What is the story about?
Bharat Lal, a middle-aged man with minimal needs and a bandmaster of a wedding music troupe, is the cynosure of all eyes for most events in the vicinity of his village near Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. His near and dear prod him to expand his business, for which he seeks a loan from a bank. He plans to attach his share of an ancestral property as a security cover for the same. Bharat wakes up to a rude shock when he realises that a government record declares him dead, a weird ploy employed by his scheming aunt to usurp his share of the ancestral property. There begins Bharat’s relentless fight against all odds to prove he’s alive, only to realise he’s not alone.
The real-life story of Uttar Pradesh’s Lal Bihari is certain to put any piece of fiction to shame - someone who dedicated nearly two decades of his life towards a legal battle against a government record that declared him dead (also earning him the moniker Lal Bihari Mritak) and even formed an association for many people who’re alive yet dead as per the system. It’s not hard to guess why actor, filmmaker Satish Kaushik considers the biopic of this figure the magnum opus of his career.
The story encompasses almost everything that’s wrong with the country – the extent to which one’s kith and kin can manipulate the system to usurp wealth, the irony of a bureaucratic setup that weighs a piece of paper above all, the inefficiency and limitations of the judiciary to give voice to a common man’s fight. The filmmaker Satish Kaushik personalises the story well and succeeds immensely in etching the character of his protagonist. He focuses on the extraordinary grit of a seemingly ordinary man, replete with his innocence and the simplicity without sentimentalising his journey too much.
The first hour of the film is a sheer delight – the witty treatment captures the child-like spirit of Bharat Lal to perfection and the gift that he possesses to laugh at his woes. The rapport he shares with the many lively characters around him, be it his emotionally strong wife Rukmini, his harmless yet cheeky lawyer Sadhuram, a former dacoit Pitamah (who shares the same plight as the protagonist) and a manipulative politician Asharfi Devi, adds another layer to the storytelling. Satish Kaushik uses the irony within the setup to lend it a light-hearted, dark comedy-like spin, making the underdog drama immensely watchable.
The efforts to depict the various timelines within the story, from the Emergency-era through the mid-90s, through music bear fruit. The name play with Bharat Lal (literally as the son of India), Pitamah (epitomising the Mahabharata character who stands by his word no matter what), Rukmini (as the lady who gives strength to her man- Krishna, in the Mahabharata again) is not a bad idea to throw light on the crux of the characters.
Despite the largely-captivating beginning, the film fails to sustain its winning momentum in the later portions. The simplicity and the wit in the treatment wear off, made worse by the heavy-duty melodrama and the absence of any surprise element in the storytelling. Recent biopics have often been ailed by a storyteller’s obsessive attachment to the subject and Kaagaz too suffers partly for a similar reason (where the protagonist becomes more important than the film). Kaagaz, despite the hiccups, warrants attention, has its heart at the right place more often than not and is more a biopic of the system and the country than the man at the forefront.
Pankaj Tripathi is the perfect foil to the indefatigable verve and innocence of the protagonist. It’s impossible to think of any actor who could have played Bharat Lal as well as him (probably Manoj Bajpayee?) – his effortlessness in balancing the emotional depth of the man while also capitalising on his impeccable comic timing as an actor is certainly a masterclass for acting aspirants. Monal Gajjar is a wonderful addition to the cast, lending purpose and meat to the characterisation of a supportive wife whose world is limited to her domestic constraints. Satish Kaushik, Mita Vashisht, Amar Upadhyay, Brijendar Kala, to name a few, make for a solid supporting cast.
Music & Other Departments
Music is one among the many redeeming features of this gritty film – the songs have an old-world charm and a hummable quality. Srijan Vinay Vaishnav’s background score makes efficient use of the film’s many potent moments for a background score that complements the storytelling to good effect. Arkodeb Mukherjee’s cinematography smells of rootedness and authenticity as it takes us through the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh. The compact narrative with a 109-minute duration doesn’t leave much scope for any lethargy. The effective, flavourful dialogue helps drive home the essence of the film.
- Excellent story
- Wonderful performances
- Good technical contributions
- Over-simplistic second hour
- Too attached with its subject and loses objectivity
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?