Sanya Malhotra excels in Kathal, a delightfully sharp, social satire

Sanya Malhotra plays the determined and principled inspector in Kathal. Photo: Publicis-Consultants Asia 

Good satires are rare in Hindi cinema. They often come in the shape of dark comedies like Khosla Ka Ghosla, but satires can even be insipid intellectual exercises like we saw in Peepli [Live], Newton and many others.

This same team of producers had given us Pagglait, an above-average satire, two years ago. This time, with Kathal, they yield a superior, cheerier result, with biting comments on politics, dowry, caste discrimination and small-town India’s fascination for Western culture, like jeans (ripped ones too), tops and also ‘hip’ looks.

By a coincidence that happens not-that-infrequently in Hindi cinema, like Shakti and Farz Aur Kaanoon on the same theme releasing within weeks of each other in 1982, this film on OTT comes exactly a week after Dahaad, the web series that also speaks of a low-caste, single girl who has risen in the ranks of the police as a no-nonsense inspector, and a series of missing girls and the police battling bureaucratic obstacles—though of a different kind here.

Sanya Malhotra (let me make a statement—she is Aamir Khan’s finest discovery to date!) emerges as forceful as Sonakshi Sinha in Dahaad, but this time, the tenor is as humorous as it is sincere, and her associates, on the whole, delightfully incompetent! Inspector Mahima Basor (Sanya) is assigned the task of finding two massive jackfruits, of Malaysian origin, which have been stolen from the tree in the compound of MLA Pateria (Vijay Raaz), who had planned to gift them to bigger politicians in a bid for ministerial berth in the elections.

His ‘homily’ in this matter is: “Rajneeti mein jo kaam sadachaar aur ooch vichaar se nahin hote woh kabhi kabhi aachaar se ho jaate hain (In politics, a job that cannot be done by virtues and high thinking is sometimes accomplished by (gifting) pickles.”

And so, when Mahima calls this investigation facile, her shrewd, self-aggrandizing and kowtowing-to-the-powerful boss, Angrez Singh Randhawa (Gurpal Singh), who drinks from mugs with his own ‘mug’ printed on it, says that the police actually do not follow the Indian Penal Code but a different IPC—Indian Political Code! He coaxes Mahima to investigate and find the missing fruits before they ripen and can no longer be properly consumed!

Suspicion soon falls on Pateria’s gardener, Bisra (Ambrish Saxena), who has been removed from his job a few days before for “threatening” Pateria’s grandson. Bisra, on the other hand, himself comes to the police station to complain about his missing daughter, Amiya (Apoorva Chaturvedi), but is ignored by the constable Saurabh Dwivedi (Anant V. Joshi).

But soon, even as she searches for clues on the missing kathal (jackfruits), Mahima closes in on the missing Amiya, simply by using her shrewdness to connect the two by stating that Amiya has stolen them!

The post-climax scene, which explains the jackfruit mystery, is a fittingly funny culmination for the film—a perfect culmination for such a film. And let us not forget that former constable Mahima and Saurabh have loved each other for long, but her promotion to a higher level has prevented their marriage.

We also have the domesticated cop, constable Kunti (Neha Saraf), and the lazy yet worried constable Mishra (Govind Pandey). The poor Mishra has bought a pink Nano car (India’s smallest four-wheeler) as dowry for a prospective son-in-law that has been stolen on the same day as the fruits. And his colleagues refuse to look into the case as the missing fruit and girl are more important!

Finally, we have a typically intrusive and investigative journalist, Anuj (Rajpal Yadav), who considers himself as a celebrity. He finally finds redemption when he is arrested for ‘political’ reasons and actually becomes a celeb!

A breezy pasquinade on several aspects of life, Kathal, for a 115-minute home watch, is a delight that one would not mind revisiting off and on. Director Yashowardhan Mishra, known earlier for humorous short films, makes his feature debut and shows massive potential to be a film director and writer whose work we can look forward to with pleasure. The script, co-authored by Ashok Mishra, is topnotch in its focus and incisiveness.

Technically competent, the crisp film is a treasury of sharp performances by actors who get into the pith of their roles with aplomb and dedication. Standing out here are Neha Saraf as Kunti, Apoorva Chaturvedi as the insouciant rebel Amiya, Gurpal Singh as Mahima’s boss, Govind Pandey as Mishra and Ranjan Raj as Bhoora. Brijendra Kaul as the quiet forensic expert, Vijay Raaz as the obnoxious MLA and Ambrish Saxena as the gardener Bisra also score high. Anant V. Joshi is alright as Saurabh.

This film is more than that—it is not to be missed.

Rating: **** 

Netflix presents Balaji Telefilms’ & Sikhya Entertainment’s Kathal  Produced by: Shobha Kapoor, Ektaa R. Kapoor, Guneet Monga & Achin Jain Directed by: Yashowardhan Mishra  Written by: Ashok Mishra & Yashowardhan Mishra  Music: Ram Sampath  Starring: Sanya Malhotra, Anant V. Joshi, Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, Brijendra Kala, Neha Saraf, Apoorva Chaturvedi, Namrata Dhamija, Ravi Jhankal, Lucky Khan, Ranjan Raj, Govind Pandey, Shashi Ranjan, Ambrish Saxena, Satish Sharma    , Megha Shukla, Gurpal Singh, Aeklavya Tomer, Raghuvir Yadav & others




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