Aseem Chhabra feels Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola starts off on a promising note but falters towards the end.
In Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola -- directed and written by the very talented Vishal Bhardwaj (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, 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) 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 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) -- 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) 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 and Kareena Kapoor in Omkara, 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.
Also Read: Review: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is absurdly great