His last film had seven murders. No one’s killed in the new one. Oh wait… no one on screen that is!
Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is modelled character for character on Bertolt Brecht’s 1940 play Mr Puntila and His Man Matti. Maybe because Brecht’s play was inspired from a Finnish folk tale, the writer-director-producer didn’t feel the need to credit the playwright.
Like Puntila, Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) is a Jekyll-Hyde guy, who in his sober state in the daytime is the mean machine Harry and at night “charioted by Bacchus and his pards” is the freaky friend Haria.
Matti is Matru (Imran Khan) here, Mandola’s chauffeur who in the Jeeves-Wooster tradition manipulates his master, making the leftist people’s person do things in the dark that the right capitalist pig regrets the next morning. Because Matru has an alter ego too — Mao (yes, literal is the tone here), who came back to the Haryana village after his Delhi college degree to start a revolution.
Whether Harry or Haria is the real Mandola is to be decided by his daughter Bijlee’s (Anushka Sharma) impending marriage. She has managed to form an unholy love triangle herself: With the bourgeoisie — Badal (Arya Babbar), the puppet son of politician Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi) — and the proletariat — the childhood buddy Matru.
Like Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai, which was also an adaptation (officially from Vassilis Vassilikos’s Z), MKBKM’s take-off issue is land-grabbing (the bad Mandola wants to take away the villagers’ land and build a factory there) but unlike Shanghai, MKBKM, as it trudges along, decides to address every issue the country has faced, is facing
and will ever face. As the Big Momma in khadi kurti chants out in one poetic monologue that power is passe; it’s about pragati play.
Add to that India Shining speech a song listing all the scams out there and voila, you have your message-movie, the provocative social commentary by a thinking filmmaker. And since he has to also spell cool, the comic satire is punctuated with guffawing pink buffaloes and Kusturica Brass Band parties.
But Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is also unapologetically uninteresting and infuriatingly indulgent. It’s like this all-knowing self-conscious hodgepodge that laughs at its own jokes and keeps patting itself on the back. It is Vishal Bhardwaj’s No Drinking, which, like Anurag Kashyap’s No Smoking, is so full of itself that it just cannot fathom the fall.
There are real fun moments sure, like when Mandola and Matru go for “a night walk” on a chopper that catches fire or when Mission Mao Mao ends in a cow dung attack. But MKBKM is never consistent in tone and the comedy cape often comes off exposing the familiar innards of a political movie. And the solution specified is so simplistic and sudden, that it is really a clichéd cop-out.
The best thing about the film is Pankaj Kapur. Playing “do aadmi… ek sharaab se pehle, ek sharaab ke baad”, the actor is a riot in every frame he appears. Part Don Corleone — the good father in the wrong business — and part Don Quixote — the well is the windmill here — Mandola’s methods and madness are brought to life with exquisite timing and endearing timbre by Bhardwaj’s favourite actor.
Kapur’s gestures are enough to have you rolling in your chair laughing even if you don’t understand half the things he is saying. The Haryanvi accent mixed with the drunken delivery makes it almost impossible to make out some of the words Mandola’s Haria avatar is chewing.
Yes, like it often happened in Omkara. Why can’t the writer-director provide subtitles if he can dole out lines and lines of titles (from one medium popcorn is 1000 calories to acidity alert due to a (post-meal walk!) to mock the cigarette disclaimer at the start of the movie? Even Batman needs subtitles in Bharat.
Or maybe the gibber jabber is deliberately done to slip in words,which may actually be “pancho” but you know what it sounds like; where “teri Maa ki…” ends with “papad” but doesn’t sound that edible. What the fun, bhootnike?
If Bhardwaj’s Blue Umbrella man is brilliant, his Makdee woman is a delight too. Shabana Azmi plays the evil politician with guile and glee, making a sinister maa-beta tag-team with an at-ease Arya Babbar.
Imran’s adequate but this is going to be no desi career-bender for the Khan boy. Pyaar se dekho yaa gusse se, with tattoo or without, Anushka seems to be playing the same girl in every movie.
The songs are picturised emphatically even though the tunes would remind you of earlier Vishal Bhardwaj songs. Kartik Vijay Thyagarajan shoots the film with heart and in glorious colours.
But the film caresto remind you that “no chemical paint was used” on the gulaabi bhains!
In a scene towards the end of the film, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is quoted and the premise even used to pull off a plot point. And you’re immediately reminded of the brilliant film that the same director had adapted from the play at the start of his career.
What happened to that Vishal? Come on, this is more like Maqbool Ki Bhardwaj Ka Rasgulla!
Matru ki bijlee ka mandola (u/a)
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Cast: Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Pankaj Kapur, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar
Running time: 150 minutes