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CAT Review: Star Rating:
Cast: Randeep Hooda, Hasleen Kaur, Geeta Agarwal, Suvinder Vicky & ensemble.
Creator: Balwinder Singh Janjua.
Director: Balwinder Singh Janjua, Rupinder Chahal & Jimmy Singh.
Streaming On: Netflix.
Language: Hindi & Punjabi (with subtitles).
Runtime: 8 Episodes Around 50 Minutes Each.
Circumstances push a teenage boy Gurnam (Randeep) to work for the police as an unofficial informant/undercover agent. His revenge is fulfilled but the ghost of being an informant/undercover agent doesn’t leave his back and years later he has to get back on the job to take down the biggest drug syndicate in Punjab.
For everyone obsessing over the beautiful yellow ‘Sarson ka khet’ in Punjab as our ultimate Bollywood dream, it took us an Uddta Punjab to realise what the actual underbelly of that landscape looks like. It was an alarm about the facade that covers one of the grimmest problems of the country and the youth rapidly surrendering to it. The conversation about the same kick-started and it served as an educator. It definitely deserved a responsible voice to take the conversation ahead and turns out Randeep Hooda is here with a spiritual sequel. Not flawless but worthy.
Starring the perfect Randeep Hooda, CAT is definitely not a bulletproof show with no scope for a loophole, but it manages to be much more than just surface-level drama. Most of its merit lies in the fact that it is authentic and even a non-Punjabi-speaking audience can feel the same. Everything looks like it belongs to the landscape and is a world lived in, everyone talks in the language of the land without sounding pretentious and there is no attempt to induce forced Hindi to make it more accessible. These decisions help the viewer to have a three-dimensional experience and invest more because it all feels real and not for the screen.
Written by Balwinder Singh Janjua, Rupinder Chahal, Anil Rodhan, and Jimmy Singh, CAT creates a man that is pushed into being a police informant by circumstances. He is a boy who has spent most of his childhood in the Punjab of the 80s (Google how dark that decade was). Just when the ’90s knocked, the separatist agenda knocked on his doors and fate took away his parents who were murdered. So his sufferings are not just personal about being an orphan with two young siblings but also political and at large part of a bigger agenda. So when he decides to pick that axe and kill the man who conspired for his parent’s death, you know he is wrong, but you still see him finding the redemption that pushes him more into the darkness.
There is complexity written all over this man. The central character is written so strongly that he fuels the world around him even when it is at its lowest. A lot of it looks like we have already seen because the drug mafia intervened with politics is a plot everyone wants to try their hands on. But it is about the small decisions that the makers take that help us deviate from our thoughts. Like how they introduce a father and his cop daughter belonging to a marginalized community. The fact that there is still discrimination against them isn’t given in the most staple manner. It is in the details when they both worship different gods in the same house, or when she tells Gurnam that he drank something from the same bottle she did and he should be hesitant about it, which he isn’t.
All of this is as effective visually as it is on paper and that is a victory enough. As said it is much into the characters than the setup. The mafia is a minister who wants the world to call her Madam Aaulakh. She lives in a mansion named Aaulakh’s palace. As brutal as she can be, she also has a backstory that introduces us to her humane side and those are some of the most haunting sequences of the show. DOP Arvind Krishna makes sure he shoots all of this with ultimate tension at display and the casting department with costume manages to add more visually.
Randeep Hooda taking that plunge to long-format content could be one of his best decisions in recent times. The actor is made for this because he has got everything an actor needs to retain a character and play him consistently well for 10 long hours or so. He never plays Gurnam with a raised voice. Rather he is the most soft-spoken and vulnerable man. Like the father from Tabbar played by Pavan Malhotra, another briliant show. You can feel all the pain in the way Hooda plays his part. I am excited only to see how the actor takes this ahead.
Hasleen Kaur as Babita has to be the second favourite performance in the series as she manages to go zero vanity and doesn’t let that show. The actor understands the place her character comes from and what she is subjected to. The detailing that goes into creating her is amazing.
Geeta Agarwal as Madam Aaulakh does manage to create a dreadful environment around her. The actor is skilled and you can see that in the variety of roles. Suvinder Vicky who acts as Gurnam’s navigator in this world impresses with his skills. To see him do this after the amazing Milestone makes me happy.
CAT while being strong in building characters that are so meaty, lacks somewhere in setting them up in a more edged-out world. In shaping their separate arcs, the makers forget to connect them in a more personal way. For instance Gurnam and Babita have a potential love relationship, they work closely, and there is a caste conflict between the two. But they are never explored enough together inorder to create a massive impact when they stand pointing guns at each other.
So is the issue with Gurnam’s connection with both police and the drug world. His entry is explained but the makers chose to not indulge enough in showing how he manages to blend into them. He is just a pawn for the high-level police officer whose final dream is to bust a big case and fly to Canada, where one of Gurnam’s past also lives. Amid all this is his brother stuck in the drug world by choice. The show completely forgets him in the last act and we are not told anything about his whereabouts.
The evolution of Randeep Hooda in this new space is something we all must be hooked to. CAT is the right step in the right direction with some potholes but with a lot of mettle. Please watch CAT in Punjabi and not the Hindi dub. The impact does differ.
For more, read or Khakee: The Bihar Chapter Review here.
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