CAT review: Randeep Hooda shines in this high-octane thrill ride from Punjab.
CAT review: With its Punjabi earthiness, the Netflix spy thriller starring Randeep Hooda is fresh, and gripping, and adds a new flavor to Indian OTT.
A reluctant spy being used as a pawn by people more powerful and ambitious than him is not a novel concept in film. Through an eight-episode arc, CAT, the new Netflix show, takes this age-old formula and manages to make it fresh and gripping. The show is considered Netflix’s first Punjabi original (it is almost bilingual with the dialogue shuffling between Punjabi and Hindi). And that is not the only thing novel about the series, which uses Randeep’s talents fabulously.
Cat refers to infiltrators planted by the police in rebel groups during the state’s separatist insurgency decades ago. The story of one such retired Cat, Gurnaam Singh (Randeep Hooda), who has left that world behind, is told in this show. But now, in order to save his brother from a dangerous situation, he must return to that dark place and serve as a cop’s eyes and ears inside the criminal syndicate run by the city’s all-powerful neta Madam Aulakh.
The show’s unique selling point is how well it understands its setting. Every frame, every line, every gunshot, and every flashback screams Punjab. The land and its people have been well depicted, and the decision to keep the dialogue largely in Punjabi grounds it further to the land, making it more believable and real to the audience. The actors’ Punjabi diction is nearly flawless, and while Randeep stutters slightly, he compensates with his acting ability.
CAT is not subtle, as we’ve come to expect from most recent Indian web series. The art of understated storytelling is dying in the Indian OTT space, and I believe that being too direct and loud insults the audience’s intelligence. That is CAT’s biggest flaw: it hammers every point instead of highlighting it subtly. It overuses stereotypes (the cokehead brother, the rebellious rich daughter of a politician, the bumbling sub inspector) and lacks originality in storytelling, making it predictable.
Nonetheless, there are parts where CAT keeps you guessing. The web it spins and the surprises it throws at you are both welcome. However, it is all held together by some excellent performances. Randeep excels as Gurnaam, the man who begins the show as a reluctant family man and, by the end, has undergone a Walter White-like transformation into a hardened, scheming killing machine. The show’s true star, however, is veteran Punjabi actor Suvinder Vicky, who plays Gurnaam’s handler, a scheming cop who only has his own interests at heart. His dynamic role gives the actor scope, and he delivers a delicious performance, effortlessly displaying ambition, jealousy, and lust for power. Hasleen Kaur’s transformation from Miss India to a de-glam lower middle-class cop is noteworthy. It takes a brave actor from her background to take on a role like this, and it takes talent to pull it off like she does.
The uniqueness of CAT lies in its understanding of its setting, the earthiness of Punjab, and, of course, the lingo. The show has flaws, but the novelty and stellar cast more than compensate. With Masoom and CAT, the Indian OTT scene is finally waking up to Punjab, a land rich in the types of stories that the web medium requires. Here’s hoping there will be more of these in times to come.
Balwinder Singh Janjua is the creator.
Randeep Hooda, Suvinder Vicky, Sukhwinder Chahal, and Hasleen Kaur star in the film.