Katiyabaaz: Film Review – A not-so-shocking but honest story about real people

Documentaries are tough to judge. Do you feel for a subject that has been in the public eye? Or do you get attached to an obscure topic? What are the factors which make a documentary a hit? Does a documentary need to be a hit? I think that a documentary does its best when it reaches out to you and leaves an indelible mark upon you. That is what we get from Katiyabaaz. A decently thought of film which gets its point across with a human touch, not hammered in. You are left with thoughts about the people depicted in the film. The stories aren’t made up here, they are real and with that reality, these stories resonate. Katiyabaaz makes you think about the people who very existence depends on the “katiya” and the theft of electricity. This is a stark reminder that we are still struggling to survive. 

We get transported to Kanpur. A city filled with history and wonder. But as the documentary lets on, it suffers the blight of electricity shortage. You might be reading this while sitting safely ensconced in a vehicle or in the comfort of your own room or in the comfort of the office. Where electricity powers your appliances. Odd huh? But we digress. Now, the city of Kanpur has got around the problem of electricity shortage by the use of `katiyas’. Before you reach for your highlight and google search, let me tell you what is a katiya. It is a piece of wire which has been cut and shaped in such an ingenious fashion that it makes stealing of electricity possible. Remember when we were kids and we saw a mess of wires up a pole which looked like the knitting of a monkey on speed? That is the state of Kanpur. So katiyas light up the world and the lord of the katiya is called Katiyabaaz. He goes by the name of Loha Singh. An interesting gentleman who puts his life literally on the line as he scales up poles and makes magic happen. The story could have gone from there and just kept on going. But we are taken to the other side. The side of the electricity company. Here we are shown that this ‘katiyabaazi’ is a threat to the company. The high-ups decide to tackle this problem by going after the defaulters and the thieves. What follows is the inevitable. Of Goliath and David, where David is in fact the little guys. The nameless, faceless people whose lives are eked out in hours. All of this surrounds “bhijlee”. The documentary takes us through it all. You are shown the city in stark relief. And the story goes on.

The movie was shot wonderfully. You get to see the very nature of light. This isn’t an attempt at making a nostalgic movie. Nor does the movie play on your sentiments. What it does, is make you think. We are shown the importance of light and power. We get to see how the world operates where the voices of the poor clamor for a basic human need. The film isn’t a tear-jerker, nor is it a satire. What you see is what they saw. The directors, Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, do not preach but show us a point of view that we have long turned a blind eye to.

Why should you watch this film?
It is a honest capture of a world that we might not know about. An honest point of view. In the end, we are left wondering how in the world are we still going through this. That is the beauty of the film, you will be left wondering some very pointed questions. Such documentaries must be appreciated and encouraged. An en-‘light’ening film about the literal quest for power.  

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