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Movie Review: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

January 16, 2013

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Liquor is the key to world salvation – at least that’s what I figured from ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’, the new pro-alcohol dramedy now showing on screens.

The village – or considering the real estate, should I say town – of Mandola shares a common Bollywood dilemma; it is bullied by a ruffian with a bushy mustache and a big gun, who fancies the side effects of capitalism (because, as villains often believe, there is no such thing as too much money).

Flaming torches of revolution are struck soon enough (they rarely take a full length of a song to get going anyways), when two of the most blitzed drunkards in town (Imran Khan and Pankaj Kapur) crash a late night town meeting, and ‘short march’ to the steps of the villain’s mansion.

Their only problem: one of these drunkards IS THE VILLAIN leading this protest – and he only makes sense when he’s NOT sober.

Mr. Kapur is Mandola (yes, the town is named after him), the ego-driven town owner whose name and image – flaunting his upcoming industries – is erected on billboards in the middle of an expanse of wheat fields; and he has a drinking problem which brings out the Jekyll from his Mr. Hyde.

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His other Mandola is an empathetic, bohemian dervish, whose drunken flings have him hauling the town’s water well out of municipal limits (trust me: it is as silly as it sounds).

Matru (Mr. Khan) is his sort-of right hand man whose duties include limiting him to two rounds of alcohol; the night he rallied against himself, he had 42.

Clearly flabbergasted by his own outburst, he quits the next day, and his imagination becomes his biggest bully. His sudden alcohol strike-back is a smiling pink cow.

The cow – a fine work of CGI by Govardhan Vigraham – is the brand ambassador of the local liquor, and it is a perfect parallel icon for ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’: like the animal, it is quirky, absurd and slogging.

There’s another highbrow analogy here as well – while the film, directed by Vishal Bharadwaj, sounds like a fine romp, its problem is like Mandola’s alcoholism. It deviates when Mr. Bharadwaj gets full of himself.

Mr. Bharadwaj’s authorship (unlike so many in Bollywood) on ‘Mandola’ is absolute, and his aesthetic chops pop-up favourably than his last two endeavors (the deplorable 7 Khoon Maaf, and the half-deplorable Kameenay). ‘Mandola’, saved by its own flash, pomp and originality, sits a few short notches above the two.

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Nonetheless, Mr. Bharadwaj should re-learn the craft of story editing. As one of the screenwriters of the movie (his co-writer is Abhishek Chaubey), Mr. Bharadwaj lags around in his scenes, pushing them for greater effect at the expense of his marginally manufactured characters.

One of them is Anushka Sharma’s Bijlee, Mandola’s free-spirit, half-rebel daughter who flaunts short shorts, bare skin and tattoos like no tomorrow (one tattoo bordering at the end of her back reads “Daikh Magar Pyar Say” – “Look, but with Love”)

Ms. Sharma and Mr. Khan work their characters well (Mr. Kapur is hardly understandable when drunk; thank God there were subtitles).

She’s undomesticated because she has daddy issues (I don’t buy her reasons). He’s here because the film needs a central lead to rally the townsfolk (doesn't it always). She’s set to get married to a vile ‘pro-progress’ politician’s imbecilic son (the son is played by Arya Babbar, the mother is Shabana Azmi – and the conundrum of their trap is excellently pitched in the story). Everyone knows the town will win in the end (Hurray!).

So, why aren't we having fun?

Maybe because like the films’ characters, our attention is tightened to a short leash.

Directed, co-written and music by Vishal Bharadwaj (with lyrics by Gulzar); Produced by Vishal Bhardwaj Pictures. Released by Fox Star and Geo Films, ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’ is rated U/A.

Apart from keen visual effects (re: smiling fake cows and blitzed airplane flights), there’s smart humour, capitalist dreams and drunken runarounds. Who says bad behaviour and alcohol is bad? (apparently your doctor – and common sense).