This Satish Kaushik directed film must have sounded great on Kaagaz (paper), but falls somewhat flat at the execution level. The film begins with a good tempo, but is unable to hold on to the pace after the initial burst of energy.
Pankaj Tripathi plays a modest, bandmaster in a village in Uttar Pradesh. He is content with his tiny shop and his small family, till a well-wisher goads him to get a loan to expand his business. When he decides to get the ownership papers of his land in ancestral village as mortgage for the loan, he realises his wily extended family has declared him dead to usurp the land. Bharat Lal struggles to prove himself alive, sometimes taking extreme measures, while the whole village makes fun of him. Bharat still wants to be declared “alive” and he’s helped by a lawyer (played by Kaushik himself) and to some extent, a politician (Meets Vashisht). Kaushik sets his film from late 70s to well into 90s as he narrates Bharat’s ordeal.
The film is based on a rather interesting true story of a farmer in UP, Lal Bihari Mritak, who had to fight the system for almost two decades merely to prove that he’s alive. Lal Bihari had not only managed to prove himself alive, but he also started an organisation to fight for justice for the people who suffered similar fate. This is a subject that comes with ample opportunity for black humour, but unfortunately Kaushik’s execution lacks imagination and relies a tad too heavily on his central character’s shoulders.
What Kaushik needed to realise is that even though the film is set in the 70s, it is the 2021 audience watching it. So treating the film as if being made in the 70s (complete with a pointless item number) will only make it look outdated and old fashioned.
We know that playing a character like this comes easy for Pankaj Tripathi. However, even this otherwise effortless actor seems to be trying too hard to fit in the set up, mostly thanks to uninspiring writing. Tripathi is rather overexposed on the digital arena, but he’s still a treat to watch. Satish Kaushik gives an easy performance, too. Monal Gajar, who plays Bharatlal’s wife, Rukmini, is easy on the eye and gives good support.
While Kaushik’s attempt to put the point across that most underprivileged people are treated as mere numbers by the politicians, and the government apathy for which it doesn’t really matter if a poor man is “dead or alive” on paper or otherwise until it is election time. However, the film could have been effective if there was more thought put into writing and the execution.
(The reviewer is Director — Quest Films/Quest Digital)
Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Monal Gajjar, Amar Upadhyay, Satish Kaushik
Director: Satish Kaushik
Stars: Two and half