We, Bollywood viewers, 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 often doesn’t — honesty. Films like Titli, Meeruthiya Gangsters, Masaan, Miss Lovely — delightfully rejuvenating rarities.
Director Ashok Yadav’s Kerry on Kutton is not in the league of Titli and Masaan, but it belongs to that group.
It’s 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. And that’s no mean feat.
The overwhelming feeling I had while watching it was of endearment.
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, determined not to join the ranks of uniformed bandwallas in his father’s shaadiwalla band, has an escape plan: Steal a labrador puppy that cutely plays in the verandah of Bade Babu’s high-walled haveli and then sell it.
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, 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. Even her repeated announcements that she’s been out crapping sound like crass put-ons. But it doesn’t matter because she’s cocky, sexy and we are intrigued by how she’s conniving 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 soon wheedles his way into Jyoti’s bedroom with a mobile phone, only to be handed another shopping list.
Suraj is in a bad way. Masterji won’t even buy himself a spare kachcha, forget giving Suraj 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, all plans are 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 bearing accessories that are telling oddities. But it frames these non-entities honestly, and with an eye for quirky details and humour.
Sometimes it’s just the grand background score that encases these small men as they set off to steal a puppy on their cycle screaming, “Jeetenge toh rum chalega, nahin toh katta-bomb chalega”.
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 film is flawed, not just in pacing, but also some characters. But nothing so serious as to dent the fun.
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 Kerry’s strange hairdo, 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 the story of these people living in Balia physically, but in their heads some place else.
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 Satyajeet Dubey and Aditya Kumar were born and still dwell there and if we were to visit Balia, we’d probably pass them by.