Kaagaz Hindi Movie Review

Feature Film | Biopic, Drama
For a movie that talks about the power of the written word, little in Satish Kaushik's Kaagaz seems powerful or inspired. It is one of those by-the-numbers biopics that could have worked more if the writing was up to it. Watchable and well-intentioned, this Kaagaz is a story better told on paper.
Jan 7, 2021 By Sreejith Mullappilly

Satish Kaushik's 'Kaagaz' is based on the life of Lal Bihari Mritak, a farmer, who was declared dead on national government records even when alive. The movie begins with the usual disclaimer that says the circumstances and the names of the characters are changed for dramatization. That change even applies to the protagonist, Bihari Lal Mritak, played by Pankaj Tripathi. Unlike the real-life Bihari, the Tripathi character here is a band player and a businessman. Even his name is changed a little for some reason.

He wants to grow his band business, so he seeks funding for it from a local bank. The bank officer tells him to put something up as collateral for the loan. The only asset Bihari Lal thought he owned is an ancestral property occupied by his uncle and other family members. When he visits that ancestral property to get back the title papers of it, he discovers that the family has had him declared dead by influencing the record keeper. The rest of the film is about Bihari Lal's fight against a flawed bureaucracy where red tape is the only norm.

In one scene, a local politician tells Bihari Lal that the record keeper in India is more powerful than even the prime minister. We must remember that the main events in this film take place between the period after the national team won the cricket world cup and around the banking reforms. That was no digital India, so, unsurprisingly, there were many people declared dead on papers back then.

The material of Kaagaz is ripe for satirical humor, but very little seems inspired here. The movie plays out like a by-the-numbers biopic with a rigid structure and a dated feel to it. The events in it are somewhat relevant even today as these speak to an India that is progressive only on paper and is going backwards in many regards. In a sense, the plight of our farmers is not too different from that of Bihari Lal. There are too many concerns made to the government, and too much time is being spent negotiating.

Pankaj Tripathy may appear an inspired casting choice on paper, but it just does not elevate this generic material. There is a halo around Tripathy as the Hindi film industry's go-to don or gangster character. This man is pretty much untouchable in most of his other works, which perhaps does not help here. Regardless, Tripathy does a decent job of fitting into the shoes of this middle-aged businessman with a never-say-die attitude (pun intended). But Kaagaz does not quite deserve him, and his performance is a bit too calculated for my liking. Nevertheless, he is sincere here.

There are many more fine talents here with underwritten roles, like Monal Gajjar who plays Bihari's wife. There is also an actor who plays the conniving aunt of Bihari, but I could not find her name somehow. Kaushik's cameo as Bihari's attorney is more interesting than whatever else he did behind the camera.

The movie is co-produced by Salman Khan Films as well as written by its director Kaushik himself. It is certainly not an unwatchable film. It has many untimely songs, but some of these are good tracks. Watch it if you must on Zee5.

Sreejith Mullappilly