Old wine in beer bottle

M atru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is a drunken riot.

Like all binges, it wavers in its mood and tone. Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest is a film that’s clearly having fun, spouting philosophy for a bit, revelling in its energetic singing and uninhibited dancing, sometimes brooding and sometimes talking gibberish. While it’s fun, can’t say it’s consistently funny. Because this is a moody drunkard of a film.

A pretentious drunk, to be specific.

A film pretending to be nobly communist while employing a language that appeals more to the bourgeoisie, those sitting in the multiplexes and the malls it resents.

The bourgeoisie in India, simply put, comprises anyone who knows what it means and how it is spelt. So when a film has many lines in English without ever feeling the need to employ Hindi subtitles, you know who it is targeting. Certainly, not the working class tilling land.

An Ashutosh Gowarikar would have made a villager ask someone: “Bourjua? Ee Boujua Ka Hoth Hai Babua?” And had the masterji of the village explain bourgeoisie for the benefit of the masses. But this is a film that quotes Shakespeare and is actually adapted cleverly from Bertolt Brecht’s comedy Mr. Puntila and his Man Matti.

High art content pretending to be street-smart, but only to show off how well-read and informed it is about the state of affairs in the country where evil greedy politician women are seducing capitalist men in power to rob the poor of their land and are sealing the fate of the next generation by getting the confused married to the internet-guided dumb for their own selfish interests. And it takes an educated Mao-worshipping hero to save the villagers.

There’s no denying that the film is layered with relevant socio-political content, but that’s thanks to the source material. Brecht. It would have taken phenomenal talent or lack of it to lose that plot presented on a platter. And Bhardwaj squanders it away. Almost.

Imran Khan gets a beard to hide behind and Anushka Sharma gets shorts. Enough to distract you from what they can do as actors.

Thankfully, Bhardwaj gets one thing right. Casting Pankaj Kapur as Harry Mandola, the one man standing in between this film and abject mediocrity. He’s so good here as the kind-hearted riotous drunk that he turns every overwritten scene into seemingly improvised gold. Especially, the pre-interval “night-walk” scene when he drunk-drives a plane. Talk about heights. Of absurdity and brilliance.

Like the plane, the film nosedives in the second half with some terrible jokes (a series of really lazily written “Knock, Knock” jokes and another about a bunch of guys with walkie-talkies going “Mao Mao” only to be smacked by balls of dung) and unwarranted theatrics of a storm, a predictable love story conveniently resolved and a rehash of earlier scenes illustrating the same point (Yes, yes, Vishal… we saw the scheming politician play footsie with the capitalist the first time).

There are many touches of quirk that work. The Pink Buffalo, for example, is stoner movie genius. The ethnic flavour and language alternates between the urban and the rural effortlessly that the universe becomes a microcosm of modern India.

But does it entertain the masses it claims to care for? Yes, in parts as a musical satire. Otherwise, it just tells them that rich people are more fun and loveable once you get them drunk. But let’s not fool ourselves saying the film is meant for the elite who will bring about change. The elite won’t stop going to the mall. Because if they do, the box office figures would fall.

Go watch it for Pankaj Kapur, we need to see more of him. In front of the camera. Lest he inflicts another Mausam on us.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 7:15:45 PM |

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