‘It’s all written in the ‘kaagaz’ after all’
This is what gets conveyed as the core of the whole movie when Salman Khan recites a poetry in a voiceover towards the culmination of Kaagaz. To think of it, even though today more and and more aspects of our lives are getting recorded digitally, till just a few years back it was all on a piece of paper. Even today, majority of transactions are still on paper so one can well imagine how things may have been back in the 70s and the 80s when the record keeping was entirely on paper. In such a scenario, if something went amiss, either intentionally or inadvertently, it could be nothing less than a horror show.
This is what the central protagonist of Kaagaz, played by Pankaj Tripathi, realises when he is declared dead in the government records. A poor ‘band baaja’ owner in a North Indian village, he is betrayed by his family members when they scheme up with a corrupt government official to have ‘dead’ against his name so as to usurp his land. From here begins a 18 year older struggle for the man who goes through all channels, right as well as wrong, to convince the powers that be around him being actually alive.
This includes everything, right from writing letters to the highest order, sitting on a ‘dharna’, fighting an election, even committing a crime, creating ruckus in the Vidhan Sabha, taking on a High Court judge no less, and a lot more, just so that there is some sort of legitimacy that is given to his existence.
The film is based on the real life story of Lal Bihaari Mritak who had to fight this battle almost alone. Yes, there was some sort of support from his wife (Monal Gajjar) and a lawyer (Satish Kaushik) but even they lost hope at various junctures. However, not the man in the picture here who practically made this the purpose of his life to get his name back as alive in the government records. While at times one may wonder if he really needed that for himself, considering his humble background and also the fact that he could well have lived a peaceful life even without this government record. However, you do go by the passion that he carries with him right through.
This is how the film has been narrated as well by Satish Kaushik who has made his comeback as the director with this film. Though the film has a village backdrop to it, hence not quite allowing any sort of visual appeal to the surrounding, he makes sure that from a storyteller perspective, he packs in a lot, especially in the second half which moves ahead at a much rapid pace.
The first half goes into the context setting though where Pankaj Tripathi realises that he has been taken for a ride, and then starts trying all the official channels to get his identity back. This is also the portion of the film where it all seems to be a hopeless scenario for the character, and hence as a viewer you do wonder if this effort would indeed be worth it. Also, there is some sort of sadness that creeps in.
However, once the film steps into the second half, there is added excitement as the man of of the moment starts executing indigenous ways to fight it out. Right from meeting the ministers to creating all around ruckus to even organising his ‘antim yatra’, he goes totally relentless in his approach. The tempo of the narrative also increases and the momentum goes up. This is when you also get to witness the vintage touch that Satish Kaushik brings in as a filmmaker, as the film reaches a culmination which is justified. Moreover, it is always interesting to see those montage shots about the real man and his achievements over a period of time, with the finale also including ‘Kaagaz’ poem recital by Salman Khan.
Pankaj Tripathi is expectedly good and it is amazing to see how he gets into a simpleton mode with so much ease when compared to the kind of ‘dabdabaa’ that he demonstrates in the likes of Mirzapur. Monal has a sweet and simple persona and it is good to see her on screen whenever she appears. Satish Kaushik does well as an actor where he brings in certain trademark quirks into place. Sandeepa Dhar is decent in her item song appearance. Meeta Vashisth holds the frame though one wishes there was more of her. Amar Upadhyay’s character could have been more fleshed out. Brajendra Kala is as usual in his single scene appearance.
All in all, Kaagaz ends up conveying an original story that makes one connect well with the protagonist, while being also entertained.