‘Kaagaz’: Pankaj Tripathi Shines in Movie of a Bygone Era

By Pallabi Dey Purkayastha

Story: In order to keep his band-baja business afloat, Bharat Lal (Pankaj Tripathi) approaches a local bank in Uttar Pradesh for a loan. Soon after, he realises that his uncle and his sons have declared him legally dead and snatched his share of the piece of land that the family had jointly owned.

Review: When they joke about nasbandi (vasectomy) and the Emergency losing steam, it dawns on you that the setting is late 70s. And during that remarkable period in the history of India, there lived a man – in a small hamlet in the northern part of the country – who was stripped off his family inheritance by fraudulent means. And the worst aspect of this unfortunate occurrence is that it was his own kin who had declared him legally dead over the tiny fraction of a land he co-inherited with them.

“Aaj se tu humara rishtedaar nahin, hum tere kuch nahin,” warns the aunt, after disclosing the elaborate scam they had subjected him to. Bharat Lal could be jolly, but he is not juvenile. The otherwise unsuspecting man then vouches to fight the estranged family, and the ‘tarik-pe-tarik’ culture that the Indian administrative system had gotten used to. One letter, one hooligan, one police personnel at a time.

In a world where people are grappling with intolerance of all kinds – from religious freedom to the freedom of speech, which cuts at the root of democracy – the bold and unabashed ‘Kaagaz’ seems to have dropped on Zee5 (and limited single-screen theatres in and around North India) at the right moment. This story, which is loosely based on the life of a man who had met a similar fate back in the day, is one that is sure to evoke a sense of confidence and self-esteem amongst its target audience.

However, the pace of the narrative and its one-dimensional story-telling technique makes it a tedious watch (even at 1 hour, 47 minutes!). And the fact that two narrators were employed (Salman Khan and Satish Kaushik) to push the diegesis forward, doesn’t help either. For one, the songs and the general treatment mollifies the seriousness of the plot and the audience doesn’t get a sneak-peek into the psyche of a man who’s the laughing stock of his peers, a proverbial loser, who has truly lost it all. An inspiring tale of this magnitude would have flourished under the genre of drama; lacing biography with comedy sure went kaput.

Having said that, all is not grey about this ambitious film project, and headlining the list of things that are praiseworthy is Pankaj Tripathi. As a musician, he is naïve yet jocund, and of course, a thorough natural at that. As is the case with the rest of his repertoire, Tripathi skates through his transition from a harmless family man to a ruthless rebel who wouldn’t stop at nothing and both the extreme facets of his persona draw you in like a magnet. Such is his grip over the character of Bharat, and that elusive phenomenon called acting. Satish Kaushik dons two hats for this one – one of an actor and the other, of the director. While he is his usual amusing self as a morally lose lawyer, it is his direction that disappoints: too lopsided and unimaginative, especially when its coming from a filmmaker of his stature. The parallel characters are feeble compared to the stellar lead that is Pankaj Tripathi and this stark contrast is one of the many reasons ‘Kaagaz’ blows up in smoke.

The essence of the Indian heartland and the era that’s far bygone has been aptly captured by costume designer Sujata Rajain, and Arkodeb Mukherjee’s cinematography is rustic and relevant.

To sum it up, ‘Kaagaz’ could have been the go-to movie for those seeking a burst of inspiration, but it ends up being a uni-dimensional masterclass on one man’s acting prowess. Not that we are complaining, but the film had the potential to tug at the heart strings. Alas! It was not to be. — Times of India