It’s no secret that we have fallen in love with Pankaj Tripathi over the past few years. From a protective father in Gunjan Saxena to a respected drug-lord in Mirzapur, Pankaj Tripathi has put his own unique stamp on a variety of roles. Less than a week into 2021, we get another example of this actor’s proficiency in Kaagaz available on Zee5.
Written, co-produced and directed by Satish Kaushik, Kaagaz is a Hindi biographical film inspired by the real-life struggles of Lal Bihari, who is declared dead according to records, and his 19-year struggle to convince the government that he is, indeed, alive. Pankaj Tripathi plays the protagonist’s role (Bharatlal Bihari), and Monal Gajjar plays Bharatlal’s wife – Rukmani. The film also has a strong supporting cast, with Satish Kaushik playing Bharatlal’s opportunistic lawyer ‘Advocate Sadhoram’, Mita Vashisht as MLA Asarfi Devi, and Amar Upadhyay as MLA Vidhayak Jaganpal Singh.
Pankaj Tripathi as Bharatlal Bihari is brilliant in the film. Whether it is his comic response to the fellow-villagers mocking his death or his emotional breakdown in front of a judge, who doesn’t acknowledge his existence – Pankaj Tripathi delivers a masterclass in acting. I was pleasantly surprised by Monal Gajjar’s portrayal of Rukmani, who does a commendable job in complementing Pankaj Tripathi on his quest to prove his existence. It is not easy to share screen space with someone as versatile as Pankaj Tripathi and still make her presence felt, and full marks to Monal who did just that.
However, there are a few aspects of this film that did not sit well with me. It spoon-feeds us everything throughout the film though narration. The editing makes it a little challenging to understand a few scenes’ sequencing and drags the narrative a bit. Introducing a devious character through an item number or introducing a negative character through jarring background music should be a thing of the past. It also has a few subplots that don’t contribute much and make it difficult for one to sit through the entire duration. Lastly, I also think the film is caught between the dramatic and the satirical narrative, and instead of picking one and doing it well, it fails at both in trying to convey its message. Personally, I wish the film had stuck to the latter.
Even after the end-credits, the film stayed with me, and I felt compelled to research Lal Bihari’s actual struggle. I was astonished by how little we know about his story – from fighting elections to kidnapping his nephew just so that he gets an acknowledgment of his name in an official document – Lal Bihari relentlessly pursues every avenue.
For a movie with such a strong premise and such capable actors, I wish it wasn’t convoluted with wavering technicalities.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel