Directed by Satish Kaushik
Kaagaz tells a very peculiar and poignant story of a man from Uttar Pradesh who spent 18 years of his life proving that he was alive. Unfortunately a bigger tragedy than the one that befalls Lal Bihari strikes this well-intended film on his life.
Kaagaz is peculiar but not the least poignant. Director Satish Kaushik with all his experience in theatre and cinema, fails to invoke any real sympathy in us for Lal Bihari who for all practical purposes, is dead on governmental paper. If we feel no real sympathy for Lal Bihari it isn’t our fault. Kaushik starts off the story as one of monstrous bureaucratic bungling and then takes the tragedy into the dangerous territory of farce with Lal Bihari making evey effort to get arrested so that the ensuing FIR would prove he’s alive.
All of this is done in one hurried sweep that allows us to stay with no particular emotion for the protagonist. Seasoned actor that he is, Pankaj struggles to furnish the character’s weird predicament with a semblance of consistency. He succeeds partially. And if Kaagaz is watchable in parts, it is only because of Tripathi who seems to believe in his character’s bizarre struggle, even if we don’t.
I have always believed Satish Kaushik to be a better actor than a director. In Kaagaz he plays a shift jugadu lawyer (something like what Pankaj Tripathi plays in Criminal Justice) who initially cons Lal Bihari into trusting the legal system (which fails Lal Bihari at every step) and then becomes one with the poor man’s struggle.
The rest of the cast is unusually listless. M Monal Gujjar who plays an important part as Bihari Lal’s wife is way too groomed and prim to look convincing as a rustic spouse. The ever-dependable Mita Vashist this once struggles to get a grip on her sketchy role as a wily politician. And if you look really hard you will see Amar Upadhyay hiding under a beard a scowl that have seen better days. Just like the actor.
The narrative suffers from a strange death wish. By the time Lal Bihari proves he is alive our interest in his story is dead.