Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola stars Imran Khan, Pankaj Kapur, Anushka Sharma and Shabana Azmi. Sounding weirdly preternatural, the unattractive title of this film created apprehensions in everyone’s mind when the movie was announced, whether the makers would have wanted it or not. The first trailer and the following promos reflected a lot of fun on theaters this weekend, despite the limitations of a seemingly non-populist film, set in a village with no mainstream slam-bang histrionics to boast off. But then you find a name emblazoned on this venture, that of Vishal Bharadwaj, and every movie buff is forced to keep his punditry aside and expect awesomeness. For those who don’t know much about Vishal, well, have you ever cared about cinema beyond a means of sporadic entertainment? Thus, it wouldn’t matter that Bharadwaj is a champion of Indian cinema, largely competing with just himself. Agreed, Saat Khoon Maaf did not live up to our expectations succumbing to a lot of indulgence, but a single infirmity cannot decree a predilection. With MKBKM, Vishal steps into comedy. Oh wait, lemme correct that, he literally prances into a completely new genre that is fast attaining a state of stasis like a ginormous bout of fresh air. MKBKM is a delightful film, a rare one that stunningly wraps around so much in its garb that it is excruciating to fathom the astute effort that went into it.
Written assiduously by Vishal Bharadwaj and the brilliant Abhishek Chaubey, Matru is a delicacy that organically offers you multiple resplendent flavors, as each layer peels off, with constant assuredness that stays with you long after you have left the theaters. MKBKM is essentially a comedy in its treatment, but it cautiously laces around a very pertinent national problem in India, one that evades our daily lives amidst the rigmarole of bigger cities in developing nations, which are constantly assaulted by the pressures of competing with the sneering pace of progress. Vishal picks up the familiar premise of a small unknown village in Haryana, dealing with its own issues of land forfeiture, overbearing corruption and bureaucratic autocracy but turns it on its head with the uncanny power of alcohol and alcoholics, for real. The characters legitimately end up solving most of their problems when they are drunk, and this lends the proceedings a seriously funny outlook as the fallible leads meander their way to closure, almost walking tipsy. MKBKM is like a rum-soaked raisin that radiates warmth, while driving home a valid point. Bharadwaj and Chaubey do not seem to believe in doing anything marginally mawkish, stitching together a coherent piece on industrialization in a village led by two alcoholic characters, where one is a schizophrenic tyrant and the other is a secret savior. As rare as the title, the film packs in immaculate gut in many of its sunny and fresh moments. The scene where Shabana Azmi dictates the path to progress to her devastatingly immature son, or the marvelously executed finale which is both theatrically urgent and outrageously comic, the film magically gets its tone right, never failing to be entertaining. As a tradition, Bharadwaj pays a regulatory tribute to William Shakespeare in a small sequence in the second half. The crackling motifs and subtle hints used to highlight the socio-political playground of a village such as the tradition of slavery, lack of direction amongst the masses, the attachments to your own home or just the trade-offs of money and love, all of them lift the movie to be qualified as another gem from the master. There a few loose ends such as the track of Matru’s deal with a leading company which never reaches a conclusion. One would have also preferred to delve more into the confused psyche of Anushka’s character, Bijlee, which shows a gleam of hope towards the end. Yet, at its breakneck pace, MKBKM finishes up in 140 minutes providing you the exact smashing payoff you are looking for.
Not only is Vishal Bharadwaj glib in direction or screenwriting, but his multi-faceted talents overflow from the credits of MKBKM. Produced exclusively by him and distributed by Fox Star Studios, MKBKM is festered with virtuous production values and efficient technicalities. Music by Vishal Bharadwaj (yet, again) is fantabulous with Khamakha being my favorite song of the album, after a vicious inner struggle to rate it above the others. The songs have been choreographed and shot with a cheesy effervescence, right in the mood of the film. At two instances, Vishal uses speech poetry through Pankaj Kapur to searingly make his point in the absence of songs. If that wasn’t commendable enough, his masterstroke provides a welcome twist to the smoking warning at the beginning by wrapping it in a mini song. A lot of credit for such cerebral stuff goes to Gulzar for penning droolworthy lyrics once again for each of them. Kartik Vijay’s cinematography is honest, devoid of any cheap thrills. Editing by Sreekar Prasad does not leave much to complain about. Production Design plays an important role in aiding the authenticity of MKBKM as most of the scenes are captured in real locations.
Bharadwaj has been traditionally known to extract striking performances from his actors, and turning the careers around of his heroes or heroines. In MKBKM, despite the discerning selection of a competent cast, it is painfully hard to ignore that Pankaj Kapur stands out, and by a large distance. As Mandola, a character bespoke for him, Kapur stupefies you with his emphatic portrayal of a guttural master who becomes a silly Jatt when alcohol enters his system. The transitions are smooth enough to make you feel it was two different people playing those characters, and yet, not a blemish that you can put on the prudence of each portrayal. He unspools like a firecracker everytime they called ‘action’ on the sets leaving a remarkable performance that will erode all scars of his directorial debut in Mausam last year. Imran Khan possesses limited versatility and Matru is not something he would have ever thought of playing. Surprisingly, he seems to have nosedived into this character, carrying no baggage or reference, and comes out with an unrelenting performance that makes you believe he has pushed his limits and the result is good. Anushka Sharma has always done well, despite being cast in similar roles at times. In this one, she plays a cheerful yet emotionally weak character with a little nuance, despite the character not arching well in the whole picture. But you know what she is capable of when she pulls off a stunner in the climax sequence. Shabana Azmi is first-rate as usual as the conniving politician. Watch her in the scene where she is dancing with her son and simultaneously explaining the importance of his marriage to her. Arya Babbar is unusually well-cast in the role of a dumb son of a politician whose superficial world does not understand beyond what he sees or listens.
Vishal Bharadwaj is a gifted filmmaker with a wide slate of films, and Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola diversifies it with a masterstroke. Who said it’s hard to make a film entertaining if you are addressing an issue? While MKBKM gets almost a lot of it right, it is a hard film to sell to an audience that feeds on malarkey and one can only hope that the film finds its people. It is a slick product, with a lot to offer and hopefully the star faces would draw everyone to the theaters. As for the minorities of cine-sensible junta, this is a moment of consolation that Vishal is back in his original skin and has delivered another movie for us to talk about. I sincerely request you to take your whole family and go watch this film, it would be worth every penny you spend, that is if Anushka Sharma isn’t attractive enough for you.
Rating – 3.5/5