Mr. Kabaadi review: A crappy, scrappy satire that’s not a fitting tribute to Om Puri

Release Date: 08 Sep 2017 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 03min

Cinestaan Rating

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Mayur Lookhar

Seema Kapoor’s satirical comedy on the class and caste divide stinks of a junk story and screenplay.

Money can't buy class. It’s not classy either to run down a person who boasts of a rags-to-riches story. In the context of Mr. Kabaadi, this would be a scrap-to-riches story narrated by Satish Kaushik.

Kallu Kabaadi (Annu Kapoor) is a jovial scrap dealer from Lucknow. Long past his youth, Kallu finds his love in ragpicker Chando (Sarika). The couple has no qualms of their laboured jobs, and are leading a happy life with their two kids – Chaman and Meethi. Their life takes a dramatic turn for the good after Kallu’s grandfather leaves behind his vast property to his grandson. Kallu sells off all the land, making a killing. He then builds his dream house in a posh Lucknow locale.

Poor Chaman (Rajveer Singh) cannot progress beyond fifth grade, but makes a career out of building public toilets. Kallu has wealth, but not the respect of the elite who treat him like an untouchable. The family's laboured past makes it difficult for Kallu to find a suitable bride and groom for his son and daughter, respectively.

The siblings eventually find love with Meethi dating a Manipuri boy, son of a government employee, while Chaman loses his heart to Shelly (Kashish Vora), daughter of garment dealer Arora (Bijendra Kala) who has a certain disdain for scrap dealers. So, we have Kallu yearning for respect, while his children seek marital bliss.

Seema Kapoor, wife of late Om Puri, has aimed to highlight the caste and class divide through this satire. However, Mr. Kabaadi turns out to be a crappy satire. Much of the blame lies at Seema's doorstep. Though, she has fine actors in the form of her late husband and brother Annu, Seema fails for her flimsy story, shoddy screenplay and stinky toilet humour.

With story, screenplay, dialogues and direction, Seema bites off more than she can chew as her inexperience, inefficieny reflects badly on the screen. While this has been the season of toilet humour, Akshay Kumar’s Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) didn’t stink like Mr. Kabaadi does.

Repetition of the word tatti (shit) is no crime, but it needn’t be accompanied by nauseating sound effects each time. The poor puns on prime minister Narendra Modi and his noble initiatives may be amusing on social media, but they come out poorly in the film. The worst of the lot is the stereotyping of Northeast Indians, often teased as Chini (Chinese).

The screenplay left the actors suffering from verbal diarrhoea. Kallu Kabaadi, though, is an exception here as Annu is the ray of sanity in the insane family drama. With a measured performance, Annu reiterates why he’s one of the finest character artistes in the country. He leaves you stunned and seething with anger with his subdued emotional outbursts. The racist taunts tear Kallu apart and Annu is impeccable in scenes where a teary Kabaadi bares his heart.

Seasoned actress Sarika neither has the body, nor the soul to play the ragpicker Chando. First-timer Singh does show promise but he is also weighed down by the poor plot.  

It’s Vinay Pathak, though, who steals the show as Bhuria, Chando’s brother. Despite having some gross dialogues, Pathak still evokes laughter. From his hairdo to kohl-rimmed eyes, dialect to body language, Pathak is simply flawless. It’s a shame that a naturally gifted artiste like Pathak remains an underrated and underutilised talent in Hindi cinema.

While Pathak and Annu come out unscathed, the problem with the Kabaadis, and other obsolete characters is that they neither have the skin nor the soul to play such rustic characters. The scrap dealer community would struggle to relate to most of these characters.

The film has it flaws, but it also boasts of some hilarious scenes. The one involving a board meeting between Kallu and his family to decide whether Chaman should discontinue with his public toilet business is an absolute rib tickler. The second half is filled with many such moments that save Mr. Kabaadi from failing entirely.

Finally, for a film that is now being dedicated to the late Puri, you wonder whether the actor was really an integral part of the plot. With his hair and moustache dyed red, Channu Khan Surmey Wale (Puri) is a desi perfume vendor and Kallu's best friend. His presence is limited to a few early scenes with Kallu and sharing tasteless jokes with the scrap dealers.

Too much of screen time is wasted on the younger cast, leaving you craving more of Annu and Puri. The final sequence is almost prophetic in nature. However, this sequence was perhaps just an afterthought, one that was cut at the edit table after the great man left for his heavenly abode.

Wonder what would Puri make of this junk called Mr. Kabaadi?