"Kuldip Patwal: I Didn't Do It" is a meticulously penned political satire that has lost its effectiveness during its onscreen translation.
Set in the fictitious state of Bharatsar, somewhere in North India, the film begins on a dramatic note with a staccato, black screen and voiceovers. Prominent among the voices is, "Why don't you understand, I am the CM of the state." This weak and authoritative voice belongs to Varun Chadha, the third term appointed Chief Minister of Bharatsar, who is soon assassinated at a political rally.
Immediately after the assassination, Kuldip Patwal -- a bystander at the rally -- is arrested and accused of the murder. He pleads, "Not guilty, I did not do it."
What follows is a non-linear narrative that blends a murder mystery and courtroom drama. It exposes how dreams and ambitions of a common man like Kuldip Patwal are crushed due to "the system" -- read corruption -- that prevails in the country.
It is the story of the common man in India. The film also reveals how inhuman treatment is meted out to him. And like the insignificant common man, Kuldip Patwal is not the hero of the tale. The story pits the wrong against the right and right against the wrong thereby giving a holistic perspective of the political scenario here.
Playing the titular role, Deepak Dobriyal is every inch the insignificant protagonist - Kuldip Patwal. He emotes with sincerity. He is consistent in displaying his character and he maintains the continuity in his transition from a wannabe administrative bureaucrat to a struggling shopkeeper to being a helpless father.
In an author-backed role, he is simply brilliant as the timid and loving person who turns brutally aggressive when pushed to the wall.
Matching him in histrionics is Gulshan Devaiah as the human rights activist and Kuldip's defence lawyer Pradyuman Shahpuri. Gulshan enlivens the screen with his boisterous, over-the-top histrionics which include his loud Punjabi accent.
Equally effective are Anurag Arora as Inspector Ajay Rathore, Jameel Khan as Kuldip's friend who frames him, Vikram Kochhar as the politician Mr. Goenka and the characters who play Kuldip's family - his father, mother and wife.
The misfits here are Pravin Dabas as Varun Chadha and Raima Sen as his wife Simrat who is also the district attorney and the prosecution lawyer. They both are limited with their performances. While Pravin tries to exude some natural confidence, Raima's efforts seem laboured and her pronounced diction is definitely jarring.
With sound production values and fine detailing in the mise-en-scene, the film is technically thorough.
But on the directorial front, debutant Remy Kohli delivers a simple effective tale in the most convoluted, non-linear manner making the entire take on the proceedings lose its lustre. The repetitive scenes add to the sore points of viewing. If only the script was taut, the effectiveness of this narrative would have been tenfold better.