Kathal Movie Review (2023)

Yashowardhan Mishra

Yashowardhan Mishra's 'Kathal', on Netflix, is a gently amusing detective story-cum-social commentary that involves missing jackfruits

Kathal Movie Review

Kathal Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Sikhya Entertainment,Balaji Motion Pictures
Music Director : Ram Sampath

Can you make comedy from "serious social issues” like caste discrimination and patriarchy? Vignesh Shivan proved that you could. In his delightful episode in the Tamil anthology Paava Kadhaigal, he mined black comedy from the serious social issue of honour-killing. The film’s absurd tone mirrored the absurdity of people who think nothing of murdering their children whose only "crime" was to marry someone from a lower caste. In Kathal, Yashowardhan Mishra takes a similar approach. This is not black comedy, exactly, but the absurdness of the events on screen perfectly fits the absurdity of, say, a senior cop at a press conference who cannot recall if the number of rapes committed by the accused is 17 or 70. "Let's just say there's some ambiguity," he declares. I laughed out loud. Sometimes, the best way to show a mirror to the incompetence and injustice around us is to let go of outrage and embrace your inner clown, like the truth-spewing vidushak from Sanskrit drama. That's what Kathal does.

Clowns abound in this story. A sycophant of the senior cop who cannot recall the number of rapes says, "Sir, aap gyaan ke saagar hain. Man karta hai roz dubki lagaayen." The man's tone and the idiocy of the line made me laugh again. Another clown is found in a politician who says he will consider an MLA's application for a minister's post based on whether the MLA can send him a load of jackfruit pickle. Not all jokes hit the mark, but if you catch the film's vibe, there's enough foolishness for a pleasant – if unremarkable – couple of hours. Plus, the cast really carries this through, especially Rajpal Yadav as an overeager reporter and Brijendra Kala as some sort of forensic scientist who gets a killer bit involving "ladies' sandals". I wished we'd had more scenes with him.

The story gets going when the aforementioned MLA (Vijay Raaz) finds that his two prize jackfruits have been stolen. Just the previous evening, they were hanging from their branches, and now they're gone. And they're not just any jackfruit but jackfruits of the internationally prized Uncle Hong variety. Sub-inspector Mahima (Sanya Malhotra) is assigned to the case, and the light-hearted mayhem begins. But there’s no missing the dark underside. Look carefully at the scrolling news ticker during a television programme and you'll see text about Dalit women being beaten up for worshipping a peepal tree. Look, also, at the scene where Mahima asks a gardener to sit down, and he crouches on the floor. She then asks him to sit on a chair. She knows a thing or two about his subservience, because she is "lower-caste", too. Her constable-boyfriend (Anantvijay Joshi) doesn't mind, but his father certainly does.

The screenplay brings in a host of issues: dowry, inter-caste marriage, slut-shaming, human trafficking, bribery among the police… And we slowly begin to see that the Uncle Hong jackfruits are merely an excuse to dig into and mock our society at large. There's an excellent stretch of writing where a female constable (a superb Neha Saraf) needs to use the bathroom. At first, she's told to hold it in. And the way this situation resolves itself makes you laugh as well as feel a twinge for people in this position. The big comic set piece at the end – it involves vegetables – does not work as well as it should. But there's plenty else to keep you grinning along the way, like the man who breaks his vow of silence. If the central "mystery" and the ensuing "detective work" recede to the background, it's intentional. Kathal is less about those jackfruits than the bunch of jackasses that we have to deal with daily. The film could have been better, but I'm not complaining too much.


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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.