February Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 11 years ago

If, somehow, you’ve managed to remain unacquainted with the recent Indian film Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, you may have made the wisest decision of your life.

Vishal Bharadwaj, known for producing classics such as Omkara, Kaminey and Ishqiya, has set a high standard for his films. His forte has been focusing on small-town stories and his new film, like some of his past works, reflects the rustic flavour of village-life, as it is set in Mandola, a small village in Haryana.

The film is a comedy-drama about a wealthy industrialist Harry Mandola (played by Pankaj Kapur), who loves his drink, his daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) and the bond they share with Harry’s right-hand man, Matru (Imran Khan). Matru has been hired by Harry, an alcoholic, to keep a check on his drinking. But more often than not, they both end up getting drunk together. Also, Matru has feelings for Bijlee, who fell in love with Baadal (Arya Babbar) while they were studying together at Oxford University. Baadal is the son of a powerful politician, Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi), and is all set to marry Bijlee, much to Harry’s delight.

However, this relationship seems doomed to be a marriage of convenience as Chaudhari Devi is eyeing Harry’s huge farm land. Meanwhile, Harry, in his rare sober moments, dreams of selling his agricultural land without giving much thought to the plight of the would-be displaced villagers. However, he is a completely different person when he’s drunk. In his inebriated state, he transforms into a socialist who wants to help the villagers and often even incites them to go against him at public meetings. Harry also frequently tries to quit drinking but experiences withdrawal symptoms in the form of a gulaabi bhains, pushing him to start drinking again, thereby triggering more fights with Bijlee.

Eventually, Bijlee realises that Baadal is not her Mr Right. Baadal, however, intends to make the marriage work, by hook or by crook, because he knows the benefits it would reap for his scheming mother. To break out of the marriage, Bijlee enlists Matru’s help, only to realise that he could be “the one” for her. The dominant themes in the film are the familiar centuries-old “villagers versus overlord” strife, true love versus forced alliances, love across social divide and alcoholism’s effects on family life.

Be forewarned, the humour is quirky and unconventional, but could swing either way — you will either love it or be repulsed by it. The Haryanvi dialect is another deterrent as it can be difficult to understand, and the constant struggle to decipher the dialogue might even put you off.

Pankaj Kapur’s acting throughout the movie is phenomenal. His constant swearing and recklessness may border on annoying, but his spontaneity and his excellent expressions more than make up for it. Shabana Azmi does a great job portraying a powerful politician with deeper ulterior motives and Imran Khan breaks out of the pretty-boy image with his almost-repulsive facial hair and strong acting. Anushka Sharma plays the same bold and mischievous yet vulnerable babe she has previously played in her acting career.

For the most part, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola fails to capture your attention, and when it finally does, you’re already kind of disappointed by the movie. Despite having a relatively short runtime by Bollywood standards of 140 minutes, it’s still way too long. The story barely moves in the first hour and there are sequences that leave the viewer clueless and restless. It feels like a painfully long meander and efforts to produce laughter fall flat for the most part.

Thankfully, the story starts picking up around halfway through, and may even resonate a few LOL moments, depending on how tired you are.