Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola Movie Review by Raja Sen

mkbkmWithout warning, there is an accident. Then, a flashback: to ten minutes earlier. A flashback which explains, nearly in realtime, how the accident comes to be. Why, then, did we not directly start from the flashback? Because Vishal said so.

Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest film delights in its own impish, impromptu absurdity. There is much daftness in this oddly titled Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, a cock-and-pink-buffalo story that stays surreal even at its most satirical. It’s theatrical, insightful, wickedly clever and, often, too funny to even laugh at, if you know what I mean. It is also, as may be apparent, an utterly random movie, sometimes jarringly uneven and frequently meandering. And yet it works, because it is, at every single step, unexpected and surprising.

Even the most seemingly slapdash of scenes appears magical when the work of a master is evident. This film swings with two sultans, each spurring the other on toward a sillier spectacle, a sight of grand lunacy. Bhardwaj more than handles his end — heaping on wordplay and quirk and texture — but the Quixote in the other corner is even wilder: Pankaj Kapur, who carries the film with smiles and slurs. Together, this jesting juggalbandi provides a rare treat: a legendary actor rolling up his sleeves and a director giving him miles of room in which to conjure. Forget Matru and Bijlee, in Mandola lies the magic.

Technically, though, the whole film lies in Mandola. It’s set in a fictive Haryana village of the same name, a name it shares with its only wealthy resident, a land-hungry tyrant played by Kapur. And while he squeezes farmers dry by day, a few stiff drinks invariably bring out his inner socialist: it’s a regular Dr Jekyll and Comrade Hyde. A drunken Mandola even leads the oppressed masses to revolt against himself, but isn’t at all amused once he regains his wits.

It is a peculiar universe populated by many a weirdo, and akes a while to settle in. One on hand is Mandola’s canny driver, Matru, (Imran Khan) who indulgently leads his master toward drink, clearly fond of the sloshed socialist within. On the other is Bijli, (Anushka Sharma) the tyrant’s daughter, an over-kohl’d drama queen eager enough to marry into money. There are farmers hunting for Mao to guide them, and sycophantic policemen who collude gladly with a scheming politician (Shabana Azmi). And being set in the laconic state of Haryana, the humour is dryer and flatter than usually seen in a farce: the laughs may not come easy, but it’s hard not to keep grinning.

But it’s not all snorts and chortles. Behind the beguiling buffoonery and unrestrained slapstick lie deeper points, about how barren fields can be more profitable than lush ones, about how politicos justify self-interest by hailing it as another form of altruism, about the way even rain can be co-opted as a farmer’s greatest foe. Why, in one unforgettable moment, glasses are raised and, instead of the often-mispronounced ‘chairs’ for ‘cheers,’ the politician raises her drink with a cry for actual seats of power. ‘Kursiyaan!’

There is much this film says, about Special Economic Zones and the development myth, and with that subject it — with a diametrically different approach — treads on some ground covered by last year’s finest film. When the most important filmmakers of our time concentrate on the same issues, we should be paying attention, too.

We must also heed the language, for there is no Indian filmmaker who uses words as deliberately, pointedly and skilfully as Bhardwaj. An accidental revolutionary, when jeered at, snaps back “ghar mein Mao-Lenin naa hai ke?” instead of bringing up mothers and sisters. Mandola’s profanity sounds coarse but is technically innocent, his most colourful bit of cussing — “uski toh Ma ka papad sadega” — merely sounding dirty. And in one exceptional scene, when Mandola evocatively outlines his vision of farms turning into shopping malls, he kicks things off with brutal lyricism, by saying this dream has been clawing at the back of his eyelids.

There is much detail to cherish, crammed lovingly between the lines. The flighty Bijli, unsure of herself — alternating one minute and direct the next, if I may — is told she has cobwebs inside her. Her father, meanwhile, is a feudal oppressor with his greatest weakness inside him, his moat literally inside his castle. Fateful rain comes from the sky soon after people from an African tribe dance exuberantly around a fire, perhaps inadvertently willing it. And a father shoves his errant daughter ahead of him, as if making her walk the plank.

Bhardwaj’s influence is clear, and, as always, saluted. The brass band in the film is called the Kusturi-ca Brass Band, and while the Serbian master Emir Kusturica is known for his chimerical surrealism, Matru appears simpler and less fluid, perhaps due to its need to adhere to a familiar dramatic narrative. In that Bhardwaj’s film appears closer to one of the loonier Coen Brothers films, or even, ah yes, a PG Wodehouse plot by way of Jim Jarmusch. It would be depressingly bleak if it wasn’t as spontaneously fun.

Imran isn’t ideal but looks the part and manages to get by, and Anushka — while stumbling on some of the stranger lines — is great in a couple of scenes near the climax. Arya Babbar, in a Reggie Mantle like clean-shaven idiot role, is pretty decent and Azmi’s reliably good, especially when armed with a scary soliloquy.

But make no mistake, this is a one-actor show, giving the greatest thespian in our country another delightfully odd space. Pankaj Kapur is the best we’ve had, and — as he hallucinates, as he rouses the people, as he steels himself — this is all a reminder of that. Even the way he gigglingly insists on giving a man who calls himself Mao the bottle with his Left hand.

Laced with both acid and arsenic, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It takes a while to get into its groove, but changes gears with spectacular finesse after that. And no matter the slight niggles: this is a film that goes far out on a limb, and gives us both bedlam and nuances, enough to warrant repeated viewings. And more than enough to love. Oh boy oh boy indeed.

Rating: 4 stars

Review: Vishal Bhardwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

  1. sputnik 9 years ago

    hmm… I get the feeling from his review that he wanted to love it even before watching it and is generous when it comes to the movie’s faults which he is not with other movies.

  2. kareena lamba 9 years ago

    I know , got the same feeling from the review , but i would still watch the movie since its a Vishal Bhardwaj movie and its stars Pankaj Kapur . Mayebe for the sake of their their past brilliant performances .

  3. aryan 9 years ago

    Review By Aseem Chhabra

    In Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola — directed and written by the very talented Vishal Bhardwaj [ Images ] (and co-written by Abhishek Chaubey, with the consultant support of New York-based Sabrina Dhawan), Pankaj Kapur plays a man with a split personality.

    Kapur is Harry Mandola, a real estate developer and corporate biggie living in a village in Haryana. During the day he is a nasty, cold and ruthless businessman who is plotting to grab the land of every poor villager and build factories, apartment buildings and malls. But give him his drink, and Mandola becomes a lovable drunk who seems to have a warm heart and a lot of compassion for the same villagers who he is trying to cheat.

    Kapur is absolutely terrific in a demanding role and just as he has done in Bhardwaj’s other works (Blue Umbrella and Maqbool), he gives one of his career’s best performances here.

    The unfortunate thing is that just as Mandola’s character, Bhardwaj’s MKBKM also has a split personality. At times, the film is hilarious, and reminds you how much fun Bollywood cinema can be, and at other times, it is dull, disappointing, and quite annoying.

    At times, the film attempts to discuss some very important and pressing issues facing India [ Images ], and challenges the country’s bright, shining image, while at other times the film is muddled, confused and messes up its good intentions.

    While it has the absurd whackiness of Emir Kusturica (I thought of Arizona Dream and Underground) and a hint of irreverence of Coen Brothers (O Brother, Where Art Thou and Burn After Reading [ Images ]) in places, at other times it also becomes like a confused Bollywood films — not knowing where to go and how to end.

    MKBKM starts with so much promise. A white limousine is parked in the middle of agricultural fields facing a shack.

    Mandola and his man Friday Matru — a remarkably surprising Imran Khan [ Images ] sporting a beard and solid earrings (he actually got his ears pierced for this film) — drunk in the middle of the day, want to buy more alcohol. But it is a dry day and the voice inside the shack refuses to sell alcohol, despite Mandola’s desperate pleas (Kapur is brilliant in such moments).

    And so Matru and Mandola have no option. They drive the stretch limousine right through the shack.

    Next, Mandola walks into a gathering of poor villagers listening to a rebellious message from a Mao Tse-tung (the film has some fun playing with the Chinese leader’s name and the fact that most characters in the film are clueless about his legacy). In his inebriated state, Mandola leads the villagers to revolt against him.

    An absurd situation like this appears very fresh and charming initially, but when it starts to get repetitive, the film does not seem funny anymore, and one actually stops caring for the characters.

    The same happens in scenes with the pink buffalo that appears to haunt Harry every time he decides to quit drinking. It seems like such a whacky, imaginative idea, but not when the buffalo shows up again and again, until it becomes tedious.

    Towards the middle of the film, Harry stands on top of a hill with his some sort of a love interest — a corrupt politician Chaudhari Devi (a mostly disappointing Shabana Azmi [ Images ]) — and visualises his dream of converting the land that he has acquired through not-so-kosher means into massive factories and bright malls with multiplexes.

    It is a grand dream, presented in a visionary cinematic style.

    But that style becomes meaningless when the film switches its focus to the love-triangle plot. Mandola’s firecracker daughter Bijlee (a sexy and likeable Anushka Sharma [ Images ]) believes she is in love with Devi’s moronic son Badal (Arya Babbar in quite an annoying performance). Devi herself is plotting to cheat Mandola through the marriage of their children.

    Will Bijlee marry Badal or her childhood friend Matru?

    Bhardwaj brings high energy to some parts of the film. As always his musical compositions and background score are delightful. Just as he did with Saif Ali Khan [ Images ] and Kareena Kapoor [ Images ] in Omkara [ Images ], he finds the inner actor in Imran Khan in MKBKM. But his storytelling skills are not well-honed here. So, unfortunately, MKBKM does not deliver all that it promises.

    Ratings: Two and Half.

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