Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery (2023) Review: Too inconsistent in wits to be a social satire, too maudlin to be a serious procedural

Kathal A Jackfruit Mystery (2023) Movie Review

Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery (2023) Review: Social satire is supposed to be a form of witty criticism aimed at societal flaws. While it’s not written in stone that a witty delivery is supposed to be subtle or nuanced, it needs to be pointed. For a social satire to completely not tip over into preachy social commentary or become a complete farce due to its overtly maudlin and kooky sensibilities, it needs to have a tight-wire balancing act. Needless to say, if this rambling preamble was any indication, Kathal strays far off this mark.

The trouble begins within the first twenty minutes of the film itself, where the Superintendent of Police reads out the charges of a criminal who had been captured by SP Mahima Basor (Sanya Malhotra), and he fumbles the numbers of the women who had been robbed or raped. That was supposed to be a bit funny, but it was so poorly constructed with sound cues that it almost amplified the tone-deafness of what was supposed to be a joke.

But then the movie progresses, and the premise of the film presents itself: that of the entire police force searching for exotic jackfruits grown in the gardens of the manors of the local MLA. And it seems to be fertile ground for social satire because the premise is ridiculous enough that it does seem plausible, especially in a country where the system is designed to ensure that the whims of the politicians get more focus than actual pressing social issues. It helps that Vijay Raaz, as the erstwhile MLA, is just hilarious in his deadpan and yet angry delivery, while Rajpal Yadav gets to play a role that knows how to balance his comedic gear so that it doesn’t become too loud and take over the narrative of the film.

The issue plaguing this film is a sense of identity because it doesn’t know whether it should deliver its message via the subtle shielding of humor and wit evident in a social satire or whether it should be completely straight with its messaging and play it entirely straight. It is also trying hard to be a maudlin, slice-of-life tale in its depiction of the romance between Sanya Malhotra’s SP and Anant V Joshi’s constable. Still, his family is uninterested in this relationship because of Mahima’s higher standing in the hierarchy.

That is not to mention Mahima’s character belonging to a backward caste, which her junior officers waste no time pointing out behind her back, or moments where one constable shows his daughter’s photo to Mahima’s beau and falls on his feet, asking him to marry her. There is almost a sense of tonal whiplash because the satire feels blunted. The maudlin and meandering nature of the narrative feels trivial. When the actual Kathal case becomes a knottier affair, the seriousness of the case is at odds with the quirky sensibility the movie is wanting to portray. In short, Kathal is a mess. It might be emblematic of the almost polar opposite nature of the texture of jackfruit relative to its taste. Still, the movie feels too haphazard to even be capable of making this connection.

Kathal A Jackfruit Mystery (2023) Review
Vijay Raaz in Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery (2023)

The cardinal problem at the end of the day is that this movie’s humor is almost agonizingly inconsistent. The initial instances of the Kathal case and the family dynamics of the MLA lead to some rib-tickling moments, but as the movie progresses, those moments reduce from rib-tickling to barely wry chuckling. It’s a shame because the movie does have some genuinely unique and funny moments.

For one, the majority of the cast is fully on their A-game, leading with a sense of authenticity even as the world around them shudders to break down under the weight of its quirkiness. The music by Ram Sampath is also catchy, with the lyrics genuinely eliciting more laughs than the screenplay does at times. Veterans like Vijay Raaz and Rajpal Yadav are solid in their roles. As the lead, Sanya Malhotra’s likeability and inherent sweetness shine through much better than the tough, no-nonsense inspector she was briefed to be.

Moments where the movie tries to be a drama or a serious procedural, with the characters using techniques to solve a far more dire investigation, lead to a conventional resolution, yes, but at the end of the day, the pointed nature of the social satire completely gets lost in the shuffle. The final confrontation between Mahima, her squad, and the goons feels so farcical that you would be forgiven if you thought you were watching a Priyadarshan comedy.

In theory, that sounds great. In a movie that is already confused about the tone it should take, Raghubir Yadav’s character falling from the balcony and breaking his fall on the top of the pink Nano feels like such a farcical resolution that you laugh almost unintentionally at the hilarity. It’s not because you are surprised or because the resolution is cathartic or smart. It’s just hilariously dumb for the minuscule moments that the action occurs before the movie progresses in a flat line again.

Moments like this drown out the actual satirical moments that are present in the movie, which are few and far between. But when those happened, I cheered and then almost immediately felt depressed. Nothing is sadder than a movie not performing to its full potential, but mediocrity is the baseline, so at this point, this, too, counts.

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Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery (2023) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery (2023) Cast: Sanya Malhotra, Anant Joshi, Vijay Raaz
Where to watch Kathal: A Jackfruit Mystery
Amartya Acharya

A cinephile who is slowly and steadily exploring the horizons of the literature of films and pop culture. Loves reading books and comics. He loves listening to podcasts while obsessing about the continuity in comics.