(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on January 13, 2013, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/a-superficial-satire)
Cast: Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Shabana Azmi
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Rating: 3 stars
A song that rips apart every health awareness campaign, home remedy, and old wives’ tale the average Indian has been assaulted with, followed by the sight of a stretch limo in a wheat field – now, that’s a masterstroke. From there, Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest offering gathers momentum, each scene wackier, each tirade more ironic, each line funnier...for all of fifteen minutes. Then, the movie slips from satire to spoof, and clumsily tries to bring in a social message, finally collapsing into itself.
Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola has a cast that could have lifted the film, with the right triggers, but the script and storytelling fall short. The only factors that remain consistent are the brilliance of Pankaj Kapur and the hotness of a stubble-sporting Imran Khan. Set in a Haryana village, the film sets out to tackle the political issue of forcible acquisition of arable land. What could have been stinging social satire is undermined by over-the-top acting, predictable twists, and set pieces. But its biggest shortcoming is that it only skims the surface of the complex issue it seeks to tackle.
Mandola (Pankaj Kapur), we find out, is a socialist when he’s drunk, and a capitalist when he’s sober. He lives in a faux colonial palace with his nymphomaniac daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) and Shakespeare-spouting driver Matru (Imran Khan), a law-graduate from JNU. Say what? Yeah. That’s where the film starts going downhill. Enter Chief Minister Chaudhury Devi (a miscast Shabana Azmi) and her bimbo son Baadal (Arya Babbar), and the focus suddenly shifts from exploitation to relationships. The punch in the early scenes peters out, and sophisticated comedy gives way to slapstick.
Pankaj Kapur and Imran Khan have enough chemistry to pull off most of the sillier comic sequences, but there’s simply too much unoriginal humour – every sketch reminded me of something I’ve seen before. With the storyline turning inexplicably superficial, the narrative begins to feel tired. While parts of the plot are hammered in repeatedly, too much is left to conjecture, and important turns in the story aren’t explained. What are Matru’s ideals? What made him come back to his village? What is the revolution his batch-mates ask him about? How deep is his servant-complex? What exactly is his equation with Bijlee?
With none of the other actors able to respond to his energy, Kapur’s performance starts sagging towards the end. While Anushka Sharma and Imran Khan are good with facial expression, they both struggle with the dialect, and end up sounding like regular city kids trying to fit into an ancestral village, not city-educated villagers.
The Verdict: The film is enjoyable in parts, but it simply doesn’t come together.