak a million words.
I’d watched the play once long ago with Rahul Deshpande [Khansaab’s singing voice in the movie] playing Khansaab and Mahesh Kale [Sadashiv’s singing voice in the movie] playing the lead, Sadashiv. They are both not only born singers but also amazing performers.
Except for the main plot line, though, the movie was a lot different in terms of characters, how they react, what happens and how it happens. For example, Sadashiv in the play is submissive and pitiable while the one in the movie is filled with anger and revenge in the beginning, strength and determination throughout. He also gets to throw a few dialogue punches.
For obvious reasons, there is more freedom in exploring and portraying a story on-screen than on stage, and Subodh Bhave makes full use of it.
I wish we’d have got to see more of Sadashiv and Khansaab’s encounters in the havelli [mansion]. I wanted to know exactly how Sadashiv incorporates and learns to sing from Khansaab; how he sneakily practices—except writing the musical notes on rocks or listening keenly.
And lastly, I have to mention the climax song. It’s just… I just… speechless.
Overall, every person I know has only come out of the theatre with the hunger and desperation of wanting more. Like Khansaab says, “Kisike dil mein pyaas jagakar use adhoora chodna paap hai.” Well, we say the same. This movie should have been longer… much longer.
But on a final note [see what I did there?]—here’s to the team of Katyar for bringing us a delightful watch and for making Hindustani classical music “cool”—Jeete Raho, Gaate Raho.