Kanpur, once known as Manchester of the East, is a now a city left with dark nights saved by a few common thieves. Loha Singh is one of them.
Loha is a Katiyabaaz who is extremely proud of his profession. His medals for his outstanding skills are his burnt fingers, one of which is twisted. He revels in the fact that he climbs up an electricity pole, armed with a spanner and risks his life every time he uses ‘katiya’, an illegal hooked wire to steal electricity. “Chahe aandhi ya toofan aa jaye, keri katiya hil nahin sakti,”the half toothless man declares confidently. And indeed, his katiya provides illegal electricity to many of the 3 million people who survive on 15 hour-long power cuts. Enough to make him a hero.
There is a method in his robbery, Loha says. He just stops his breath while hanging between the live wires. His logic is simple. He is as good as dead while he holds his breath. So how would he possibly lose his life? Well, he is not just alive but also roaming free of any jail scare.
The short and unkempt dare devil not only boasts of his work but also has an opinion on everything. The best one is about politicians. These guys come every five years and beg with folded hands, he says. And the voting public allow themselves to be fooled (his own adjective or rather abuse is far less complimentary). The moment the politicians win, no one sees their face.
The national award-winning documentary highlights Loha’s points by showing a footage of Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh making tall promises in their speeches.
But Loha’s real enemy is an IAS officer, Ritu Maheshwari, the Managing Director of KESCO, Kanpur’s power supply company. It’s fascinating to watch a solo woman ordering a battalion of men and threatening strong action against them. She is pitted against the residents who refuse to pay their electricity bills as well as a contesting MLA. A standoff between the lady with good intentions and the goon like MLA shows a really tough battle ahead of her. Like Loha, she too has been burnt. In the form of an effigy. But she doesn’t react. She knows she is burdened with a huge legacy of constant shortage of power supply, which her lone loss making company cannot solve. Ironically, she too is powerless.
In this city burning at 47 degrees, with the vicious cycle of politics and thefts at play, the only resort is prayer. Here transformers are worshipped with complete faith. You even see an old woman pray in desperation to God for only one thing: light.
The directors, Deepti Kakkar and Fahad Mustafa, treat this immensely powerful subject with subtle and sharp humour. The camera moves over Kanpur city crowded with thick wires across buildings. One particular shot of clothes hanging from the wires, sums up the city’s nonchalance and blasé attitude towards something so shocking. The entertainment quotient is made complete with a music tracks by the band, Indian Ocean.
Katiyabaaz deserves to make more noise than wire sparks in the film. Rightfully so.