Hindi cinema has very rarely excelled in the satire genre. The only movie I can think of that is still considered one of the best satires is Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, which was released 40 years ago. PK and Peepli Live are some recent examples of decent satire. Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery, the latest Netflix India original, is a decent attempt to make satire a part of our discourse, and rightly so because it is high time this form of comedy is utilized instead of relying on either slapstick or situational comedy, both of which have been overused in this industry. Directed by Yashowardhan Mishra, the movie is a tale of two exotic jackfruits getting stolen from an MLA’s home, with the entire police force of the town being assigned to look for them. The police force’s mind-boggling investigation is the charm of the movie. Will they get their hands on them?
The film is set in the small town of Moba, where sub-inspector Mahima has recently been successful in capturing a criminal who has been accused of multiple crimes. With this success being another feather in her cap, a hardworking, grounded woman like her feels good about herself, even though her seniors took credit for all the hard work she did. Her boyfriend Saurabh, who is a constable, is unperturbed by Mahima being his superior officer, for they have been together since their training days, and so far, they are sure nothing would mess up their relationship. One fine day, a local MLA summons Mahima and her superior officers to look into the matter of two exotic Uncle Hong jackfruits, which were stolen from his garden. The MLA, being an insensitive prig, makes sure to make the police dedicate all their precious time to finding out who stole the jackfruits and the motive behind it. Mahima is given the lead to begin the investigation, and this starts a hilarious process of looking for two comically large fruits and the culprits who stole them.
First and foremost, writers Ashok Mishra and Yashowardhan Mishra, the latter is the director of the film as well, need to be lauded for churning out a good satirical comedy, which is a rare find, especially in the Hindi cinema space. Yes, it has become redundant to talk about stories from the Hindi-speaking belt of the country and how they emphasize the small-town tales, but what stands out here is the humor, and the story in it felt effortless. The plot goes from one point to another rather smoothly and does not feel disjointed at any point. The humor blends well with the narrative, and at no point does the storytelling feel like it is being imposed on the viewers. The screenplay lost a bit of time going around the bush in the second half, but by the climax, it felt like all the knots were tied up rather convincingly.
The humor laced into a woman’s predicament, who must be a working lady and who has to manage the household as well, is incredible. It is something most women see every day. The humor adds a layer of harsh reality and the plight of women in the 21st century. A woman holding a superior post to her husband in the place of work is still considered shameful, and women are still guilt-tripped into not accepting promotions to avoid being shamed by the family and society and prevent any discord between the married couple. Such instances, coupled with absurd bureaucracy and law-order matters, go out for a toss when it comes to handling any cases filed by a local leader whose only motive is to stay in power and genuinely do nothing for the people. A local journalist who is also trying to do his job of bringing in factual news is sidelined by the powerful local leaders, something that is not uncommon in the current situation of our country. The satirical humor fits perfectly, and the writers do not overdo it.
The screenplay had glitches because, in the second half, it felt like the writers lost the plot and were not able to find their way back to the main storyline. The meandering served a purpose in the story of the film. When it comes to the screenplay, the narrative could have been tighter. The point at which Mahima plans to merge one important case with the case of missing jackfruits is a stroke of genius, yes, when it comes to storytelling, but to bring it to fruition at the screenplay level in such a manner that it should circle and come back to the main point. The screenplay was not at all straightforward, sadly. It deviates, and how! This surely did not work in favor of the film. Kudos to them for presenting an original story and letting the writers blend in the politics of caste, power, and ground-level journalism. Yashowardhan Mishra and Ashok Mishra surely did a commendable job of bringing out the kind of balderdash cases that are being filed and which do little to pay heed to actual issues that people face on the ground level. The police and the political leaders are divorced from reality. The police only cater to the powerful, and the political leaders believe the police are assigned only to cater to their needs. The rest in between is not considered valid. This point comes across very well in the film because the actual cases of missing persons are not given any heed, while the entire time of the police force is wasted on looking out for two exotic jackfruits that can be easily replaced.
The characters Mahima and Saurabh are given wonderful arcs because their relationship goes through its ups and downs because of their work, but the two have a deeper understanding of what they mean to each other. Sanya Malhotra again projects what a wonderful actor she is and how seamlessly she gets into the skin of Mahima, who believes in doing the right thing and nothing else matters to her. Anant Joshi’s boyfriend, Saurabh, is wonderful, being the man who never acts insecure because of Mahima being his superior officer and does his job well to let Mahima know that he does take the police work seriously. The staple actors in every story based in the Hindi belt, which is Vijay Raaz and Raghubir Yadav, embody their roles perfectly even though they must have played out these parts plenty of times. It is such a joy to see them perform with such ease. Rajpal Yadav, as a journalist, is a surprise package. As Anuj, a small-time journalist, he lives and breathes the role of a journalist who is not sacred of questioning the status quo.
Overall, Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery is not a bad watch after all. It delivers what it was supposed to. A good story coupled with good performances made the film engaging until the end. And yes, we do get to know what happened to those exotic jackfruits.