This bittersweet satire whets your appetite with a resplendent Sanya Malhotra

Story: In semi-rural Uttar Pradesh, an efficient female police inspector and her team of subordinates have to hunt for two hybrid jackfruits stolen from the local MLA’s home. The ridiculous hunt leads to a bigger crime against women, compelling the officer to adapt to the local political power play and save a young girl’s future.

“Kathal” is an unusual title for a Hindi film. It’s subject matter is also unusual, as is the combination of producers backing this project – Balaji Films and Sikhya Entertainment. Talk about Chalk and Cheese! But this uncommon film, which pulls off humour and satire around everyday corruption and manipulation of the police force by local politicians, succeeds in entertaining without being preachy.

It is hard not to notice the similarities between the central story with “Dahaad.” An efficient female police officer in semi-rural Hindi heartland (fictitious spot in Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh) chances upon a series of missing girls that have not been found by the police. Only “Kathal” turns this subject on its head by building a comedy that at once frustrates you and makes you laugh. In a semi-tribute to Emir Kusturica’s school of filmmaking, here, both cops and criminals are goofy; and the politician controlling the police force is unintentionally funny.

“Kathal” is about a young police officer Mahima Basor (Sanya Malhotra) who is dedicated to hunting down criminals in a place where crime is almost normalised and the police exist to fill an official space. A constable in her team is obsessed with finding his stolen car, essential to marrying his daughter off. Her bosses are prone to making errors while holding press briefings and when the local MLA Munnalal Pateria (Vijay Raaz) summons, they toe the line without batting an eyelid. The hunt is for two hybrid jackfruits, which need to be pickled for some serious political horse trading. Now these have gone missing. Bewildered by the absurdity of this new case, yet unable to question her bosses, Malhotra’s efforts to hunt for the jackfruit along with her half-interested squad leads to a bigger crime- a young girl, the daughter of a poor gardener, has gone missing.

Her lower stature in this caste-driven society meant that her boyfriend Saurabh, a not-so-efficient constable (Anant Joshi) didn’t pay sufficient attention to this case. Finding an opportunity where there is little room to negotiate, she uses the ‘high-profile’ jackfruit theft to investigate the missing girl, only to discover that many such missing persons cases have never been checked upon. Using her wits, she involves the local media man (Rajpal Yadav) and her team to hunt down the missing girl. This search leads to multiple comedies of error, with a hilarious climax where a literal downpour of weaponized vegetables and fruit wreaks havoc on Mahima and her team. Eventually, she comes out on top.

Yashowardhan Mishra tackles caste prejudices, in-built gender bias, gender-based discrimination, and normalisation of petty corruption with humour and colloquial situations. The story coasts along, never coming across as heavy or hard-hitting. But it makes a relevant point – how is our stretched police force actually being deployed? Besides this, the writing emerges triumphant with authenticity and local flavour built into the narrative. Sanya Malhotra shines as Mahima, pitch-perfect with her accent and naturalistic acting. The cast holds up this story with repartee and conversational dialogues, elevating the comedy in this story. After a while, Rajpal Yadav features in a film that gives him something worthwhile even as he makes you laugh. With each actor in the cast – Gurpal Singh, Vijay Raaz, Anant Joshi, Neha Saraf, and Govind Pandey – pulling their weight, “Kathal” delivers a breezy ensemble comedy about real issues plaguing India’s society.

Simple stories make for the best viewing sometimes. “Kathal” is one such story that makes for an entertaining, light-hearted weekend watch.

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