Monday, January 14, 2013

Pink buffalo in a snow storm

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on January 12, 2013)

Cast: Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Rating: 3 stars
Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola will have you at the opening song. Quirkily placed in the film, it starts off even as the studio logo plays out, right after the gross anti-smoking campaign film that kills our appetites for the overpriced food we’ve just bought. The song, which is probably titled Khatra, speaks of the everyday dangers we insure ourselves against, and sets the tone for the film. Sadly, the film doesn’t quite live up to its ambitions.
Here, Vishal Bhardwaj takes on the issue of land acquisition. While it is a crucial enough concern, perhaps he should have timed the release for when it was more politically pertinent. Or loaded it with enough subtext and content to make it seem fresh. The film doesn’t say anything that we haven’t heard in the context of the proposed Nano plant at Singur, the Navi Mumbai airport, and sundry other agitations that made it to the first pages of national dailies for weeks.
To his credit, Bhardwaj tells the story in a style that comes close to burlesque – wacky, entertaining, and over-the-top. However, something is missing – the storytelling doesn’t bolster the concerns in the movie the way it should, and it goes downhill after the interval.
Perhaps part of the film’s undoing is its fast pace. I was surprised when the interval was announced, because the story appeared to havejust taken off. It hurtles towards its end, even as various strands are left hanging. In their hurry to close it, the filmmakers throw in unlikely coincidences and fall back on Bollywood kitsch, making caricatures out of characters that the narrative had spent so much time fleshing out.
There are several cameos in the film, many of which are wasted. They add little to the plot, and eat up precious screen time, so that the film isn’t able to offer a satisfactory explanation for what happens in the end.
That said, I wouldn’t call this film a bad watch. There are some inspired touches in it, and moments of brilliance. Where the humour is subtle, the comic timing of the actors is exquisite. But the film is simply too mixed up, and even Pankaj Kapur’s presence can’t save it from inconsistency. In trying to cater to too many audiences, it lets itself down in slapstick sequences. A case in point is the long drawn-out sketch where two drunk men try to move a well towards a bullock cart.
The writing too, fluctuates, with memorable dialogues and punchy lyrics fighting for space with random lines we’ve heard too often. While what we see of the romance between Matru and Bijlee is sweet, a forced love triangle doesn’t do the film any favours. The final undoing of the film is that several scenes bring Shirish Kunder’s forgettable Joker to mind, though the parallels here are better shot and better executed.
The Verdict: Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola is disappointing, largely because it fails to live up to the potential its script and cast promise.

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