What’s in a name? Well, depends. It can either be simply meaningless or else have deeply-layered meanings that may be pondered upon and be the topic of discussion. Whatever be the case, the makers of the film ‘Kathal’ definitely had the latter in mind when giving this apt title to their film. Released on Netflix in May, the satirical take on the everyday issues of life touches upon more than one subject that plagues our social fabric involving the police, the politicians, and the public.
A most unlikely name, the ubiquitous jackfruit does have characteristics intrinsic to the film as well. Health benefits regardless, the side effects of kathal supposedly include sleepiness and laziness. Whether the makers took cognizance of this fact in choosing this name or not, the film does highlight the lethargy of the system and the utter disgust at the meaninglessness of a futile search for a missing fruit.
Directed by Yashowardhan Mishra and written along with screenplay writer Ashok Mishra, his father, the film deals with several issues but in a way so subtle and yet direct that they appear layered instead of coming across like a pile.
Set in fictional Moba, apparently a take on a Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura (the song Radhe Radhe so clarifies), the scene quickly shifts from the police in pursuit of dreaded criminals to them following the footprints of a thief who stole a mere kathal —an exotic variety of kathal— from the sprawling gardens of an obsessed comic character, the politician. Every single frame and every single scene from then on gives the audience reason to chuckle and be one with Mahima Basor, the inspector played by Saniya Malhotra to the hilt. Even the stage like drawing room setting of the innocuous politician —an MLA— is comical with his bust placed strategically next to his seat, his yes-man wife in attendance, a silly forever munching daughter, a spoilt grandson, and a whimsical ghar jamai, all part of the décor.
The SP, the constables, the media, all become an integral part of this circus. Just as futile is the search is the media reportage of the news that makes headlines with its vociferous reporting. Every point made in the film is real — the SP avoiding the media, the higher officials passing on a task (which if not completed could take away their position) to those lower in the rank, the lower caste being chastised for simply being who they are, the police beating up just about anyone while giving protection to the baraat of the goons, the constable refusing to register a logical complaint, the woman constable (Neha Saraf in the role of Kunti Parihar) continuing to be dominated by her lawyer husband despite her commendable feats in her profession, the simpleton constable (Saurabh Dwivedi played by Anant Joshi) being bashed when trying to find the culprit, the character assassination of the missing 16-year-old girl simply because she wore torn jeans and pranced about the village, her poor downtrodden father (a gardener chucked out by the MLA) forced to acknowledge her daughter of the theft by the police, and the media embroiled in this maniacal madness.
Fighting against these odds is Mahima, with her soft demeanor, ready wit, quick repartee, unwavering patience and unnerving intelligence, peeling the layers of the system, handling each negative move with ease and composure (the inspector who lustily sucks upon an ice candy with overtures bordering on sexual undertones is duly chastened with her quick retort), and at the same time maintaining her fragile relationship with her fiancé and junior Saurabh, balancing the chiding and the affection so as not to hurt his feelings. Despite pressure from her seniors and the MLA, despite the tension that surmounts from all quarters with regard to the case of the missing kathal, not once does she lose her cool. Rather, bit by bit, she joins the missing pieces of the puzzle with her aide, the ever-present Kunti and the constables.
Amidst all this, in the background is the serious crime of a young girl gone missing from her village. This plot actually becomes the main element and brings to the fore the futility of the rest. It also unravels the underlying bigger issue of underground files that often never see the light of the day. In the film, the files are related to several cases of missing reports of many girls and brought to the fore by Mahima.
Though the issues highlighted in the film are serious, Kathal does not for a moment become anything less than a comedy — neat and clean comedy with a purpose.
The characters are neatly etched even when their presence is brief and leave an impact in their small defined role — be it Vijay Raaz as the MLA Munnalal Pateria, Brijendra Kala as the investigating officer Srivastava, Raghubir Yadav as Gulab Seth, or Gurpal Singh as SP Angrez Singh Randhawa.
Rajpal Yadav as news reporter Anuj Sanghvi is comical in looks and yet endearing with his persistent and illogical reporting of making sensational news out of the missing kathal story but only till the time he lays hands on the real story of the missing girls. It is Mahima and Kunti who steal the show with their steely resolve to solve the cases —both minor and major— while fighting personal battles at the home front too. The director, here, brings to the fore the power of the female bastion despite maintaining her grace and dignity in the face of tough times.
And to top it all, the judge too is shown to be a woman who gives befitting judgment with understanding and thoughtfulness, without prejudice or malice, as the film reaches a happy end.
The characters all speak the dialect of the region they are set in, the performances are as real as the dialogues — simple, straightforward and in the face. Each role is important and so there appears no demarcation by way of a hero, heroine, or the villain. What the audience sees are everyday men and women combating their problems and how the system and the bureaucrats wield their power. The plot, the narrative, and the script are deftly woven in a way that every scene is in sync with the events as they unfold with a hilariously ironic end that leads to the actual culprits who stole the kathal.
The music by Ram Sampath has a folk touch to it and the three songs blend effortlessly with the story and so do not appear out of place. The song Radhe Radhe has a peppy beat. The audience is spared the running-around-trees songs that would have marred the flow and progression of the film.
The fight scene by the end sure appears a bit over dramatised but natural in a story where even the police force is projected as being human rather than superhuman.
All in all, ‘Kathal’, not just entertains but along with the laughs makes you ponder upon the ironies of life and its oddities.