Cast: Satyajeet Dubey, Aditya Kumar, Aradhana Jagota, Karan Mahavar, Shivam Pradhan, Prashant Tiwari, Yashwant Singh
Director: Ashok Yadav
We, Bollywood lovers, seem to be caught in a trap of three types of films — films that try to dazzle with opulence of all kinds, films that strike convoluted poses so as to be credited as “hatke”, and films that may have been good ideas on paper but on screen seem like some Bollywood biggie retched up some undigested bilge. We get these three kinds of films with relentless regularity. So it’s really refreshing to watch films by unknown filmmakers which have that one thing mainstream Bollywood doesn’t — honesty. Films like Titli, Meeruthiya Gangsters, Masaan, Miss Lovely — rarities that are delightfully rejuvenating.
Director Ashok Yadav’s Kerry on Kutton is not in the league of Titli and Masaan, but it belongs to that group. The overwhelming feeling I had while watching it was of endearment. It’s a film that is honest about its people, the things they do and say because everything is linked to where they are from, their lives, their dreams. It’s the kind of film where the writers, director and actors have plugged into not just the characters, but also the circumstance they were born into, the place and, hence, their stories. This shines throughout Kerry on Kutton and it’s no mean feat.
Set in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghi Balia — Rebellious Balia — the film opens with one of the best making-out scenes I’ve seen in Hindi cinema. It’s hurried, awkward and disastrous. Written by Himanshu Onkar Tripathi and Ashok Yadav, the film tells the story of Kerry (Satyajeet Dubey), a boy who wants it real bad but just can’t get it. Though his Vijay (ya, it has a name), is always raring to go, it just can’t find a landing strip. Kerry has a father and a friend, Kadambari (Aditya Kumar) who, desperate not to join the ranks of uniformed bandwallas in his father’s shaadiwalla band, has an escape plan: Steal the puppy of a beautiful labrador that cutely plays in the verandah of Bade Babu’s high-walled haveli.
Then there’s Jyoti (Aradhana Jagota) who wants it all — from neend ki dawai to give to her family so that she can call her boyfriend over, to a mobile phone and a gold necklace. She’s what you’d call a patakha. She uses her looks and attitude to entice and once she’s got them, brazenly strikes hard deals. Give me this and I’ll let you do that.
Though a backstory tries to explain why this city girl is living in these parts, it’s not convincing. But it doesn’t matter because she’s cocky and has already connived another life for herself. And then there’s Suraj (Karan Mahawar), the class topper son of Masterji (Yashwant Singh). He is in love with Jyoti, but Masterji is tightfisted, and Jyoti’s affections transactional. Kerry’s father, who nurtures a grudge against his wife who left him, often questions Kerry’s parentage. And so, one day, Kerry leaves home and goes to Delhi, only to return on a phone call from Kadambari. There’s a wedding to party at and he needs Kerry’s help to steal the puppy he now calls Lakhan.
Though Jyoti and Suraj are an item, Kerry wheedles his way into Jyoti’s bedroom with a mobile phone, only to be handed another shopping list. Suraj is in a bad way. His father won’t even buy himself a spare kachcha, forget giving him his long-overdue pocket money. Jyoti, meanwhile, is getting closer to Kerry because he promises more. So, a pathetic war ensues. In the sidelines is Kadambari’s bizarre get-outta-Balia plan. As all convoluted plans to settle scores, to snatch a chance at having a life are being mulled upon listlessly, the film meanders into a strange dance bar run by the short, but haughty, Hippy Thakur (Shivam Pradhan), complete with strange Hong Kong music and lights. And then, suddenly, they are all executed without thinking. What began as idle dreams of the wretched, ends with the recklessness of the desperate.
Kerry on Kutton doesn’t really have a hero. It’s the story of non-entities on their rickety cycles, each carrying accessories that are oddities. But it frames these non-entities honestly, with an eye for quirky details and humour. Sometimes it’s just the background score that encases these small men in grand music as they set off to steal a puppy on their cycle screaming, “Jeetenge toh rum chalega, nahin toh katta-bomb chalega”. The film is flawed, not just in pacing, but also some characters. But nothing that damages it in any serious way.
The film, which carries a whiff of Gangs of Wasseypur 2, not least because of Perpendicular — Aditya Kumar — has characters who stick out as filmy. Jyoti for sure, but also Kerry’s pig farmer father who looks like an extra some Spaghetti Western spat out. Yet, here’s the thing about them. Like the swimming goggles Kadambari wears or the strange hairdo of Kerry, these people and their oddities are not just baubles meant to tickle or amuse. They are part of the absurdity of the place and its people. Each one tells a story about living in Balia physically, but in their heads some place else.
Kerry on Kutton carries in its sounds, sights and similes a strong stench of Baghi Balia, a dusty patch of UP badland that’s not just nostalgic about the reputation it once had, but can also be delusional. We see a proper kancha (marbles) game, and smile on hearing, “Touchiya gaye kya?” The flavour, cheeky scenes, crackling dialogue, shitting in the open, all carry the unmistakeable stench of the dehat. Apart from confident writing and Yadav’s astute direction, it’s the uninhabited acting by Satyajeet Dubey, Aditya Kumar and Aradhana Jagota that really make the film crackle. It’s almost as if these three were born and still dwell there and if we were to visit Balia, we’d probably pass them by....