Matru Ki Bijli ka Mandola(2013)
Now thats a crazy title if I ever heard one.And it does not make sense. Harry Mandola is a rich, hard drinking businessman played by Pankaj Kapoor(shades of Ponty Chaddha?), Bijlee is his vivacious daughter played by Anushkha Sharma and Matru(Imran Khan) is his servant/driver/man friday/drinking buddy.That’s the basic set up.As we get introduced to the dramatis personae the befuddlement grows.The film does not make any sense either, it looks like a silly vehicle trying to set up yet another improbable love story between the driver and the heiress, with a bit of Haryanvi rambunctiousness and cusses thrown in for good measure.
But no, the director is Vishal Bhardwaj, one of India’s most talented filmmakers, who is not content to drape his heroines in chiffon saris and take them on a trip to the Swiss Alps.Instead he is a literary minded man and a music maker to boot.In Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola( hereafter MKBKM..now that sounds like the abbreviation of a rude phrase but we will let it rest there) he creates a big mess.But I swear on the soul of Arvind Kejriwal, its a beautiful mess.This film must have been scripted in 2011 when the country was swaying to the anarchic tunes of Anna Hazare who held the parliament and the country hostage with his nearly demagogic harangues against corruption. Mr Bhardwaj did not take the self righteous route of making a new version of Rang De Basanti,which to its credit, anticipated the need for a popular citizens movement much before Mr Hazare started frothing at the mouth.Instead he realised the absurdity of the drama unfolding at Jantar Mantar. This film is his conviction, which I share, that India is not ready for its moment in the revolution calendar, which has red letter days spread out far more pragmatically then our impatient news channels would like.
In the unremarkable set of the three title characters he throws in an ambitious politician Chaudhari Devi,who played by Shabana Azmi, modelled externally perhaps on the Mayawati’s of the world but at heart our dear Italian Godmother, keeps the chair warm for her feckless son, Baadal (Arya Babbar).Dark clouds are indeed gathering over our country, when the prince ascends the throne. Chaudhari Devi is in bed with Mandola, he will develop a vast agricultural land which he will bamboozle the farmers into relinquishing and which the good minister will convert into a SEZ. Bijlee will become the Catharine of Braganza whose dowry must be a great piece of real estate like the city of Bombay itself.Only now the Haryana hinterland is more priceless property, in close proximity to a money power saturated Delhi, and this is where the film is set.
Matru leads a double life, he is a closet Maoist, and is inciting the farmers into a revolt against the brazen land grab.The old men of Haryana have become stereotyped as the guys who locate the cause for rape in chow mien but here they seem like pretty normal folks, with a sense of humour laced with language deeply but innocently misogynistic. Perhaps this is the worst chow mien does, make you mouth Mother/Sister obscenities. Mr Bhardwaj used this to great comic effect but that’s not the whole point, as it was in that Bose DK film.
That Mao is the hero of the farmers is the point.History has made it amply clear that Chairman Mao was probably the most ruthless autocrat ever, it’s his misty ideology that continues to fuel a million misguided mutinies thats really funny.A happy ending is achieved with great help from a shocking pink buffalo which first appears as a CGI creature that Mandola sees in his drunken stupor and then one which is hand painted to make Mandola’s mann-go-dola( refer to the film Devadas, which has a song Mandola re dola re..) . Mandola has a split personality, when he is drunk he is a bit of a socialist, as all human beings are.Mr Bhardwaj would rather awaken simple goodness within us and especially in our parents, whose ambitions and pragmatism most of India’s youth channelize today.If somehow parents actually encourage us to do the right thing a revolution can come to our country.
Mr Bhardwaj takes great risks and a lot of time to deliver this dark comedy with all the energy of a Shakespearean farce.He has used tragedies like Macbeth (which is revisited here in a wonderful scene) and Othello.Now he must turn to the master’s comedies, not a particular text this time, but his entire comic oeuvre.MKBKM is a farce in the glorious Shakespearean sense and captures the zeitzast of modern India remarkably well.We yearn for change, we march to India gate for change, we sign petitions on Facebook for a nameless victim of the “rape of the century”, but alas we cannot change ourselves.
As Harold Bloom, the foremost scholar on the Bard puts it,“Shakespeare will not make us better, and he will not make us worse, but he may teach us how to overhear ourselves when we talk to ourselves.. he may teach us how to accept change in ourselves as in others, and perhaps even the final form of change”.
Take a bow Vishal Bhardwaj!!