That Old Feeling: Fear Noir

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Of course. But call her Poonam, please. The late groom’s father Dimanji (Nasir Hussain) and mother greet her and Munni warmly. Kamal is also warming to her, composing poetry in her honor (something about a kite buffeted by winds of fate — “Kati Patang” means a kite cut free) and swearing off booze after she lectures him on demon drink. Their idyll is interrupted when Shabu shows up, kootching at a night club, and makes rude allusions to Madhu’s turbulent past. Kailash soon appears, threatening Madhu while ingratiating himself with Dimanji and flirting with the family’s mischievous maid. When Madhu is told to sign some official papers, thus risking forgery and exposure, she thinks to flee a fourth time. But the voice of Poonam speaks from the grave: “Break these bonds of helplessness. Your place is at your Kamal’s feet.”

Strengthened, Madhu writes Kamal a note explaining all, but it’s intercepted by Dimanji, who suddenly suspects Madhu has designs on his estate. Kamal and Madhu frolic at the Holi fire festival, but when she returns home caked in gulal, Dimanji denounces her. She rushes upstairs to find Kailash in her room, again threatening her and her child. She grabs a torch and (as Holi celebrants do to chase away the childnapping demon Dhundha) thrusts the torch in his face. The maid comes in with a squalling Munni, and Madhu resolves to leave. Dimanji stops her. What’s to live for? she asks, and he proclaims, “Everything. The same child who needs a mother’s love... And the same old me, who... stands here before you, imploring. You came here as Poonam. Remain so.”

[BUNCH OF SPOILERS] Shabu discovers she’s pregnant and goes to a doctor for an abortion; he refuses. Kamal asks Dimanji for Madhu’s hand in marriage. Kamal’s father arrives to oppose the wedding but is persuaded by Dimanji to accept. Kailash sneaks into the kitchen and poisons Dimanji’s hot milk. Dimanji signs over much of the estate to Munni, then drinks the milk and dies. Madhu summons the local doctor, who arrives just after a policeman; the cop says that Shabu is claiming to be the real Poonam. In the police station, Madhu sobbingly confesses her true identity. She is suspected of poisoning Dimanji, and at the funeral his widow excoriates her.

[SPOILER MARATHON] Shabu visits the family and claims to be the real Poonam; as she leaves, the doctor enters and recognizes her as the woman who wanted an abortion. Kamal is told of Madhu’s letter to him and resolves to help her. When he discovers a bottle of poison outside the kitchen, the maid admits he dunnit. In the big confrontation scene, Kamal and Madhu spin lies to draw self-incriminating statements from Kailash and Shabu. They get it all on tape, and the case is closed. The next day, Madhu has left the family home to trudge into oblivion. Kamal catches up, sings her a love song and they embrace.

Khanna, often called the first Hindi superstar, is handsome in a Western way: strong but soft, like Rock Hudson, and appearing here in the sort of elevated weepie Hudson did in the 50s. Parekh — who, as Brian Naas of the natty Hong Kong-Bollywood website brns.com notes, had “eyelashes so long that you could hang your laundry on them” — won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress as Madhu. Everyone plays with brisk brio, but the story’s the thing, and how a national cinema attuned to melodrama could ravel so much intrigue around an already-baroque Woolrich plot. Track “Kati Patang” down. It’s amazing.

Martha, 1974
Screenplay and direction by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, from the 1968 story “For the Rest of Her Life” by CW

Vacationing in Rome with his spinster daughter, a middle-aged German suffers a fatal heart attack on the Spanish Steps. In the embassy after his death, the woman, Martha (Margit Carstensen) encounters a handsome blond man with a mysterious smile. He is Helmut (Karlheinz Böhm), an executive in the dam-building business, and soon they are married. Helmut has a few husbandly demands to make: brutal sex whenever he wants it, naturally, but also that they not have children, that Martha memorize books about his job, that she sunbathe until she’s blistered, that she never leave the house or use the phone when he’s away, that her mother be put in an insane asylum — the little requests any wife accepts in the grand compromise of marriage. Oh, and her pet cat: that has to die.

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