Summary:Things Work Well When Bharadwaj Channels Bard In A Stylized Second Half, But He Brings it Not Before the Interval and Plays Safe Instead And You Are Underwhelmed
An attempt to adapt the great Bard from stage to silver screen has to be immaculate and without any compromises in the style of representing the characters and their situations. In the second half of Matru Ki Bijlee ka Mandola, director and scriptwriter Vishal Bharadwaj seems to enter into ‘Shakespeare’ mode, staging the scenes, setting the score and filming the characters in a highly Shakespearean style, and we sense how much he must’ve awaited to do it ‘his way’. Because in the first half, for the sake of retaining the audiences, Bharadwaj compromises some of his skill by not keeping it consistent with ‘his’ way in the second part – while the first part leans more towards realism, the second becomes very stylized and characters who had both shades of black and white later fell either into black (i.e. bad guys) or white (good guys). I for a change thought that this film deserved to have a stylized approach, considering Bharadwaj’s forte of skillfully adapting Shakespeare in his previous films such as Maqbool and Omkara (haven’t seen them but my parents have hailed both films). Even the background sounds have been used as a motif in the second part, such as the scene where thunder is heard with every promise the character Mandola makes to the Machiavellian Chaudhari Devi; such an effect is usually very cheesy but it works especially well for that particular scene.
Now Bharadwaj is one of the few Indian directors whose movies I generally look forward to watch; in Vishal’s case, it isn’t because I have seen all his previous films, but it is more because I liked Saat Khoon Maaf for its interesting concept and from then looked forward to new and intriguing films from the director. MKBKM’s promos were especially memorable for the two catchy songs and great choreography of the same in the videos, and the hard-to-remember-harder-to-forget title. Its trailer was not really generous in giving much plot information, and that was done most probably to attract more audiences who would think the movie is plainly a well shot love story. But MKBKM is not all that plain; its characters are not simply there to laugh and rejoice – they have their own ambitions and they use either good or bad means to achieve those ambitions.
Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) is a millionaire who wishes to get his daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) married to female politician (played by Shabhana Azmi) Chaudhari Devi’s son Badal (Arya Babbar), but his main ambition is to establish factories in place of farms by capturing the SEZ meant for farmers and he takes Chaudhari Devi’s help for that. Mandola however has an alter ego that arises whenever the man is very drunk; this alter ego shares the opposite ideology of millionaire Mandola – he is on the farmers’ side. Bijlee is eager to marry Badal but she is also attached, first as a friend and then you-know-what to Mandola’s man Friday Matru (Imran Khan). Matru is a JNU graduate who returns to his village to protect the interests of the farmers, fight against Mandola’s power albeit using Mandola’s alter ego. Chaudhari Devi is the politician who shall use any wrong means to gain her the highest position in the society, and her main intention is to get her son married to Mandola’s daughter and then take over the land. Badal is her puppet in crime, a reckless, spoilt brat who is completely aware of her mother’s schemes and supports them like a cheerleader. The villagers have ‘Mao’ to give them hope and guidance in achieving their aim to protect their land while the police have Mandola’s and Chaudhari Devi’s open support in imposing unfair conditions to make the villagers yield. Yes and there is the mysterious Gulaabi Bhains, a figure that arrives each time Mandola tries controlling his drinking.
There are so many elements in the plot that echo ‘Shakespeare’, like Mandola’s dual personality which also reminded me of the millionaire’s character in Charlie Chaplin‘s famous ‘City Lights’. Some may be startled to watch characters like Gulaabi Bhains in movies, but they would be the ones who have not touched Shakespeare or those other epics of the past. The character also reminded me of an old movie named ‘The Lost Weekend’ where the protagonist (a drunk writer) began seeing bats . Chaudhari Devi is a pure Shakespeare villain like Iago, an absolute snake played effortlessly by Shabana Azmi whose black eye makeup makes her appear all the more ruthless and intimidating.
The problem I had was with Bijlee and Badal’s characters: while Badal is played very well by Arya Babbar, it is the script that makes his character very funny in majority of the first half, a little too funny for a person whom the audience should not be rooting for. Bijlee on the other hand is played by the feisty Anushka Sharma: I felt that, and I don’t intend to sound like a MCP here, her character, like the rest of the cast is too lively, which made the movie have no person to counterbalance the intensity of the rest of the characters. I personally would’ve wanted Bijlee to be more demure, readily consenting to her father’s wish but being attracted to Matru nevertheless. I think Shakespeare did exactly that in Hamlet with Ophelia, and see the effect: when Ophelia lost her sanity after hearing her father’s death, we could identify with the helplessness. It would’ve been more satisfying seeing a shy Bijlee actually becoming a feisty Bijlee and living up to her name. There is a short scene between Matru and a female friend from college, and I thought Vishal could’ve cast her as Bijlee.
Pankaj Kapur is the first Indian actor I’ve seen who can play a drunkard convincingly. Again I thought the ‘factory establishment’ dream should’ve been Chaudhari Devi’s vision and not Mandola’s. A man with such big dreams wouldn’t have a change of heart so easily.
- Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola: 10 cracking dialogue (ibnlive.in.com)