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Mukkabaaz review: The punch of the underdog

A scene from Mukkabaaz.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“For fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. This line by Alexander Pope could well fit Anurag Kashyap; in a good way though. There is an impulsiveness and pugnacity with which he manages to go head on into contentious issues that most filmmakers would shy away from, especially in these tricky times. Which mainstream director would dare set up his or her film with cow-vigilantism in focus, using it as a pivotal plot point? Though I must say that the version of Mukkabaaz that hits the screens this Friday did seem to have a few odd changes from the one I saw at the opening of Jio Mami 19th Mumbai Film Festival With Star. The “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” chants of gau-rakshaks seem to get muffled in one significant scene in the middle; to my recollection they were much louder and clearer in the festival version. And the “Jai Shri Ram” gets entirely obliterated in another, right at the start.

Mukkabaaz
  • Director: Anurag Kashyap
  • Starring: Vineet Kumar Singh, Zoya Hussain, Jimmy Shegill, Ravi Kishan, Rajesh Tailang, Sadhana Singh
  • Storyline: Shravan Singh’s boxing career threatens to come to an abrupt end when he crosses swords with the boxing coach BhagwanMishra. It gets even more complicated when he falls in love with his niece Sunaina
  • Run time: 155.28 minutes

The core of the film, however, remains. While sticking to the larger underdog trope of most sports films, Kashyap takes Mukkabaaz away from the time-worn “race to victory” arc and thankfully also keeps the much used and abused false nationalism and flag waving routine away. This is in no way a celebration of sports but a hard-nosed look at the rampant corruption, nepotism and casteist politics at the core of games, and life in general, especially their centrality in Uttar Pradesh. No wonder, its denizens like me often call it Ulta Pradesh.

Shravan Singh’s (Vineet Kumar Singh) boxing career threatens to come to an abrupt end when he crosses swords with the boxing coach Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill). It gets even more complicated when he falls in love with Mishra’s niece Sunaina (Zoya Hussain). In fact, it’s the lady and his love for her that stoke the rebellion in him.

There is something very Sairat-like about the love story; in the yawning caste divide — she is from upper and he from lower caste, in those stolen glances, in the role reversal — how the girl is aggressive and the boy shy. In fact, in its construct, Mukkabaaz could well be the most mainstream one coming from Kashyap, the obvious nods to popular culture — Madhuri Dixit, Rekha, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh — aside.

Also read: After 17 years of struggle, Vineet Kumar lands the lead role in 'Mukkabaaz'

The God is in the details — in the homes, lanes and offices, the trains and markets, the camps, championships and the many bouts. The God is also in the lingo — of both the dialogue and the lyrics. There is the typical off the cuff UP wit, even in serious exchanges. The flare-up scenes between Shravan and his father (Rajesh Tailang) are riveting and give us the best dialogue to kickstart this year with: “Baapshunya to hum kahan se Aryabhatta ho jaayenge (If father is a zero how can we become Aryabhatta).” Or the jibe at Bhagwan’s sterility: “Unki beedi mein tambaaku nahin hai”. Or calling the future sister-in-law (in the sports commentary parlance), “aagami bhabhi”.

 

Kashyap has a fantastic cast, led by Singh who gives both his body and soul to Shravan. But, as usual, the odd ones out, stand out — RajeshTaliang as Shravan’s father is an understated delight. But there’s also lots that rankles. The film’s protracted length, for instance. After the engaging set-up the film steadily begins to lose its grip as it moves towards the climax. The fantastic soundtrack, which encapsulates, all that the film wants to convey gets too inconsistently used, often like a piece of loud noise overwhelming the scenes and smothering the performances rather than taking them forward. Despite hearing them on a loop otherwise, I was desperate for more long pauses between the songs within the film itself.

The realistic finale which is more about off-bout negotiations than a knock-out punch end Mukkabaaz in a low key manner. But “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” (with a big dose of sarcasm) instead of “The End” plate, after the disclaimer in the finale, is where Kashyap knocks it out of the park. Just as he does in naming his chief villain — a Brahmin, mind you — Bhagwan. Chuckle along and ponder some.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 3:00:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/mukkabaaz-review-the-punch-of-the-underdog/article22427256.ece

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