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Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola – a review


From the moment the promos hit the air, it promised to be a strange movie. But you hoped it was a good strange, or interesting strange. It suggested dark comedy, satire, farcical elements with a popular star cast and a winning director.

But when the time came to deliver, it could have been so much more. While one must admire Vishal Bharadwaj for making a film like this, which stemmed from his love for dharti mata, the hinterlands and Shakesperean tradition all combined, he stumbled in areas that he normally shouldn’t have. With Omkara (his Othello), Maqbool (his Macbeth) etc., he had clear direction. He took an Elizabethan setting and converted it to the darkness of a village in rural India. A milieu he understands well, a tradition he can well expand. With Matru…, he took the technique of social satire and farce and moved it to his familiar rural India. Without a strong Shakesperean story to fall back on, he flounders with a premise. Is he merely picking at the problems of rural farmers and their rich zamindars who are out to looto them? He deals with the topic with unwarranted superficiality. If one chooses not to be serious about a serious problem, then one must at the very least attempt to show some depth while plotting around it.

A good student of Shakespeare always has powerful characters and can sketch them well. Bharadwaj hasn’t failed before and doesn’t falter here either. All the characters come alive, are stand out performances and are believable, even if occasionally caricaturized on the premise of satire. Pankaj Kapur as the Jekyll-and-Hyde Mandola is brilliant, if a little too easy to manipulate towards a happy film ending. Bijlee is a free spirit and plays her role faultlessly. Matru is what the actor, Imran Khan, has described as a desi Che Guevara. Matru’s sophistication is obvious, but then we write it off as a Delhi-education that has softened the expected rough edges. Shabana Azmi’s politician and her witless son played by Arya Babbar appear the most caricaturized, but in the space of the film and it’s intentions, the OTT treatment is forgiven, in fact even acceptable.

For someone who should be a stickler for details, Bharadwaj seems to have ignored quite a few things. Why must Bijlee run amok shouting for Matru, when we are later shown Matru wielding a cell phone? How does Matru conveniently manage to pull a favour, get a check of money for his village, and then never have to worry about making the delivery 5 days later of the crop which is ruined? There was a chance to create pressure — those 5 days one would think would have been mentioned for a reason — but it never comes up, as time stands still and the village gets busy with Bijlee’s sudden wedding. Mandola has a remarkable change of heart, we don’t really understand why…and that’s a shame because everything seemed to be building up to him and his idiosyncrasies. It’s all very convenient, but it’s not sharp.

The dialogue on the other hand, is sharp. It’s witty and layered and the delivery is pretty good from all the characters, who show wonderful comic timing all the way. For once, the onus of comedy isn’t on the comic relief but is on all the characters, which is great thing for Indian cinema, especially when it comes to satire. However, the failing was language. With farce and dark humour, one would need one clear, easily decipherable language. Bharadwaj has used three: Hindi, English and Haryanvi, of which one is entirely alien to the multiplex audience and another alien to a single-screen audience. While Kapur is playing his character perfectly, slurring the words like a drunk, he is inadvertently making it harder for the audience to grasp all of what he’s saying, often having the viewer miss key points of humour. The director should have caught that. On the flip side, Khan with his crisp diction is actually easily understood even in his learned Haryanvi, making the experience lighter and easier for the multiplex audience.

All in all, a clever attempt but a near miss. It will go down in the books as something to be dissected, analysed and categorized. It is a film of no small significance, it’s just unfortunate how close it came to being a serious contender for something special. Not to mention, slash 20 min off the run time, it would have read as well and tightly as Delhi Belly, another mad caper film. And Matru… could have retained it’s rather good music.