There are so many things which can come as the last straw. In Rajat Kapoor’s Kadakh, now streaming on SonyLIV, it’s not the poor proverbial camel’s back that breaks with one such thing; a living, breathing human ends his life. Raghav (Chandrachoor Rai) has many deep grievances, but the thing that bothers him as much as his other problems is a person who buys books but doesn’t read them. ‘Kaise aadmi ho tum,’ he says, accusingly, to the man who has committed this unpardonable sin amongst many others. And pulls the trigger.
The line gives us a key conceit in Kapoor’s films — of laughter laced with tragedy. How can you not crack up at a guy who is incensed at another’s inability to crack open a book? But it’s also the kind of mirth which leaves your pointing finger hanging in the air: it’s easy to judge people, but are you blameless yourself? Are you the kind of person who buys books only to show off your taste or erudition to visitors? Bam, off with your head.
A bunch of good friends who have clearly partied together over the years are gathering at Sunil’s (Ranvir Shorey) house. It’s Diwali, so the house is lit, the women are resplendent in their silks, the men are decked up too, in kurtas and colourful shirts. We meet, in quick succession, the host whose troubles keep mounting as the evening progresses, his wife Malti (Mansi Multani) who is left wondering what’s going on with her spouse till she twigs on to his tawdry affair, the recently-divorced, designated good-cook-of-the-group (Sagar Deshmukh), a budding author (Rajat Kapoor) and his wife and child, a self-important fellow (Cyrus Sahukar) who thinks he knows best, and unexpected guests in the shape of an elderly couple (Manoj Pahwa and Yamini Das) who waltz in, wearing masks, to ward off ‘infection’. And, the piece de resistance, a dead body whose hidden presence leads to an unravelling: no one in that living room will be the same, after the party.
Over the course of the evening, with the camera flitting about, eavesdropping on units as they come together and disperse, we learn more about the people present in the house. There’s been a crime, and there will be punishment. Sleeping with another man’s wife has consequences, and guilt, anger, shock, betrayal swirls about the room, rising just like the alcohol fumes. The film was made a few years back, but those pesky elders in their masks—the classic unwanted guests who behave as disruptors—feel sharply current.
Kapoor’s on-going romance with Shakespeare makes you look at this bunch as something out of a modern-day Macbeth, with a primary Lady Macbeth inspired character haunted by a bad smell, rather than blood-stained hands, and Banquo’s ghost popping up to pose uncomfortable questions. And a gorgeous French woman (Kalki Koechlin), who declares portentously, ‘it weel be all right’ before waltzing off into the night, is like a soignee witch.
One of Kapoor’s major preoccupations has been to dig for truth, under the several layers of lies, deceit and misdemeanours he coats his tragicomedies in. And while the going sometimes lags, looping on itself, with Sahukar giving the same lecture of self-improvement to Kapoor’s author twice over, and the last act flattens a bit, we stay invested. There are well-etched performances all-round, some with more depth than the others: Shruti Seth, Nupur Asthana, Tara Sharma, Palomi Ghosh, Chandrachoor Rai, all leave a mark. And truth does emerge: Sunil-the-sinner learns that coming clean is good for the soul, even if there’s a crack in it. It is a skilful, graded performance, giving us a man whose spirit is willing, and the flesh weaker.
Will the cracks fill? Will Sunil and Malti live happily ever after? Kadakh leaves us mulling, a tantalising morality tale which is completely, self-confessedly a-moral.