Kathal Review: Sanya Malhotra rises above the script in this socio-political satire

The film which also stars Vijay Raaz and Rajpal Yadav is available to stream on Netflix in UAE

By Lekha Menon

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Published: Sun 21 May 2023, 2:33 PM

Last updated: Sun 21 May 2023, 2:34 PM

At one point in Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery, streaming on Netflix in the UAE, a world-weary police official says, "We are supposed to follow the Indian Penal Code but in reality we are following the Indian Political Code".

The wry observation is a reaction to the latest case cops in Moba district, presumably in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, have been saddled with – find a thief who has stolen two ‘Uncle Hong’ jackfruits from the house of a local politician, Munnalal Pateria (Vijay Raaz). The group consists of a sprightly young inspector Mahima Basor (Sanya Malhotra), a sincere albeit clumsy constable Saurabh (Anant Joshi), and two other constables Kunti (Neha Saraf) and Mishraji (Govind Pandey). Mahima and Saurabh are in love but have to contend with two bitter truths: One, she belongs to a lower caste and the other, she is his boss. In this wild goose chase for the missing jackfruit, Mahima and her team stumble over a far more serious issue of kidnapped young girls in the district.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because Indian OTT viewers traversed a similar territory in the recent web series Dahaad starring Sonakshi Sinha. There are other common threads. The spectre of caste looms large in both, Dahaad and Kathal, they are set in the arid regions of Northern India, and the female leads’ experiences are tinged by patriarchy and opportunistic politics.

However, that’s where the similarities end. While Dahaad had a brooding, melancholic feel to its proceedings, Kathal is a social satire which makes a political statement. Mahima doesn’t wear the weight of her caste or gender too heavily and overcomes obstacles – from society’s snarky remarks to unwanted advances by oily men – with her wit and spunk. There is a lightness of touch in the social evils portrayed so the viewer does not get too perturbed by the ugly reality the plot actually underlines.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, although one wishes the satire had been more biting. Director Yashowardhan Mishra has plucked episodes from news headlines and while it works in some instances – like the case of the enthusiastic TV reporter, Anuj (Rajpal Yadav) who is arrested for allegedly defaming the nation with his story on missing girls – in others, it doesn’t make quite an impact. Sometimes, the film’s progressive ideas are too in your face while the climax featuring a vegetable fight between the good guys and the bad ones fail to raise a chuckle.

To its credit, the humour is largely on point and it helps that Mishra has chosen an excellent cast to push the message. Put actors like Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, Brijendra Kala and Raghubir Yadav together and they can elevate even the most mundane scene. However, while each of these veterans light up the screen in their scenes, they have been under-utilised to a certain extent and none of their character arcs really stand out. Among the supporting cast, Neha Saraf as the constable who has to balance between home and work is brilliant while Anant Joshi as Mahima’s meek boyfriend who wants to rise above social discrimination is also good.

The one actor who shines is Sanya Malhotra, who, with her fabulous screen presence and confidence, makes Mahima Basor believable and adorable. She can be funny and serious, sharp and coy, making you root for her. If only the screenplay had been a bit sharper and punchier, Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery could have been a juicier fruit to bite into.

Director: Yashowardhan Mishra

Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Anant Joshi, Vijay Raaz

Stars: 3/5

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