Katiyabaaz, a 84-minute documentary fiction film, released in theaters this past Friday, thanks to Phantom Films which backed it religiously. While I have been itching to watch it all weekend, people around me were not even aware that such a film came out. And we claim to be cinephiles. A ‘katiya’ is a cut or a hook manually made on electricity transmission wires to steal electricity from the running lines and a ‘katiyabaaz’ is the artist who executes this for his customers. The film is set in my hometown, Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and it would be a shame if I did not get around writing about the film.
Loha Singh, a spindly, short-heighted man, is the superstar of the interiors of Kanpur, as he goes around setting up ‘Katiyas’ for everyone on demand. On the other end of the spectrum is Ritu Maheshwari, the first female chief of Kanpur Electricity Supply Company in 2011, who is determined to clean up the streets of electricity theft and non-payment. We also have the obligatory interference from a corrupt politician, Irfan Solanki. Director duo, Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, keep the proceedings very real and avoid falling prey to much fiction. However, a couple of scenes do look staged but they dont hurt the heart behind the film. Katiyabaaz draws a delicious picture of Kanpur and its tryst with the issue of power crisis, where cuts could last up to 15-16 due to load shedding, in peak usage times like summers.
While Maheshwari tries to correct an abysmally messed up system, Loha Singh goes about unabashedly stealing electricity, riding high on his popularity in the area. Now, documentaries do need a lot of research before shooting, but what works for Katiyabaaz is that both Kakkar and Mustafa are not only able to document the truth, but also a distinctive flavor of the city, along with the multiple layers to its socio-political scenario. I have been born and brought up in Kanpur for 18 years of my life, and I was pleasantly stunned to discover the city through the eyes of someone else. Not even for a moment do they try to paint a slumdog picture of the city, instead they focus on the apathy caused by power crisis and how it is annihilating the industrial progress of one of India’s biggest cities. Politics is as bad as it gets across our whole country and what happens in Katiyabaaz is just a microcosm reflecting a national picture. Loha and Maheshwari never meet, but their opinions of each other speak volumes and still the directors manage to evoke empathy for both. For a city with a burgeoning population of about 3 million, there seems to be no solution to this crisis in the near future. Kakkar and Mustafa choose to leave us with a few brilliantly poised reality check moments – Maheshwari talking to the makers before she leaves the city, Solanki winning the elections and Loha Singh getting drunk at a local bar as he fights for his self-respect. Disturbing, but constantly engaging and laced with laughter, that is Katiyabaaz for you.
Katiyabaaz received the National Film Award for Best Investigative Film in 2013. Not just that, it has won many accolades around the world at Berlin, Tribeca Film Festivals. Before Phantom got on board, it was Globalistan Films and ITVS that backed the project. Fahad Mustafa, Amith Surendran and Maria Trieb’s camerawork is non-intrusive and non-touristy which works very well with the feel of the film. Maria has also edited the film along with Namrata Rao. Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram and Amit Kilam have scored a couple of songs which are more flavorful than the whole album of many other films. The makers have used the title song, ‘Kanpoora’ effectively all through the film.
Both Loha Singh and Ritu Maheshwari come out very easy in front of the camera and say out things naturally which works excellently for a film of this nature. It is hard to categorize them as performances but their constant banter make the film far more engaging than just a documented array of facts. On the whole, Katiyabaaz is an intellgently made film, that brings to fore a raging problem in India’s second line cities and one must watch it just for that!
Rating – 3.5/5