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Kaagaz review: Great story marred by stereotypes

Pankaj Tripathi shines in this mediocre drama

Source: SIFY

By: Sonia Chopra

Critic's Rating: 2/5

Monday 11 January 2021

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Movie Title

Kaagaz review: Great story marred by stereotypes

Director

Satish Kaushik

Star Cast

Pankaj Tripathi, Satish Kaushik, Monal Gajjar, Mita Vashisht, Brijendra Kala, Pranay Narayan

The film begins with touching lines philosophizing how kaagaz (paper) can be a kite in the sky, a boat in water, and the reason for wars all over the world. 

Lal Bihari (Pankaj Tripathi) runs a thriving musical band business in his village. We see his sensitivity when he releases the trapped mouse from his shop with ardent requests to not bother him again.  

When Wife Rukmini (Monal Gajjar) encourages him to take a loan and expand the business, Lal Bihari reluctantly agrees. It’s during this process of taking a loan that he discovers his relatives have declared him dead and usurped his ancestral property.  

Everyone in the village has a good laugh over this strange turn of events, but Lal Bihari is hopeful he can turn things around. He begins writing to various officials and waits for their reply. Losing focus on work, he gets obsessed with setting the record straight. But when the years of effort bring no results, he gets frustrated and takes one extreme step after the other. 

Based on a true story, the film has a lot of potential but is let down by clunky storytelling and mediocre comedy. For example, you have a character tell Lal Bihari, “You are only dead on paper, that’s why I got you paper flowers.” The story is told in a simplistic and dated manner. Like a straight line from one point to the other, the film dutifully follows his trajectory, without any nuance or complexity. The characters are mostly stereotypes— the simpleton villager, the devoted wife, the opportunistic politician, insensitive government officials and so on. Dialogue maintains an authentic yet simple tone. 

Directed and co-produced by Satish Kaushik, the film’s strengths are the story and the cast. Pankaj Tripathi adds a unique, endearing quality to his everyman character. He gives a masterful performance bringing out the character’s good heart, pride, resilience, and determination. Monal Gajjar is very good as the wife who has to balance increasing frustrations with supporting her husband’s quest. It’s wonderful to see Mita Vashisht (playing a local politician) on screen after a long time, though one wishes the part was more substantial. 

It’s absolutely shocking when the film informs you that Lal Bihar’s case is not as rare as one would think. Having started a party to bring such people together (dead on paper), Lal Bihari has over 20,000 people registered. All of them have been accidentally or intentionally been declared dead on paper, and are fighting the indifferent system to get their paperwork corrected.  

Kaagaz tries to be many films in one. It’s the story of a simple man’s “dharam yudh”. It focusses on the plight of people who get so enmeshed in government red tape, a simple task takes decades. It throws light on the apathy of government offices and the corruption that can convert a living man to dead. 

With a great cast and story, Kaagaz held a lot of potential, sadly unrealized. 

 

Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2

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