It's a documentary film that feels more like a Bollywood potboiler. But for an item number, Katiyabaaz is a lot like the new wave Bollywood that's returning to realism. The lyrics are by Varun Grover, who also wrote the lyrics for Gangs of Wasseypur. The film is co-edited by Namrata Rao, editor of such films as Kahaani and Shuddh Desi Romance. This is no co-incidence - directors Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa said in an interview that they aspire to compete with Bollywood.
Someone has described Katiyabaaz as "BBC meets Dabbang". Perhaps that explains why the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images (MAMI) has slotted it in the competition section with regular films at the Mumbai Film Festival next week. In other words, Katiyabaaz could change the documentary scene in India, raising the bar for everyone else.
At face value, the film is about the electricity problem in Kanpur. But the documentary form catches a lot else along the way: it becomes a film about Kanpur and Kanpurias, their negotiation with power, about UP politics and the failure of policymakers to do something simple like make consumers pay electricity bills.
In a long review essay, The Caravan magazine pointed out:
For all its political and social ramifications, however, Katiyabaaz focuses more on storytelling than on documentation. Mustafa and Kakkar shot over 200 hours of footage, including numerous interviews with business owners, public servants and administrators, which they edited down to 80 minutes. “We just went by what would make the most exciting and most cinematic narrative,” said Mustafa in an email interview. The social, infrastructural and economic implications of power shortages are therefore examined mostly through the prism of the two central figures and their daily routines, supported by a handful of additional interviews and the necessary minimum of facts and figures.
At the centre of the film is Loha Singh, a man every bit ad resilient as his name suggests. Loha Singh goes around plugging 'katiyas' or illegal wires so that people's homes are lit up without having to pay bills. It is difficult not to empathise with Loha Singh, especially when he tells you why the electricity corporation is the problem rather than the solution.
But the electricity corporation has a new chief. Ritu Maheshwari wants to solve Kanpur's electricity problems, and looks like her cracking the whip might just be it. Will she succeed?
Katiyabaaz screens at the Mumbai Film Festival on Monday, October 21 5:30 pm and Tuesday October 22 8:00 pm.