By Shevaal Singh (@being_shevaal)
Star cast: Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Arya Babbar, Shabana Azmi.
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
A stationary limo parked on an isolated farm revs up then drives right into a run-down liquor cabin, bringing the structure down in a distorted pile. The owner escapes and two men thereafter the car driver then his intoxicated master decides to ransack the shop and takes as many bottles of a local liquor the vehicle can hold. This is how the opening sequence of Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is a wild, wacky, wicked satire that carries the unmistakable and very unique Vishal Bhardwaj signature.
The movie will not appear as a mega super hit blockbuster but it has its daring share of moments that defy all popular expectations. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is Bhardwaj’s most political film to date. It tackles the solemn theme of political corruption and capitalist voracity against the backdrop of a small Haryana village fighting to save its land from being acquired for a proposed special economic zone. But much of the political posturing that the script is built around is at best superficial and unsurprising. The humour is laboured at times and the potshots the film aims at a system that thrives on unbridled abuse of power and pelf is often rather feeble. Despite the uneven quality of the ambitious narrative, Bhardwaj packs in just about enough quirky energy to make Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola generally watchable. The film blends the sailing air of a free fun flick with structured elements of Shakespearean drama and epic Greek theater to deliver a fantastic tale that borders on travesty.
Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is marked by an adventurous streak that is commendable: Bhardwaj pushes the goofy storytelling style all the way through to the bitter end. It is another matter that the strategy boomerangs frequently. The characters and their wayward ways are only mildly interesting. A pink buffalo haunts Harry ‘Moneybag’ Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) when he is sober. It strays into his bedroom, plonks itself alongside him and blazes a grin. The cranky old man turns into a socialist with a bleeding heart when he is high. Mandola even leads a protest march against himself only to suffer an abrupt change of heart when dawn breaks and his hangover subsides.
Mandola’s sidekick, Hukum Singh Matru (Imran Khan) is a JNU-educated son of the soil who takes up clubs on behalf of the long-suffering peasants when he is allowed a long enough rope by his crotchety employer. Mandola’s daughter, Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) – we see her for the first time emerging provocatively from a pond as hordes of villagers sit around watching the manifestation which is a bit of a unpredictable termagant given to mood swings of this tale. Bijlee is engaged to the foolish son (Arya Babbar) of a Chaudhary Devi (Shabana Azmi), a powerful politician who is desperate to make a fast buck by fast tracking Mandola’s plans to set up a factory in the village. Bijlee’s hemming and hawing is a excuse for a love triangle that ends with a really messy wedding!
The desi daru that Mandola consumes is called Gulabo and is sold in a pink bottle the splash of colours does not seep deep enough to make a lasting impact. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola displays erratic performances of the lead actors as Imran Khan and Anushka Sharma, playing villagers who have been educated in the big city but they’re anything but steady with the Haryanvi patois and accent. Pankaj Kapur is the pivot of the film. However, his character is over-wrought, if not over the top. The actor pushes himself as far as he can within the limitations imposed on him by the screenplay, but this performance of his is unlikely to rank among his best. Imran Khan just doesn’t get it right, apart from the looks which are precise, his mannerisms and dialogue delivery fall short from what’s expected Anushka Sharma continues her spree of tomboyish roles as the wild-child Bijlee; she aces it with her tipsy act in the climax. Few filmmakers in engage with ideas and issues of contemporary relevance as felicitously as Bhardwaj. He might have fallen short this time around but even when he is not at his best, he is infinitely better than most .
If you’re a Vishal Bhardwaj fan, be prepared for a fare that’s different from his dark, moody style. The fun and songs should keep you going through especially the beats of Oye Boy Charlie .Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola gets a 7/10 from me for its fun take on contemporary issues of today …