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Pankaj Tripathi in <i>Kaagaz.</i>
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Review: ‘Kaagaz’ Has Lots of Heart, Little Bit of Soul

Review of Pankaj Tripathi-starrer ‘Kaagaz’

Updated
Movie Reviews
4 min read

Review: Pankaj Tripathi’s ‘Kaagaz’ Has Lots of Heart, Little Bit of Soul

Based on the incredible true story of Lal Bihari (popularly known and loved as Lal Bihari Mritak) comes Kaagaz, a film that examines the systematic failure that is the social and political fabric of India. “The system” as many of us know, is a constant topic of inspection, debate and dissection in the arts across the world and rightfully so. With its endless flaws, injustices and unequal hierarchies, introspection and change may be the need of the moment. Written and directed by Satish Kaushik and starring Pankaj Tripathi in its titular role, Kaagaz is produced by none other than Salman Khan.

In Kaagaz, we go back in time to a now familiar landscape of the exuberant and energetic North India. Uttar Pradesh in all its dusty, chaotic, sensory overload existence and side by side stand its luscious green farms, stretching for miles and the simplicity and gruelling rural life. There is localisation, humour, texture and taste. There are the colours, the sounds and the nostalgia.

The story spans over an ambitious timeline and tells the stories spanning over a decade worth of events in its two hour run. Kaagaz is the story of a “common man” who has been declared legally dead.

A clerical mistake fuelled by a greedy family and the loop like structure of the bureaucracy, in which if you get tied up, you spend your entire life untangling yourself. This leads to Lal Bihari’s predicament and journey to establish himself as legally alive. His entanglement and eventual success, which ultimately lead him to not only establish an organisation for others like himself but also to win the Ig Nobel Prize, a satiric take on the classic Nobel Prize, Lal Bihari has had quite a life and while the movie does not chronicle everything, it tells us enough.

Pankaj Tripathi and Satish Kaushik in <i>Kaagaz.</i>
Pankaj Tripathi and Satish Kaushik in Kaagaz.
(Photo Courtesy: Zee5)

While the story is a classic drama filled with satire, presented to Kaushik on a platter, the script feels dated, choppy and disjointed, lacking an obvious rhythm. Things just seem to happen. There is an early 2000’s TV serial treatment to the whole thing, using melodrama and caricature in the overdone and underwhelming way. There is so much scope for the characters (which are cookie cutter and caricatures) and comedy both, but these opportunities are mostly wasted, leaving the whole thing feeling flat.

Information is relayed to the viewers in the lazy and cliche style of endless conversation and discussion on screen and for a true story with so much activity, there is barely any in the script. The exchanges between people are preachy and on the nose, which made me cringe a little. Cinematic this film is not and feels more like one is watching a stage play or nukkad natak. The classic voice over, so hard to get right and so easy to mess up, has also been used and while the poetry heard in the voice of Salman Khan works wonderfully, Kaushik’s voiceover during the film dumbed down the writing and added nothing.

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While the writing suffers from cliches, being dated, lazy and stereotypical, the story itself is inspiring and portrayed with the right intention. Kaagaz has lots of heart. The idealistic and almost heroic endeavour to present society and the system with a mirror and a chance for introspection and therefore change, is a noble one, and that is where the film wins.

Social change, faith, hope and the power of inner strength to keep fighting a long and sometimes losing battle against a system rigged with corruption and endless ego, failing to ever accept its own wrong doings, Kaagaz gives us some much needed positivity that feels like a warm hug after a sad, long day.
Pankaj Tripathi does a stellar job in <i>Kaagaz.</i>
Pankaj Tripathi does a stellar job in Kaagaz.
(Photo Courtesy: Zee5)

There are moments when even the writing is unable to ruin the heartfelt nature of the love, strength and struggle of Lal Bihari. Pankaj Tripathi does a stellar job, as always, of creating pathos. Everything he performs really pulls at my heart strings and Monal Gajjar as his wife is also brilliant in parts but there’s only so much she can do with how wafer thin her character, like most others, is written, and unfortunately, most other performances remain forgettable. The characters lack dimension, depth and individuality and for even the most prolific actor, to work with that is hard.

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The direction and editing of Kaagaz also seem to lack a certain rhythm and the transitions between shots and scenes look incomplete, almost random and too sudden, like an avant grade music video from the 90s, especially in the first half of the film, making it even more difficult to get sucked into the universe of the film. The music of the film, much like most other elements, is aged and obvious. It does not create the invisible impact it should and like the editing, stands out like an obvious sore thumb.

Kaagaz is lots of heart and a little bit of soul but unlike other social critiques like Court or Article 15, it really does not have much technicality to carry its intentions forward and therefore will fade into oblivion as slightly better than mediocre, a damn shame for a story of its kind.

Rating: 2.5 Quints out of 5

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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