Apart from being namesakes and having exceptional acting talents, another thing that is common between Pankaj Tripathi and Pankaj Kapur is that both of them played the role of a living dead. Well, both the legendary actors played a character who was declared dead on papers and fought corrupt government officials in their respective films. Pankaj Tripathi as Bharat Lal in Satish Kaushik’s latest Zee5 film Kaagaz is the victim of his conniving aunt and her family who got him declared dead to usurp the property that was legally his. On the other hand, Pankaj Kapur in Rajiv Mehra’s Chala Mussaddi Office Office is a retired government teacher who stops getting his pension when he returns from a three-month-long pilgrimage undertaken to immerse his wife’s ashes in the Ganges. The government officials tell him that he is dead.
Kaagaz is the story of Bharat Lal, who rechristens himself as Bharat Lal Mritak (dead) in a sarcastic response to the government officials who declared him dead on papers. Kaushik is not only the director of the film but has also written and acted in it. The film is inspired from the real-life story of Lal Bihari Mritak, a resident of Azamgarh, UP, who was declared dead by his greedy relatives for his property. Set in between the late 70s and early 90s, Kaagaz follows the struggles of an innocent bandmaster Bharat Lal who goes to mortgage his ancestral property to expand his business, only to find out that he is dead on papers. And here begins Bharat’s decade-long, gruelling fight against a corrupt system, bureaucracy and his own family.
While the plot of Kaagaz promises a heartwarming film with myriads of opportunities to generate genuine laughter while conveying an important message, it falls short due to loose writing and weak performances by all the actors, except Pankaj Tripathi. In most of the scenes, it is quite evident that Tripathi fails at lifting the mood despite his exceptional performance. The film is filled with cliches, and has all elements that we come across in typical Bollywood film set in the 80s: the conniving aunt causes a family feud, The item girl dances with patriarchal men for no reason, the government official blatantly demands bribe and the bad guys swirl their ‘moochh’. The needless commentary by Satish Kaushik through every scene, explaining even a fairly simple plot, gets irritating and seems insulting to the audiences’ intellect. There are some light moments that generate good laughs but it also has many not so funny moments that were marred by buffalo grunts, intended to add a comic touch.
In today’s time, when a lot of noise has already been made in the name of kaagaz (remember hum kaagaz nahi dikhaenge?), Satish Kaushik’s Kaagaz could have been an interesting film. But weak direction and poor writing sink the ship.
Who can forget the ever worrying Mussaddi Lal who is harassed by government officials? Mussaddi Lal transcends from TV show Office Office to a full-fledged feature film in Chala Mussaddi Office Office (2011). But we were in for a disappointment. While the 2001 sitcom was extremely entertaining and was brought back to the television as Naya Office Office, Chala Mussaddi Office Office just proved to be a failed film adaptation of a classic TV show.
The cast of the TV show was retained for the big screen. Manoj Pahwa, Deven Bhojani, Sanjay Mishra, Asawari Joshi and Hemant Pandey are seen as their usual multiple characters, surfacing in the guises of different corrupt government officials but with their own defining mannerisms and pet phrases intact. Pankaj Kapur as Mussaddi Lal Tripathy, a retired 62-year-old headmaster of a government school, returns home from a pilgrimage and goes to his bank to withdraw his pension only to learn that no money has been deposited in his account for three months. Reason? Well, dead people don’t receive a pension. And here begins his journey from office to office to prove himself living.
Chala Mussaddi Office Office is slow and repetitive and is nothing that we had not seen before. While the performances by the acclaimed actors cannot be questioned, archaic writing and boring background should be blamed for this disappointment. While watching the film it appeared as if a stale dish was served in a new platter.
Pankaj Tripathi’s Kaagaz and Pankaj Kapur’s Chala Mussaddi Office Office are set in two different worlds. The former has a rural setting and narrates an emotional journey of an illiterate bandmaster to get his life back on paper. In the latter, a well-educated teacher’s struggles are depicted in a satirical and comical way. The milieu, problems and ways to tackle them for both Bharat Lal and Mussaddi Lal are different in their own respective worlds. And there should not be any comparison between the two, but then the main plot, that of a living man dead on papers, is the same. Both the films failed at making use of a brilliant plot because of poor writing despite having terrific actors carrying them on their strong shoulders.