Shekhar Kapur’s science-fiction fantasy Mr India (1987) has a chart-busting soundtrack by Laxmikant-Pyarelal. One of the most popular songs from the film about a man who gets a device to turn himself invisible is Hawa Hawaai, performed by the inimitable Sridevi. She goofs around (while never missing a step) as a journalist pretending to be an exotic dancer from Hawaii. Her character Seema imitates Charlie Chaplin elsewhere in the film, and she channels her inner Mother Teresa in another scene involving hungry children.
Kaate Nahin Kat Te gives full expression to the woman hiding behind the masks. Seema slithers and undulates in a blindingly blue sari while being serenaded by her invisible object of desire. Seema hurls herself about as Arun (Anil Kapoor) fades in and out of view. Like the average Indian boyfriend, Arun is there one minute and missing the next. Like the average Indian girlfriend, Seema responds with her body and soul at all times. The sexually charged choreography by Saroj Khan proves Shekhar Kapur’s ability to insert grown-up feelings into an otherwise family-friendly film without being tasteless (even if the track is somewhat gratuitous).
Sridevi, who died on February 24, 2018, at the age of 54, left behind a bountiful legacy of dance performances. Several actresses have paid tribute to her terpsichorean skills, her ability to be both sensuous and virginal, passionate and professional. Vidya Balan doffed her hat to Hawa Hawaai in Tumhari Sulu (2017), but the end result doubly proved the power of the original song.
Kaate Nahin Kat Te has been referenced in more interesting ways. In Sachin Kundalkar’s cult film Aiyyaa (2012), Rani Mukerji plays Meenakshi, whose head is stuffed with Hindi film songs and fantasies about The One. In the opening montage, which echoes the sequence that kicks off Ram Gopal Varma’s Rangeela (1995), Meenakshi is in the throes of a vivid dream. She is dancing like Madhuri Dixit from Tezaab in one moment. In another, she is throwing her body about a fireplace like Sridevi in Kaate Nahin Kat Te. Meenakshi is wearing the same blue sari, but has an important extra accessory – outsized Jeetendra-white goggles.
Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday (2014), starring Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, has a meta-take on the song. A sequence in the crime drama braids together a tribute to the enduring impact of Kaate Nahin Kat Te and Sridevi’s ability to haunt audiences, and Bollywood’s ability to reference itself in clever ways. (Not to forget: Sridevi was the second wife of Arjun Kapoor’s father, Boney Kapoor, who produced Mr India. )
In Gunday, childhood friends Bala (Kapoor) and Bikram (Singh) are in love with nightclub performer Nandita (Priyanka Chopra). She has told them that she will indicate her choice during a show of Mr India at a single-screen cinema. Why? There are bigger questions to ask about Gunday, and this isn’t the one.
As the men wait for Nandita, Kaate Nahin Kat Te gets underway (it must have been a very long wait, since the song appears towards the end of Mr India). Suddenly, Nandita appears on the stage in front of the screen. She is in a similar blue sari, and for a moment, her image merges with Sridevi’s. An appreciative remark by a bystander sets Bala off, and a brawl ensues. A gun goes off, and Bala’s victim is hurled through the screen, tearing it into half.
Kaate Nahin Kat Te was also sampled in the nightclub song O Janiya from Force 2 (2016), but Neha Kakkar’s rendition of the refrain, “I love you,” is as robotic as the movements of Sonakshi Sinha and the Caucasian background dancers. Imitation can sometimes be the most insincere form of flattery.