Cast: Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Pankaj Kapur, Shabana Azmi
Direction: Vishal Bhardwaj
Macbeth and Maoism don't normally make for a cinematic cocktail, but with Vishal Bhardwaj you can never tell. Vishal's is a mindspace where nothing ever unfolds as it would seem. He played out the surprise quotient in Kaminey, Omkara and Maqbool. He does it again with his new film, teasingly packaged as a rom-com.
Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is a satire that uses a Shakespearean whiff and shades of Red politics to make a caustic comment beneath its catchy, mouthful of a title. If comedy mixed with romance has become a Bollywood staple to ensure box-office kill, Vishal uses the formula to add layers to what starts off as a deceptively simple tale.
A lot has been said about the uber-cool Imran Khan's rustic Haryanvi turn. You could have a few hiccups when he tries out the Jatt accent, but the guy admirably moulds himself into what is surely the best role to have come his way yet.
Matru's Bijlee, Anushka Sharma, does a better job though, when it comes to getting into the skin of character. May be, Anushka is getting into a comfort zone playing these bubbly feisty types film after film. Vishal's latest merely gives her scope to add some depth to her set Bollywood image.
The killer acts, though, come from the veterans. This is Pankaj Kapur's film, no doubt. As Harry Mandola, millionaire with a dual personality, Pankaj flaunts versatile abundance. Whatever little screen space is left is hogged by Shabana Azmi, Hindi cinema's most accomplished actor right now, despite restricted footage as a ruthless politician.
Mandola and Shabana's Chaudhri Devi have a familiar agenda at hand. They want to grab acres of farmland in their remote hometown for a Special Economic Zone. The farmers are naturally up in arms. The black comedy about the screenplay (Vishal and Abhishek Chaubey) lies in Mandola's eccentric persona. The alcoholic tycoon becomes a caring soul when drunk, leading a revolution against himself in that state. When he is sober, he is no better than a beast. The Macbeth metaphor is cleverly woven in thanks to Mandola's visions. He sees Gulabo the bhains at odd hours. It is a witty Jatt twist to Lady Macbeth's bloodied hands.
Vishal uses Matru to make his political point. Without reserving much surprise, he reveals soon enough that the mysterious Mao, who guides the farmers in their agitation, is really Matru, otherwise Mandola's servant and drinking partner.
The build-up is superb, and the narrative leaves ample room for each character to grow on you. The polished tech-specs complement the black comedy, too.
But the film crumbles in the climax, giving you an end that is too filmy for satisfaction. The end is one that bars Vishal's latest from becoming an exceptional effort. For everything else it is worth, this is the first real whopper coming out of Bollywood this year. Go for it.