Cast: Imraan Khan, Anushka Sharma, Pankaj Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar
Direction: Vishal Bhardwaj
This spunkily titled film, sought as Vishal Bhardwaj's venture into comedy, has its title characters which could only be named by this Indian Shakespeare.
Mandola, a wealthy industrialist (Mandola Constructions, Mandola Automobiles, etc.) has his village named after him; he goes weak at his knees for the local brand of alcohol, Gulabo and goes into becoming a different man after gulping it down. And if he decides not to drink any more, he sees the animal in the logo of the alcohol brand actually coming in front of him: a pink buffalo! Brilliant Pankaj Kapoor plays this character bringing remarkable zeal to it. Though, at times it's hard to decipher his drunken speech.
Matru (convincing Imraan) is the character that intrigues me. He studied law at JNU but returned back to serve Mandola as his chauffeur after he failed to find a job, he says. But we learn a whole different reason later in the second half of the film when he meets one of his former colleague. This meeting is marked with some cliches but utter subtlety to give enough depth to Matru's character. Also, in a scene when Bijlee asks him if he has any girlfriend in Delhi, he remarks, "Yes, Sheila Dixit."
Bijlee is the most under-explored character of the film. Tattooed, skimpily dressed, she returns from Oxford University but is almost unhelpful to the tense situation surrounding the village. And it's disheartening to see a female just portrayed again to be "used" for some romances and marriage proposals.
Half into the film, you get acquainted with its dark tone under the mad-cap comic where communism forms its backbone which is humored in some hilarious punchlines later like: "Thaare ghar pe Mao-Lenin nai se kya?!" and "Tu Mao hai, tu 'Left' wali glaas le." And you see some finest scenes coming through the greedy politician Chaudhary Devi (played passionately by Shabana Azmi),who is fueling Mandola's sapno ka Lokpal, and her dumb son Baadal (caricature-ish Arya Babbar) whom she taunts to learn something from Rahul, Varun, Sachin or Jyotiradtiya: take the one when she dumbfounds him with her speech on progressive nation. Bhardwaj finds room for other catchy characters too like one blind boy cannily named as Nainsukh.
With too many things into it, the director maintains the complexity with easy flowing scenes between humor and tension, and leaves you with what he is known for: the detailing to notice, the layers to peel, the dialogues to cherish, and, to the top of it, creating romance with something as mere as a toothbrush. Bhardwaj keeps his technical finesse upright with artistic sets and fresh lights making Kartik Vijay's photography even more delicious.
In a scene when Matru and Mandola are trying to drag a well to tie it to a bullock-cart, I'm reminded of Shyam Benegal's Well Done Abba, for obviously lame reason. But I can't stop myself comparing this work of Bhardwaj's with Benegal's style of doing dark comedy (Welcome To Sajjanpur) who does it with greater mastery on the levels of engagement and emotions. And as we reach the climax where everything seems to be embroiled into a wedding scene with yet another forcefully put song and some melodrama pouring in, I see Bhardwaj entering the territory that belongs to Rajkumar Hirani (Lage Raho Munnabhai). And you wonder what purpose did the African Zulu tribe, which was presented by Baadal to Bijlee, actually serve, and why can't the fat lady in all her scenes wear anything but pink?
Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is, without a doubt, a clever film and has too many memorable scenes but I'm not sure if at all they could compensate for its disastrous climax. It leaves you helpless but to ask for the real Vishal Bhardwaj who gave us grittier adaptations of Shakespeare, whom he has referenced again in this one.