Dark, brooding, intense and tantalizing. These are some of the adjectives that would come to one’s mind if they happen to binge-watch the eight episodes of Randeep Hooda’s latest revenge-drama CAT – a drug-fuelled reverie cleaved together by powerful characters, a thrilling plot and most importantly a refreshing plentitude of compelling performances packaged meticulously by Balwinder Singh Janjua.
The treacherous and insipid world of CAT draws a lot from the cockeyed history of Punjab and blends it with the modern-day menace of the drug-ridden state. But CAT is more than its woebegone backdrop. It goes a step further than what Shahid Kapoor’s Udta Punjab or Janhvi Kapoor’s Good Luck Jerry set out to achieve but not without some miniscule drawbacks.
The thriller-series gets you invested from its first shot. It opens to the alp of the night in the fictional town of Sialgarh, which is ensnared in the soup of insurgency. Some militants make their way to their secret spot as Gurnaam Singh (Randeep Hooda) narrates what is about to come. Welding a gun and observing the separatists plot some elaborate plan, a young Gurnaam listens on keenly. And just then, the furtive meeting is interrupted by the barrage of bullets and a showdown. It is then revealed that Gurnaam was colluding with the cops as an undercover asset in exchange for what seems like a vexatious tragedy that has befallen him. As he is dropped to a dilapidated house along with his siblings after his mission is over, Sehtaab Singh (Suvinder Vicky) informs him about his new identity.
From the Sialgarh of the 1980s, the story jumps back to the present at the very same house but now in a pretty good shape. Gurnaam is all grown-up and can be seen preparing dinner for his younger brother Sunny, a young guy preparing for IELTS because he wants to go to Canada. While everything seems to be normal until it’s not. Just like Sialgarh was dealing with insurgency in the past, the town is now blustered with the drug epidemic perpetuated by a powerful figure Madam Aulakh and her notorious network of ruthless louts. Gurnaam’s younger brother Sunny, on the other hand, is desperate after three failed attempts and is looking for an easy way out of the country. To ensure that he has enough money, Sunny in cahoots with his girlfriend deals drugs and sets the narrative forward.
During one such instance, Sunny and his girlfriend Sehar (Elisha Mayor) find themselves peddling drugs amidst a concert by the popular singer Rocky. However, everything goes South when an altercation breaks out between two other factions doing the same thing. Caught in the crossfire, Sehar manages to escape but Sunny is apprehended by Babita Masih (Hasleen Kaur). An unsuspecting Gurnaam gets a phone-call and is informed about his brother. Trying his best to get him out of this pickle, Gurnaam finally approaches Sehtaab Singh for help. Sehtaab Singh who already has some vested interests promises to help Gurnaam but for that he has to do what he did during the insurgency i.e to be a CAT and infiltrate into the ranks of Madam Aulakh’s cartel and bust the operations from within. And with that, Gurnaam is pushed into the merciless ring of betrayal, deceit, drama and politics, all perpetuated by the overarching themes of intemperate corruption, bemired politics and the tumultuous sentiments of an afflicted man who has seen everything in life.
The best thing about ‘CAT’ is the show’s breakneck pace in terms of setting a narrative and eliciting the action out of it. The story-telling doesn’t linger too much on character development or explaining a motif to the audience. From the first episode itself, the story unfolds with a certain veracity and it follows the protagonist through his pitfalls and into the besmirching den of his impending mission. It is fast-paced and yet as a viewer you won’t find it rushed by any measure. On the contrary, it banks on your attention span and makes you intrigued about the plot even more. Another remarkable aspect of the Balwinder Singh Janjua’s show is adapting to a simple and cohesive way of chronicling a story by means of flashbacks. Unlike most shows that jump back and forth between the timelines, CAT charts the two timelines(Punjab in the past and Punjab in the present) in a way that you won’t be befuddled or overwhelmed by the multitude of events taking place.
As for the sub-plots, most of them might feel unnecessary or forced but they’re like the tributaries that aid in nourishing and enriching the main plot. For example, the track involving Kimmi who is Madam Aulakh’s daughter and her obsession with the Punjabi pop singer Rocky might be perceived as an arbitrary and at times irking development but in the larger scheme of things, it connects to another key-figure later in the show and when it does, it is bound to make you feel impacted. That also brings us to the writing of the show which is tight with enough twists and turns to keep you on your foot. Although, for the most part it is subtle, it does become a victim of expositions and unsubtlety in certain segments. The characters are extremely layered and they possess an element of realism in their characteristics. The unpredictable nature of their traits keeps the flow of the show engrossing.
Technically, CAT is well-supported by a talented team of crew. The immersive camerawork by R.Vighnesh captures the beauty and apathy of Punjab through appealing visuals of fog-clad forests, canopy of houses cluttered together into smaller lanes and crannies, tight close-ups of character when they are the most vulnerable, it all adds gravitas to the story. Additionally, the ominous background score by Joel Crasto and peppy Punjabi numbers composed by Rakesh Varma(V Raxx Music) gives ‘CAT’ a universal flavour.
On the acting front, Randeep Hooda is the highlight of the show as he embodies the character of Gurnaam Singh properly and craftily. Thus, when you see him on the screen, you won’t see an actor but instead a character who might be servile, calm, composed but can get lethal, calculative and ruthless at the drop of the hat. Clad in a turban and sporting a beard, Randeep Hooda certainly shatters the stereotype around Sikhs portrayed in cinema. One particular scene where he breaks down in front of Babita due to sheer overwhelming situations in his life was perhaps the takeaway for me.
Suvinder Vicky as Sehtaab Singh quotes harmless couplets to his colleagues but in reality, he is shrewd, cunning and manipulative to the extent that you would feel unsettled by his aura, a brilliant performance indeed. Hasleen Kaur as Babita Masih is naive, upright and conscientious and she delivers it meticulously with her expressions. Geeta Aggarwal as Madam Aulakh was another noteworthy performance followed by Dakksh Ajit Singh who portrayed Lakhwinder Singh a.k.a Laadi and Jaipreet Singh who essayed Shamsher Singh.
Randeep Hooda’s CAT might have borrowed themes from its predecessors but it is a unique show in itself as it pertains to a vivid and macroscopic look into the plight of Punjabi hinterlands coalesced together by a compelling story and even more expeditious characters. With everything said and done, the climax of CAT might not appeal to those who are not a big fan of cliffhangers because it maintains the ‘apogee’ achieved over the course of the eight episodes for the next season.
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