Theatre of the Not-so-Absurd
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Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola
DIRECTOR: Vishal Bhardwaj
CAST: Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar
In the run-up to its release, I was quizzed on Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola. A lot. What kind of name is that? What does it mean? And I put on a quizzical expression and shrugged. With Vishal Bhardwaj, you never know. Anything is possible, particularly when the film has a most unusual, triple-barrelled moniker, constructed to intrigue.
Half-way into the film, I was still trying to figure, because nothing about it till then suggested a signature Bhardwaj film. The setting is very him: small town, north India, shifting for this one from his favourite hot-spots in western UP to a Haryana small town. But the tone is new for him: he's gone folksy-serio-bizarre here with seriously mixed results. Pre-interval, it is a meander, with a bunch of characters wandering around in search of a story, and situations meant to induce hilarity which fall flat. Post which, fortunately for him, and us, he discovers the sur he's been aiming for, and 'Matru', wherein you can actually see some of the theatre turning appropriately absurd.
Come, meet his characters. Matru (Khan) is a strapping Jat lad, handlebar mooch, aviator glasses , fat Bullet fatfati between his thighs. Mandola (Kapur) is a heavyweight land-cum-haveli owner, who loves the bottle more than anything else, and whose bloodshot eyes lead him to oddly-coloured four-legged animals. And Bijlee (Sharma) is his pretty daughter, about to be affianced to a power-hungry female politician's (Azmi) hanger-on-of-a-son (Babbar).
This bunch is at odds with each other, but they find themselves arrayed on the sides they ought to be finally (that's about the time when the parts start coming together). Till then we get the strangest mish-mash of villagers-under-attack whose only saviour is a fellow-in-a-red-mask calling himself Mao (yes, the Big Chief Commie revolutionary), who helps launch Operation Mao Mao (or Mow Mow: you choose). This is meant to stave off a takeover of the fields, and prevent the fertile patches from turning into industrial wastelands. And from turning a young girl into barter between two greedy individuals. By the time we twig on, much dead time has elapsed.