After two kathals (jackfruits) go missing from the garden of a bigwig in a small town and the local police are entrusted with the task of recovering them, it gradually becomes apparent that this social satire uses the drama around the incident as a front to turn the spotlight on a bigger problem. To Kathal’s credit, it never gets preachy or screechy as most movies tend to do while talking about serious problems. But then it also doesn’t dig deeper into the issue that deserves greater attention.
In spite of that, what works in Kathal’s favour is its even tone, gentle humour and unhurried pace. Set in rural Madhya Pradesh, the film features characters who are rooted and relatable. The life they lead might appear sluggish but, as the movie shows, it is replete with everyday drama and humour. So, when the seemingly mysterious disappearance of a rare breed of jackfruits becomes a major event in the town, it has a cascading effect. This leads to the unearthing of some grave criminal activities that the police seemed to be aware of but was not acting upon.
Kathal tries to weave a bunch of social issues into the narrative, especially the prevalent gender dynamics and caste biases. Inspector Mahima Basor (Sanya Malhotra), who belongs to a lower caste, is in love with an upper caste cop, who happens to be her junior at work. Having proven herself on her job, she leads a team that includes older men who make caste-related jibes behind her back. This is a fine exploration of intersections of caste and gender without resorting to an in-your-face approach.
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To essay the role of inspector Mahima, who is in hot pursuit of jackfruit thieves, Malhotra banks on her characteristic charm and sweetness. Yet, she does not hesitate to take a firm stand whenever the script demands. She is not a typical tough female cop shown in mainstream cinema. (Of course, there have been brilliant exceptions in off-beat movies such as the 2018 movie Soni). She is compassionate and diligent. She takes a stand for what’s fair even though it creates trouble in her personal life. She not only drives the narrative as the central character, but also delivers a compelling performance.
Malhotra is ably supported by Neha Saraf (those who have watched her in the play Piya Behrupiya will vouch for her excellent comic timing) and Anantvijay Joshi. As Kunti, Saraf convincingly portrays the difficulties of a professional woman trying to balance the demands of a job with domestic duties, such as baking a soft cake for her husband on his birthday. As expected, Vijay Raaz and Rajpal Yadav are delightful in their roles as the MLA who arm-twists the police into attending to his petty problem, and the energetic local journalist, respectively. Their wigs, however, look out of place. If the intention was to make people laugh, then they are not quite effective.
Since the script largely remains true to the milieu, most of these scenes unfold at a languid pace, capturing the rural landscape and life. Some parts of Kathal might seem stretched, but it doesn’t lose sight of what it’s pursuing. Instead of making lofty statements, Kathal believes in a gentle nudge, mainly to remind us about existing social biases and loopholes in the system. It also underlines the simple joys of life.
Kathal movie cast: Sanya Malhotra, Anantvijay Joshi, Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, Neha Saraf
Kathal movie director: Yashowardhan Mishra
Kathal movie rating: 3 stars