Both Pankaj Tripathi and the late paper marriage manager playing in Kaagaz are facing a daunting task. The lead actor should carry the weight of the entire film on his shoulders. He does so well, sometimes allowing his usual low-key style to create an extra display style. It removes the back and forth movement between the two poles without allowing difficulty.
The problems facing Uttar Pradesh resident Bharat Lal, who is portrayed in real life as Lal Bihari Mritak, a man who had to fight tooth and nail for almost two decades to prove his survival, are not easily solved. Opposition in Kaagaz is due to mere entry into the state register that blocked the protagonist’s fate.
Bharat Lal – someone who calls him Bharat then Lal – is said to have died on government records as a result of the tactics his family branch could gain if he stopped appearing in the paper. The man is being pushed to the edge as he tries to undo the file of the registrar’s office. He sees that the ‘truth’ of his ‘death’ is stoned.
The charity work of director-actress Satish Kaushik uses the critical situation of Bharat Lal as a way to take home the plight of the common man and face a reckless and violent management system that operates by advancing those who have been deprived of land. Underdogs are simple meat. Kaagaz tells of another unfortunate soul who decided to fight back. The film depicts the man’s despair and his strength enough to pass the reunion.
The film, screened at Zee5 Premium and UP-nominated theater, opens with the end of Salman Khan (with a fake SKF poster by one of the producers) reading a poem entitled Kaagaz. Emphasizes the importance of pieces of paper in people’s lives. The idea of music becomes even more powerful when it is seen in the context of those who are doomed to an endless struggle for life.
The story of Bharat Lal dates back to 1977 (the year when the crisis ended) until the liberation of the post-1990s (economic recovery is not a reference, however). So, is Kaagaz about a particular time in the history of India at that time or is it trying to tell us more about the plight of the powerless? Obviously, that is the case.
The film cries out for a political system in which citizens are reduced to just numbers to be counted during elections. Aren’t they all the same? That is exactly what Kaagaz is saying – and that Bharat Lal echoed when he decided to try to promote other “legally dead” people like him across the country and start an organization to reclaim their right to be counted among the living.
Each story serves a specific purpose – it puts Lal Bihari Mritak’s struggles on screen – but it is sensitive beyond the limited range of the victim’s narrative. Myth has the quality of believing-or-not well, but we have seen it worse in recent times. Do we need to count where and how?
The director, who also plays the clever Bharat Lal’s lawyer and directs Sadho Ram Kewat, goes back to touching the jokes in the first parts of the film to expose the folly of the situation. When Bharat, the owner of the wedding party, hears that the government has declared his death, he becomes the laughing stock of his village.
With little sympathy coming to him – his wife Rukmini (M. Monal Gajjar in his first Hindi film) stands by him even though after a while the inevitable distractions began to create domestic conflicts – he decides on everything he holds. He tries every trick in the book to prove to the authorities that he is alive and kicking. His walk may be a boomerang to him or fall to the ground. But the underdog keeps running.
As the story progresses, it takes low-key words and enters a full-fledged melodrama. It helps that Tripathi has the ability to remove gears without much effort as it goes all out to catch the state of the battle he is fighting. He is a imprisoned man who fights the battle of life and death but one cannot help feeling that he is more inclined to change the air machines.
Kaagaz uses the elements of a well-known Hindi movie – including the item number – but the songs scattered throughout the film are not pieces of music synchronized with lips that stop the flow of the myth. They are engaged in discussions that take the story forward. It is a strong emotional stimulus, sometimes at odds with what is near the bones of Bharat Lal. The film would have been better used if it had chosen a smaller tone.
It is up to Pankaj Tripathi to keep Kaagaz going even when it seems like it is being touched under the burden of its ultimate goal.
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Sandeepa Dhar, Satish Kaushik, Mita Vashisht, Amar Upadhyay
Director: Satish Kaushik
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)