Director: Shubham Yogi
Writer: Shubham Yogi
Cast: Radhika Madan, Rajat Barmecha, Ayush Mehra
Kacchey Limbu is many things at once. It’s a coming-of-age movie about a student, Aditi (Radhika Madan), who embraces the “When in doubt, play cricket” philosophy quite literally. The game teaches her the agency to be herself – societal expectations be damned – after spending years in the shadow of others. Kacchey Limbu is a journeyman drama about Akash (Rajat Barmecha), whose love for the sport burns bright in the face of an impending corporate job. His gully-cricket stardom gives him a chance to recalibrate his dream. Kacchey Limbu is a sibling story about Akash and Aditi, where the sullen brother and spunky sister manufacture a rivalry to forge their own paths through the minefield of family pressure. And as the title suggests, Kacchey Limbu is a team-of-misfits sports movie, where an underarm cricket league of a housing society becomes a feel-good metaphor for life. Unfortunately, though, it’s the intersection of all these themes that turns a potentially perceptive portrait of young adulthood into a clumsy mess. Kacchey Limbu isn’t afraid to be a film about confusion. By extension, it’s also a very confused film.
On paper, it’s not a bad idea. Aditi – who is technically the protagonist – attends Bharatnatyam classes for her mother, studies medicine for her father, and aspires to be a fashion designer with her friends. Her dance teacher wisely remarks that she lives to please everybody but herself. I like that she chucks it all to challenge her brother in his own backyard, both literally and figuratively. I also like that she doesn’t really know why she’s doing it. Cricket has no connection to her journey; she only adores her ‘bhai’ for being great at it. But if there’s one thing we know about Indian fandom, there’s nothing like a match or two to clear the head. But the on-screen depiction of her ambiguity is awkward at best. It’s not clear why her decision takes the form of a flimsy bet: Akash is in a job-versus-cricket argument with his father, and Aditi sides with her brother while also urging him to not waste his potential on underarm cricket. Before she knows it, she finds herself vowing to enter the tournament with her own team…on behalf of her parents? The (forced) stakes: If she defeats him, he will interview for a boring job, but if he wins, he will sign with a talent agency. I suppose the purpose is to show that Aditi starts as a pawn in a war that’s not hers, but slowly comes into her own over time. Yet, it feels like entirely separate movies unfolding together. It’s like the script is working backwards to somehow fit in those age-old sports tropes: Ragtag-team-recruitment portions, beach training montages, last-ball tension.
Akash’s arc is just as artificial. I like how the film acknowledges that aspiring cricketers no longer have only one avenue of fame and success. Aditi accuses Akash of selling out and giving up on his test-cricket dreams, but Akash is adamant that being the face of a new UPL (Underarm Premier League) movement is no compromise. His guilt of being 26 and failing to reach the big leagues is writ large over his middle-class mentality – a job, then, is merely a medium to extend his passion. His six-hitting prowess goes viral after Sachin Tendulkar shares a video, but the ecosystem (where a national selector attends his matches) never looks genuine enough to validate his quest. The film fails to convince us that a match-up against his sister is supposed to define his future. Then there’s his strange track with a girlfriend who – horror of horrors – is a stand-up comic that seems to have idolized Ranveer Singh’s Befikre (2016) character. (Translation: She’s not funny because Hindi cinema hasn’t cracked the art of scripting stand-up routines). The only well-rounded track belongs to Kabir (Ayush Mehra), Akash’s friend who decides to play on his childhood crush Aditi’s team because he is tired of playing second fiddle to the society superstar.
Then there’s the cricket itself. A lot of screen-time is devoted to the Lagaan-styled underdog contest towards the end. It’s almost as if the makers, like Aditi, try to use the sport as an escape from the nuances of a human drama. It’s nice to see gully cricket play a role in a Mumbai story, but the video-game-like design misses a trick. One of the rules is that sixes are direct dismissals, unless a batsman hits a 4x4 banner suspended between two buildings. It’s a perfect risk-reward lottery rule. Akash goes viral because he manages to nail 5 times in a row (his signature shot: the ‘thappad’), which implies that hitting the tiny aerial target is a mark of genius. But instead of building it up as a rare hole-in-one achievement, the film assigns it the difficulty level of just another six. Several players seem to do it at will in the tournament. These are small but distracting details, especially if the film’s cricket is purist enough to involve acts like Mankading.
Radhika Madan’s performance is consumed by the uneven narrative. It should ideally be a complex character to convey, but the film-making is too busy flitting between genres to excavate Aditi’s emotions. While it’s good to see Udaan’s Rajat Barmecha return to lead acting, his nerves are too palpable to stage Akash as the swaggy star the script thinks he is. The intensity is there, but the voice and confidence are missing. The casting is clever, because Akash’s angst of not being able to capitalize on his history as a batting prodigy mirrors the actor’s post-Udaan journey. It brings to mind the role of Shreyas Talpade in last year’s Kaun Pravin Tambe? (2022), except Barmecha doesn’t look as comfortable in front of the camera. The missed opportunity encapsulates the void between the lofty expectations and sticky realities of Kacchey Limbu. On a grumpier day, I’d yell at the film to pick a lane. As it turns out, I’m now yelling at it to at least flash an indicator before changing lanes.