Kathal review: Hats off to Sanya Malhotra for slowly becoming that name you can always trust with her incredible script selection!
Kathal review: Crime thrillers are the love child of OTT platforms that are a sure-shot formula that can never go wrong. So it's not uncanny to see similarities between the recently released Prime Video's Dahaad and Netflix's Kathal where the headliner of both is a Dalit woman police officer fighting off the male gaze and prejudices while working in a patriarchal backward society. But the difference is that Sonakshi's show is a tad too serious and has an in-depth take on the issue while Sanya's film is an absurdist satirical comedy. Both of them, in their own ways, have a lot to say to their audience. And in this time and day, when was the last time you absolutely enjoyed a good comedy that made you laugh till your stomach hurt?!
Yashowardhan Mishra's Kathal has an interesting premise where in a small village in Uttar Pradesh, two exotic breeds of kathal go missing from an MLA's house (Vijay Raaz) in a mysterious fashion. Mahima (Sanya Malhotra) and the entire police unit are put on the case to find out about the two missing Uncle Hong's species of Jackfruit. But that's not all! In a twisting turn of events, under the guise of this comical kathal mystery, a darker truth is uncovered. And as Anuj (Rajpal Yadav), the Moba reporter says, "dal mein kuch kala nahi puri daal hi kaali hai" we find out about young girls who have been reported as missing but are never found.
The way a Jackfruit is known for its versatility as it can be molded and made into any form, fruit, vegetable, and even pickle one can consume. In a similar fashion, Kathal the film tries to be everything - a slapstick comedy to a social satire and is made in a superfluous accessible form for the audience. There is caste indifference, gender discrimination, danger to freedom of the press, and police brutality addressed in this movie. On the face of it, it's an exaggerated comedy with funny chaotic chase sequences that involves vegetable fights and hiding inside a water tanker but is so much more than that only if you learn to read between the lines. As ironically the people who are standing in front of a wall with an Ambedkar photo on it or quotes about equality, are the same ones who throw Ganga jal to 'pure' their carpet after a lower caste person has stepped on it. Or how the flashy loud headlines of news are sure funny but a commentary!
What's even more interesting is the way the film handles its gender. Mahima is a hardworking Dalit female police officer who has risen to rank from being a constable. But in spite of being a capable officer, she knows who she is and realises the kind of society she lives in which is a hierarchical patriarchal world. Where hierarchy extends from upper-case men at the highest rung to lower-caste females a the lowest. Irrespective she chooses to fight her battles with a smile and snide comments and if she has to capture a major sexual offender, being a woman if she has to flirt, she will. She has to deal with upper-caste illiterate men who simply love parading police around to find their missing kathals or are proud of being powerful Brahmins and love to fire bullets in a wedding to show off.
Contrary to her is her love interest, Saurabh (Anant V Joshi), a constable who is constantly discriminated against for being a lower rung in the hierarchy of the police system. His manliness is also poked by men around him as he is in a relationship with a Dalit woman who is at a higher post than him. He is a man conditioned by society and hence unfortunately reacts according to it. It's easy to love a woman but it's hard to support her when she is your boss! The tense chemistry between Mahima and Saurabh is interesting to note as Mahima worries for Saurabh's humanity but he can't get out of his gender chasm until quite later. And this is how the script doesn't look down upon its characters who are simple people who just want to do their job and live life in peace without getting themselves involved in a morcha. As constable Kunti says "promotion shabd maine apni dictionary se hata diya" because she knows she has to go back and cook potato fries for her husband. But to say that they don't want change would not be fair they just deal with it and get it in their own ways like Mahima works around to get Saurabh a promotion and ends up getting one for herself too.
Those camera frames with specific aspect ratios, symmetry, and bouts of colour splashing all across them reminded me of Wes Anderson's style of filmmaking with a tadka of Indian chaunk. And the cartoonish background score with veteran actors like Rajpal Yadav, Vijay Raaz, and Raghuvir Yadav is an absolute delight and there is no way that you don't laugh at and with them. While Sanya Malhotra as the chubbli bubbly sweet simple yet tough Mahima and Anant V Joshi as the conflicted but sweet mellowed down Saurabh nail their assignments. While the entire cast with their accents steals your heart away, my absolute favourite was Neha Saraf. Yes, the screenplay by Ashok Mishra and Yashowardhan Mishra falters at many points. But the solid punch lines and slapstick comedy where either someone or something is falling come as a saving grace! Where you are not even bothered with the easy resolution of the story or that the MLA so impertinent to the story goes completely awol in the second half.
Sure the topics that Yahsowardhan Mishra picks up are quite serious and could have been explored in a better fashion. But you know how sometimes the best way to make someone understand complex things is to just simplify them? This light-hearted entertaining film does exactly that without making us feel like toddlers! As it doesn't try to preach or boast in a chest-thumping style, rather it layers its subtle messaging inside a laughter riot while touching base on all topics, from a reporter getting arrested for reporting the truth to the police connivingly hatching a plan to find and save a poor Dalit girl by accusing her of stealing the Kathal.
Because you and I can talk and have endless debates on all of these topics given our accessible privilege but the major question that still remains is how does one deal with these situations in real life? The answer lies in how these people deal with situations in this film! And as Molière quotes 'the duty of comedy is to correct men by amusing them' similarly Kathal says everything it has to say while making you laugh out loud!
Kathal is streaming on Netflix.
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