Kathal is a proverbially difficult fruit to unmesh. The movie’s plot, staying true to its title, intelligently intertwines multiple themes through the character of inspector Mahima Basor, a marginalised-caste woman who is trying to prove her mettle in the semi-urban town of Moba where many social evils persist, be it caste, class or gender discrimination.
KATHAL: A Jackfruit Mystery is a light-hearted social satire bound to tickle your senses. This comedy is laced with subtle allusions to caste and gender-based discrimination, apart from throwing light on the ubiquity of power dynamics.
Sanya Malhotra’s finesse as the main protagonist and the script’s galloping sense of humour prevent the audience from flinching in their seats at the mention of these sensitive issues, making this film a good watch even as it compels the audience to re-envision their adherence to deep-seated prejudices on these issues.
The issue of caste and gender in social and political contexts is a recurring theme
Newly promoted and efficient inspector Mahima Basor (Sanya Malhotra) finds herself in quite a quagmire when she is assigned the case of finding two Malaysian-breed jackfruits (Uncle Hong variety) that have gone missing from the garden of Munnalal Pateria (Vijay Raaz), member of the legislative assembly (MLA) from the Moba district in Uttar Pradesh. Those jackfruits are needed to be pickled and sent to the chief minister to seal a political deal.
Director and co-writerYashowardhan Mishra tried to mirror the social structures in this story where inspector Basor, a marginalised-caste woman, leads a team of upper-caste individuals, all three— a havaldar (head constable) and two constables— are upper castes. Mishra further problematises it by showing the inspector in love with havaldar Sourabh Diwedi (Anant Joshi) and with that he adds the question of woman’s agency and her social standing to the mix of the film’s narratives.
The movie looks like locating its story around the intersection of caste, class, and gender.
The young male havaldar Dwivedi; the married female constable, Kunti Parihar (Neha Saraf); and the married male constable, Badri Prasad Mishra (Govind Pandey), are all quite busy forwarding their personal agendas as well.
For example, Dwivedi is busy in trying to make his father understand that Mahima is the right partner for him, although she is lower in the social order, but at a higher rank than him in office. In fact, he is so busy that when a poor gardener comes to him for help to file a report about his missing daughter, he tells him that she will come back on her own, exposing not just his caste and class privileges but also his carelessness towards his work, unlike Basor (who takes her work seriously).
Mishra, on the other hand, is busy searching for a missing car, which was going to be a part of the dowry for his daughter. Constable Kunti is busy with her household responsibilities, such as frying fritters for her lawyer husband’s friends, which means that she needs to go home with him even when she is in the middle of her work at the police station.
Director and co-writer Yashowardhan Mishra tried to mirror the social structures in this story where inspector Basor, a marginalised-caste woman, leads a team of upper-caste individuals. Mishra further problematises it by showing the inspector in love with havaldar Sourabh Diwedi (Anant Joshi) and with that he adds the question of woman’s agency and her social standing to the film’s narrative.
Although Basor is the one investigating the case, the MLA would not let her put her feet on his carpet (as she might pollute it, literally and metaphorically) and is quite dismissive of her questions while taking statements of the concerned people (MLA and his family) in the case.
The movie seeks to locate its story around the intersection of caste, class and gender but keeps caste and gender at the centre. Glimpses of the class angle can be caught in the characters of the MLA and his daughter, who is married to the son of a former MLA. The MLA and his daughter behave towards the former MLA and his son as people from upper class behave with lower classes, even though they belong to the same political class, arguably, and there is the husband–wife dynamic at play too. Clearly, class can flip patriarchy, the film seems to be saying.
Power dynamics and hierarchy at display
Further, the film sheds light on the power dynamics by showcasing how the police are under the thumb of the politicians. There are dialogues such as, “dekhein to hum Indian Penal Code follow karte hai, lekin kaam karna padta hai Indian Political Code ke adheen” (legally, we are bound to follow theIndian Penal Code (IPC), but in reality, we are controlled by the Indian Political Code). Mahima’s senior, the superintendent of police (SP), Angrez Singh Randhava (Gurpal Singh) tells her to pursue the case, even though she thinks it is not worthy of their attention. The police commit all their resources to locate the two missing jackfruits of the local MLA while neglecting other important and urgent matters concerning common citizens.
The notion of a woman earning more than a man still manages to raise eyebrows and has the ability to dictate their personal lives and is such a strong force that it acts as a barrier for them to tie the knot.
This movie has intricately interwoven the important issues that affect us, whether it is the reflection of the fourth pillar of democracy through the character of reporter Anuj (played by Rajpal Yadav) or through the corrupt and criminal politician Pateria.
The movie takes a dig at the political culture of our country where politicians incite violence on live TV and then do not take responsibility for the repercussions of their words, blatantly calling for the torching of a police station, but are not found guilty of inciting violence. It also depicts how grassroot or local reporters are still doing their jobs and taking the risk to speak truth to power (though Anuj has his own agenda as well, to be world-famous).
The police give all their resources to locate the two missing jackfruits of the local MLA while neglecting the other important and urgent matters of common people.
In a sub-plot of the film, the poor gardener Birwa’s daughter Amiya goes missing and when he wants to register a missing complaint at the police station, his pleas fall on deaf ears. Birwa used to work at the MLA’s place and is the prime suspect in the jackfruit theft case. Inspector Basor listens to him, files his complaint and as soon as she gets to know his name, puts him behind bars.
Later, she connects the dots and figures out that he is not the thief. In fact, he is the one who needs police’s urgent help to search for his daughter. But her superiors, the SP and deputy superintendent of police (DSP), tell her to call for a press conference and present the gardener as the culprit and close the case. She, being an upright officer, brings a twist to the tale and asks Birwa to tell people that his daughter is the jackfruit thief. Basor did this so that she and her team could solve this pressing case, which needed their utmost attention.
The plight of the poor and marginalised who are so vulnerable in front of this police-political nexus is highlighted through this sub-plot. How the victims (having no social standing) areput behind bars and the real culprits remain untouched.
Patriarchy highlighted with subtlety
Social dogma fuelled by patriarchy is subtly hinted at with the protagonist’s inability to marry her love interest since he is in a subordinate position to her and hence, earns less.
Although Basor is the one investigating the case, the MLA would not let her put her feet on his carpet (or she might pollute it, both literally and metaphorically) and is quite dismissive of her questions while taking statements of the concerned people (MLA and his family) in the case.
Inspector Mahima is in love with a constable, but societal pressure dawning upon the love interest’s family acts as a roadblock to their union. The lead pair settle for office romance until he is promoted, which is again an indicator of how the notion of a woman earning more than a man still manages to raise eyebrows and has the ability to dictate their personal lives and is such a strong force that it acts as a barrier for them to tie the knot.
The patriarchal understanding of women’s work is highlighted through the character of the female constable and her commitment towards her husband. Her depiction points to the phenomenon of ‘the double day’ many working women face. They have to work in their workspace and do household chores alone. The lady constable goes to the extent of stating that she has removed the word ‘promotion’ from her dictionary since promotion will lead to a transfer, and she can’t even fathom leaving her husband and her father-in-law to themselves. The ease with which the lady constable sacrifices her promotion is alarming. Women are expected to put their family and their needs before their careers.
Overall, this ‘Jackfruit Jeopardy’ leaves you with a smile and forces you to rethink the prevalence and normalcy of pertinent issues like caste and gender-based discrimination.
In the final hearing of the Kathal case, we find a lawyer resorting to the character assassination of Amiya to prove her guilty. He states that this girl wears torn jeans and consumes illegal gutka, proving that she is a woman of loose character and, hence, a culprit. This sheds light on how women are judged and declared unbecoming of a society because they adopt Western clothing .
Instances of caste and gender-based discrimination are sprinkled throughout the movie. But on a serious watch, it might look like a shallow attempt of the writers and the director where they failed to really give us sophisticated and deep engagement with the many social and political evils of our days. Or maybe, they tried to touch on so many issues at the same time that they were not able to do justice to all of them.
However, we still need to appreciate the content and aim of the director for making such an important attempt at a time when Bollywood is busy either copying or making senseless movies. Overall, this ‘Jackfruit Jeopardy’ leaves you with a smile and forces you to rethink the prevalence and normalcy of pertinent issues like caste and gender discrimination. This social satire is completely worth your time.