Set in 70s to 90s UP, Kaagaz tells a tale of Bharat Laal, played by Pankaj Tripathi, which in turn is inspired by the very real life person known as Laal Bihari from Azamgarh UP, a man who was declared dead on paper by greedy family members and corrupt government officials so his land could become theirs. Which turns out is a very real thing, very much happening in Uttar Pradesh and when you stop and think about it, it’s not that surprising at all.

Bharat Laal, being a simple straightforward, illiterate but very honest man, then spends the next 2 decades trying to get the right paperwork to get him declared alive, and kind of “ jumps” his way through life, becoming an innocent messiah.

Satish Kaushik, who has written, directed, produced and also acted in the film as Bharat Laal’s resourceful lawyer who has a change of heart eventually, clearly has a lot of conviction, and a desire to tell his story, which has been in some or the other stage in development at least since 2006, on the basis of some quick goggling. Back when Pankaj Tripathi was barely seen in films.

So, in a timeline reflecting Laal Bihari’s life, for Satish Kaushik also, this journey is nearly 20 years old, and it shows. Not in an old-fashioned way, because frankly if this film was set in modern-day Uttar Pradesh, I’d believe it.

Instead, Satish Kaushik’s conviction and wish to tell the story shows.  The research that went into creating and realizing a fictionalized version of the character, the landscape, that shows. But unfortunately, Bollywood is showing too.

Despite a silly awesome story, fights and twists with inherent black comedy in its soul, and an actor of Pankaj Tripathi’s caliber at the centre, Kaagaz insists on holding your hand tight through it all.

It’s not enough for us to see Bharat Laal trap a mouse and then leave it out in an open arena, a person has to be telling someone else in a cutaway

“ how Bharat Laal ka dil bohot achcha hai, woh usey marega nahi.”

It’s not enough for a Mita Vashisht dressed  like a politician, talking like a representative, journalists have to appear out of a crowd giving each other very basic information on what she is all about, like they’ve just walked into the middle of one of her rallies, not really knowing who they’re investigating.

It’s not enough for us to know that Time magazine published an article about Bharat Ram and his weird life, we have to see him on the COVER of the magazine. Satish Kaushik’s God voice narrating the amazing story isn’t enough, the film has to be bookended with a deep poem  about “kaagaz” in producer Salman Khan’s voice.

And also, it’s not enough for us to know ki yeh UP hai, yahaan law and order officials are mostly corrupt, there has to be an item song. “Character Dheela Hai” Kaagaz could have been much better irony had it trusted itself more.  

I kept waiting for the set’s natural humor to emerge from the absurd circumstances surrounding a sincere religious man who doesn’t even have sex on Tuesdays, but has to resort to doing the most apshakun thing of them all: take out his own shav yatra. Like Panchayat on Amazon Prime or even Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, where people and their lives they lead are the genesis of the joke, sometime at them, sometime with them,

And while you feel the judicial system’s indifference and sheer neglect towards the very people it’s supposed to serve, the larger commentary on how PR and marketing really are the only fuels that bright any fire in this nation, fails to emerge, if you’re not actively looking. Got to see Amar Upadhyay hasn’t aged a day since Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, also about 2 decades ago, so that’s good.



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