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‘Kaagaz’ marks Satish Kaushik’s emphatic return to direction

Murtaza Ali Khan

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Films based on real events have tremendously grown in popularity in recent years as far as Bollywood is concerned. Amongst these, the most popular ones, of course, are the biographical films, also known as biopics. Now, the sudden increase in the number of biopics has surprised one and all. It’s not that such films weren’t made earlier but today they are being made at an unprecedented rate. Now, while it is difficult to single out one particular biopic that started this trend, it is impossible to overlook three films whose success undoubtedly helped usher in this trend: The Dirty Picture (2011), Paan Singh Tomar (2012), and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013). 

 Now, the overwhelming success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, in particular, started the trend of a specific kind of biographical films called sports biopics. Other than sportspersons, traditionally, biopics were mostly made about famous leaders, celebrities, and dreaded gangsters among others. But these days there are no such restrictions and as a result of which the horizons are widening. The latest Satish Kaushik directorial Kaagaz, made for ZEE5, is perhaps the best example of this. Kaagaz is based on life and struggle of Lal Bihari Mritak, a farmer from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, who was declared dead on official papers by his opportunistic uncle who wanted to usurp his property.  

 Kaagaz is essentially presented by Kaushik as a satirical commentary on the flawed system of land resources in India and the disasters associated with it. Lal Bihari, who was officially declared dead between 1975 and 1994, had to fight with the Indian bureaucracy for 19 years to prove that he’s alive. During his long struggle, he became the leader of many other people who suffered a similar fate at the hands of the corrupt and incompetent system. To fight for the cause, he added ‘Mritak’ (which translates to deceased in English) to his name and founded Mritak Sangh, an association of dead people, to highlight other cases like his. In a bid to prove that he is alive he even contested in the 1989 elections from Amethi against Rajiv Gandhi—the 6th Prime Minister of India. 

 Finally, in 1994, Mritak succeeded in getting his official death annulled after a long legal struggle. Interestingly, Kaushik acquired the rights to Lal Bihari Mritak’s story back in 2003. But just like Mritak had to wait for almost two decades to get justice, Kaushik too had to wait for nearly two decades to release the film. Kaagaz is produced under the banner of Salman Khan Films and Satish Kaushik Entertainment Production. The film begins and ends with Kagaaz Poetry, recited by Salman Khan, which beautifully explains the hidebound nature of the Indian bureaucracy. 

 Over the last few years, Kaushik has been working with the Haryana state government to regulate the existing policies to attract more film producers to the state. With the endeavour to develop the local film industry in his home state of Haryana on the lines of Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Bangla, and Marathi industries, Kaushik produced a Haryanvi film Chhoriyan Chhoron Se Kam Nahi Hoti  back in 2019. The film revolved around a Haryanvi girl who must fight the deep-seated patriarchy to become an IPS officer. Now, Kaagaz marks Kaushik’s return to direction after a hiatus of over six years. And it’s nothing less than an emphatic return to form for the veteran filmmaker who is known for making films such as Prem (1995), Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain (1999), Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai (2000), Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai (2001), Badhaai Ho Badhaai (2002), and Tere Naam (2003). 

 As a matter of fact, it is Kaushik’s taut direction that elevates Kaagaz above its source material. A veteran of over a 100 films, Kaushik, more than anyone else in the Hindi film industry, understands the importance of telling a compelling story. And being a seasoned actor he also understands the actors’ sensibilities really well. It shows in each and every frame of Kaagaz. During the last couple of years or so we have hardly seen anything refreshing from Pankaj Tripathi. Fortunately, Kaagaz comes to his rescue at just the right time. And with a veteran like Kaushik at the helm, Tripathi succeeds in delivering his best work since Newton (2017). Essaying the part of Lal Bihari Mritak, Tripathi goes through an entire gamut of emotions. One hopes that Tripathi stays away from run-of-the-mill projects that fail to do any justice to his prodigious acting talents.

 To Kaushik’s credit, he also succeeds in eliciting top-notch performances from his other actors which include the likes of Monal Gajjar, Mita Vashisht, and Amar Upadhyay. Also, Kaushik plays a very interesting part in the film — that of the lawyer who guides Mritak during his long legal battle. Kaagaz is a poignant film that tugs at our heartstrings. Kaushik reminds us what he is truly capable of achieving as a cinematic storyteller. Perhaps, he is finally ready for Tere Naam 2.

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