Vishal Bharadwaj has lost his way. One hoped that he would have found it after “Saat Khoon Maaf” but it was not to be. So even though I went to see this film with moderate expectations, MKBKM fell below them – and those are words I never thought I would say for a Bharadwaj film; indeed I had imagined spending my time writing odes in praise of the man!
Pankaj Kapoor is Harpool Singh Mandola. Rich Harry is feudal master of a village called Mandola, somewhere in Haryana. In cahoots with lady love, politician Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi) Mandola wants to get the village declared an SEZ – Special Economic Zone, so farmers will sell their land to the government and he can build his dream project/concrete jungle over it. The farmers are reluctant to hand over their lands, and are encouraged in their protestations by a mysterious figure known only as “Mao”.
Harry has almost a Jekyll/Hyde character. When drunk on “Gulabo” from the local theka, he turns genial, promises to do well for the farmers. When sober, he turns into trigger-happy feudal lord, hoping to squeeze every inch of land from the farmers. His right hand man, Hukum Singh Matru, has been employed expressly to prevent Harry from lapsing into a detrimental drunken state.
There is also Bijlee (Anushka Sharma), Mandola’s young, Cambridge educated daughter, traipsing about the village in short shorts, and sighing like there’s some tragedy afoot. She is to be married to Chaudhari Devi’s nincompoop son Baadal (Arya Babbar) to cement Mandola and Devi’s business and personal relationship.
Pankaj Kapoor’s character is the most well-fleshed out. And he does full justice to it, whether it is as the lovable, out-of-control drunk or the whip-snapping, almost-mean builder. Shabana Azmi is fabulous as the evil politician, grasping, greedy and wily, but purporting under public gaze to do good for the nation. Arya Babbar (son of Raj Babbar and Nadira) does well enough as Baadal. I could have almost cared for Anushka’s character Bijlee – all her sighing and faux happiness at being Baadal’s fiancée made her a very interesting person, but I know too little about her. The weakest of the lot was Matru. Imran Khan is lost under the big, bushy beard, and his robust Haryanvi Jat is mostly ineffectual – he can’t sway his boss Mandola, and he is just as little use to his fellow villagers.
Apart from Mandola and Chaudhari Devi’s character, the others never came to life. We know not what they want or why, and the big one – why is it that they deserve to be cared about? This film’s teaser made it out to be a zany comedy/romance. But the promised humor is strained; I groaned at the stretched out scenes where Mandola and Matru run about in a drunken state. There are moments of sharp satire, but they are few and far between. There is very little romance/romantic chemistry. Matru and Bijlee might covertly have the hots for each other, but they aren’t telling/showing us. There is one liplock between the two, where I felt for Anushka; she had to face Imran’s facial hair all alone, poor kid!
Vishal Bharadwaj does inventive, out-of-the-box cinema, and for that he is too be commended. Still a film must hold interest and make sense, and this one does neither. The ending is weak and meandering, and given to spouting gibberish and silliness. The storyline is rather earthy, a departure from Bharadwaj’s generally esoteric and cutting-edge dramas. Post-watch I think he meant to gussy up an ordinary political storyline with his trademark eccentricities, but the eccentricities overwhelm the film. The music is poor for a Bhardwaj film, the only song I liked was “Khamakha”.
This film is best when not watched. If you must, save yourself the trip to the theatre and wait for the DVD.