A young police inspector in a small town navigates challenges in her professional and personal life in the comedy Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery. Writer-director Yashowardhan Mishra gets a lot right in his feature debut, even though the story loses focus as it goes on.
Sanya Malhotra plays Mahima Basor, a police inspector in the small town of Moba. She’s achieved a lot in her short career and her superiors are pleased with her work, but some of the male constables who work under her quietly resent taking orders from a woman.
Further complicating matters is that one of those constables is her boyfriend, Saurabh Dwivedi (Anant Joshi). He supports Mahima’s career success, but his dad refuses to let them marry until Saurabh is promoted to inspector, too.
Fresh off Mahima’s arrest of a notorious gangster, she is assigned an even more important case — find the thief who stole two jackfruits off the tree in politician Munnalal Pateria’s (Vijay Raaz) garden. These aren’t just any jackfruits. They’re a special Uncle Hong variety that pickles exceptionally well.
Everyone except Pateria realizes what a ridiculous misuse of police resources this endeavor is. It’s funny to watch Mahima roll her eyes in the background as the investigation stirs up lingering resentments between Pateria and his son-in-law, which gets everyone else in the family involved.
This is when the story is at its best — as an interpersonal comedy that happens at an intimate scale, in a town small enough where everyone knows each other’s business. For example, no detail of the theft is too small for enthusiastic local reporter Anuj (Rajpal Yadav), who has little other news to cover.
Kathal loses its way when it expands the story beyond Moba’s borders into other villages, and the investigation uncovers more serious crimes. Pateria’s family recedes in importance, which is a shame because the characters and their influence over the town make the movie a lot of fun.
The plot gets diluted as the scope broadens. While the crime at the heart of the jackfruit case is trivial, what it reveals about power and police accountability is not. Same goes for the conflict that arises within Mahima’s relationship with Saurabh.
The introduction of weightier material doesn’t make Kathal any more important of a film. It was important already. Kathal is very close to being a very good movie. But the escalation in its latter stages overextends the runtime and distracts from the characters and a location that made up such an enjoyable, well-defined world.
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