A local police station in the small North Indian town of Moba is super-busy tackling a variety of cases. The dedicated and principled inspector Mahima Basor (Sanya Malhotra) is a quick-thinking woman who gets the job done. From entrapping and arresting a career criminal to supervising the police protection at a local celebration and being made in charge of a case of missing jackfruit (kathal), Mahima is at the centre of all the action.

The entire police force of Moba is activated when two prized jackfruits go missing from a local politician’s garden. Pateria (Vijay Raaz) cries foul and wants the thieves to be arrested and the two Uncle Hong jackfruits to be retrieved immediately. Pateria’s political ambitions are linked to the pickling of the jackfruits. Local varieties will not do. As the superintendent of police (Gurpal Singh) explains to a befuddled Mahima, Uncle Hongs are as different from local Indian jackfruits as Mysore dosa is different from Mysore Pak.

Mahima and her team, including her boyfriend constable Saurabh (Anant Joshi), embark on an investigation which takes them into unexpected terrain, opening up a much larger and darker crime story. Following their journey is an enthusiastic local Moba Samachar reporter (Rajpal Yadav) who becomes pivotal in the case.

Kathal (2023). Courtesy Sikhya Entertainment/Balaji Telefilms/Netflix.

Debutant director Yashowardhan Mishra has co-written the Netflix release Kathal with Ashok Mishra. The plot is said to have been inspired by true events. The film is a sweet but sharp satire in which the writers have deftly woven in societal comment cloaked in the guise of the case of the missing fruit. Like Mahima’s clever manipulation of the case, the writers use an innocuous event to unveil a greater systemic malaise. There is also comment on hierarchy – within the police ranks, caste, patriarchy, and even jackfruit – as evidenced by the experiences of Mahima’s colleague Kunti (Neha Saraf).

The director captures the texture of the town and the preoccupations of the residents, including a lazy cop obsessed with tracking down his missing car, a senior inspector who uses his position to palm off irritating jobs to his juniors, and a local lawyer who wants his jobbing wife to be home in time to fry fritters.

The pieces fit neatly and the outcome is somewhat satisfying, though the resolution feels incomplete and hurried. What stands out most in this 115-minute feature is the banter between the characters and their expression of their aspirations.

Sanya Malhotra leads from the front, supported by an ensemble that is equally delighted by their characters. The antics and cases of a police station in a small town, fronted by a smart inspector who solves cases using ingenuity, empathy and a lightness of touch, could make for a pleasant satirical spin-off series.

Kathal (2023).