Monday, 30th October 2017

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This human interest documentary chronicling the power play about power is a real live wire

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  • Published 24.08.14

Katiyabaaz (U/A)
Directors: Deepti Kakkar, Fahad Mustafa
Running time: 84 minutes

The latest documentary to have got lucky in the Indian distribution and exhibition sector’s sudden excitement about the non-fiction format is Katiyabaaz. Made by Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, the film premiered at the Mumbai Film Festival last year and needed the backing of Vikramaditya Lootera Motwane to attract theatrical interest.

The title is misleading. Because the katiyabaaz in the film, Loha Singh, is just a device to chronicle the plight of the people of Kanpur who face up to 16 hours of power failure every day. It does romanticise the passion and purity with which Loha goes about his job of stealing electricity for a petty fee in street after street, but the bigger picture is a human interest documentary connecting the links between the government, the politicians and the consumers in an insane power play.

The film records the one year the principled and pragmatic Ritu Maheshwari was managing director of Kanpur Electricity Supply Corporation (KESCO) between early 2011 and early 2012. With the corporation facing a Rs 2,000 crore default from the 27-lakh population of Kanpur, she tried to revolutionise things by sending her teams out to bring the defaulters to book and to raid homes powered by stolen electricity.

Maheshwari’s tactics seemed to work for a while before the aggrieved consumers sought political help and one nasty exchange followed another. A particular politician played the people’s card and won the elections and this resulted in Maheshwari’s transfer to Pilibhit. Nothing, of course, improved Kanpur’s power woes.

What stops Katiyabaaz from being a depressing documentation of a city’s daily fight with electricity, is the surfacing of Loha Singh every now and then. Once up on the pole with the hundreds of wires criss-crossing in front of him, he is almost like a magician, biting off random wires and joining them with others with effortless ease. He proudly says he has a talent — he is the world’s most ferocious katiyabaaz!

For many, Loha is like Robin Hood whose stolen electricity helps small businesses run in a city once called the Manchester of the East. He is deliciously, unabashedly shameless about his job and makes all the stealing sound like his birthright. Despite setting it up, Katiyabaaz never pitches Loha face-to-face against the police or any law enforcer. But when quizzed about how he would handle them if caught, he says he will wrap them with live wires and burst them like crackers!

The best moments of the film are when we get a sneak peek into the lives Maheshwari and Loha lead at home, their interactions with their families. When unscripted scenes move you so much more than the manipulative emotional tug-of-war in fictional films, you hope that more such documentaries are made and released here like in most other film-making countries in the world.

And why do you have to impose an interval to sell your popcorn during those 84 minutes? Not only does the Mary Kom trailer suddenly look horribly fake and the LED bulb advertisement sheer irony, those 10 minutes completely break the momentum and then you wait for the power to come back.