Kaagaz completely relies on Pankaj Tripathi's unassuming talent and sarcastic might to pull it off, notes Sukanya Verma.
True stories of ordinary lives taking an extraordinary turn are inspiring to witness.
Everybody loves to root for the underdog, but an accomplishment becomes of even greater significance when the objective is social in nature.
In the tradition of trailblazing village superstars of Manjhi -- The Mountain Man and Pad Man comes Pankaj Tripathi's Bharat Lal in Kagaaz -- a modest bandmaster determined to refute his death certificate.
Based on the real life experiences of Azamgarh district's Lal Bihari Mritak, who had to wait for a staggering 18 years until he was declared alive on paper again, Satish Kaushik's fictionalised account dabbles in legal identity and callous bureaucratic procedures.
Kaagaz, which opens with Producer Salman Khan reciting a random verse like 'Aasman mein ud rahi hai patang kaagaz ki. Saari duniya mein jung kaagaz ki fumbles to find a tone befitting its tragi-comic scenario.
So, of course, it's karva chauth on the day Bharat learns his waspish, unapologetic relatives have forged papers and declared him legally dead to usurp his share of the land. Evidently, it's a common practice in those parts, which eventually prompts him to become crusader and form an Akhil Bhartiya Mritak Sangh for all such fellow departed souls.
Before he generates a productive momentum for his cause, Bharat goes through various emotional stages of shock, denial, mockery, disenchantment and rebellion.
Kaagaz completely relies on Pankaj Tripathi's unassuming talent and sarcastic might to pull it off. And the actor is more than up to the task in conveying the bewilderment and exasperation of a man whose time-consuming efforts to get his life back take a toll on his mind and marital life (a mild-mannered Monal Gujjar).
Though Kaushik's stint behind the camera is strewn in mainstream masala, the actor-turned-film-maker reveals some comfort for social stories. Except by telling it too plainly, he robs Kaagaz of all its nuance, irony and the potential for evolving into a sharp satire.
Here's an everyman willing to do everything to grab eyeballs -- from kidnapping his nephew in the hope of getting arrested to contesting elections against Rajiv Gandhi from his constituency in Amethi.
Despite all the humiliation, ridicule, setbacks and failure he faces for nearly two decades, Bharat Lal continues to devise reckless, genius gimmicks like staging his own funeral to flinging fliers inside an ongoing assembly and finding himself in the media's eye.
Kaagaz never gets inside his intriguing spirit or ticking mind.
It acknowledges him as special but never explains why.
By merely tick marking the episodes, Kaushik fails to draw a realised picture of the crisis Bharat is going through.
One can say the exact same thing about its cursory criticism of the 'system ke Ravan'.
There's nothing new or witty about it calling out the bureaucratic circus wherein people suffer regularly over endless and needless documentation.
Kaushik's sneaky lawyer, Mita Vashisht's opportunistic politician and Brajesh Kala's sympathetic judge enhance the proceedings with their calibre, but don't add to the narrative.
Though it refreshingly avoids the use of Bollywood music to imply the period the story has progressed in, there are far too many songs of its own, including a mandatory item number interrupting the pace.
At a time when the country is erupting with protests over rights and recognition, Kaagaz's relevance cannot be undermined. Nor its dream for a society where the alive can live in peace and paper.
In the end, we do catch a glimpse of the triumphant hero -- the real Lal Bihari Mritak.
If only it was a complete picture.
Kaagaz streams on Zee5.