This Indie documentary by Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa is definitely one of the best films I managed to watch at this year’s Mumbai Film Festival. The film opens by setting few facts straight about the power situation in Kanpur, and how many lives are affected because of it on a daily basis. We are told at the very beginning that the word ‘Katiya’ means a wire that is used illegally to steal electricity and ‘Katiyabaaz‘ is one who has championed the art of stealing electricity using illegal wires.

Giving us a slice of life in Kanpur, its residents who suffer from over 15 hours of power cut daily, “Katiyabaaz” is a brave yet amusing take on not just the power crisis, but on politics, power and poverty.

This documentary reminded me of moments from my own life when I argued with my mother every time she turned off the fan in my room to clean. Each time we argued, my father would politely butt in and ask me to imagine that there was a power cut for the next few minutes. His words never made sense to me back then, but after watching “Katiyabaaz” I realized its importance.

It throws the spotlight on the power crisis in Kanpur, where a Robin Hood type character called Loha Singh comes to the rescue of its people whenever there is no electricity. Loha is the most popular Katiyabaaz, and people vouch for him because of his efficiency. In essence, Loha steals power from the rich and distributes it to the poor.

Because of Loha and several such Katiyabaaz, the Kanpur Electricity Supply Company (KESCO) has incurred huge losses as thousands of households haven’t paid dues for months. When Ritu Maheshwari takes charge of KESCO as MD, she instructs her team to raid houses in the city that are using power produced through a Katiya, and immediately disconnect electricity.

The events that unfold between Ritu and the residents of Kanpur pave way to an uproar against the system. Cashing in on the situation, a local politician locks horns with Ritu in an effort to bring her down.

What is instantly likeable about this documentary is that it never appears scripted from start to finish. The story that’s so easy to relate with gives us an opportunity to step into the shoes of the residents of Industrial town Kanpur and ask ourselves the question what we would do if faced with such a situation. It’s very evident from the documentary that the people are forced to steal electricity, but not because they are poor.

The narrative style used in Katiyabaaz to evoke interest in the audience is brilliant. It takes a very controversial subject and presents a story from two different standpoints – one from the residents’ perspective and the other from KESCO’s. This allows the audience to not take sides but instead understand the gravity of the problem at hand by analyzing it through two different angles. I think this particular effort to not point fingers at anybody but allow audiences to decide on their own makes Katiyabaaz an intelligent documentary.

Loha Singh is undoubtedly the star of this documentary, which also captures the mood of the city to perfection. It is through his eyes we see how one of the popular industrial towns of India is now coming to a standstill because of lack of electricity.

Ritu plays a powerful role in a town surrounded by men, who loathe the idea of reporting to a woman. Very subtly Katiyabaaz highlights the challenges of Ritu, not just as the MD of KESCO, but as a woman in her designation. Even if women have half the confidence level of Ritu, they are sure to go a long way in their respective careers.

“Katiyabaaz” is highly recommended and don’t miss it if it ever releases in cinemas soon. Let’s hope it has a theatrical release.

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