The ‘chawl’ culture of Mumbai has never been too far from Hindi cinema. From Basu Chatterjee’s Piya Ka Ghar to Sanjay Jha’s Pran Jaye Par Chawl Na Jaye to Mahesh Manjrekar’s City Of Gold and Chandan Arora’s Striker. …many gripping tales of resilience and kinship have been put on screen with no trace of self-pity or anger in the under-privileged characters who go about their lives with dignity, optimism and humour even after queuing up for an hour to get into the dingy public toilet.
Madholal…Keep Walking is a well-intended look at people we know from the chawls even if we’ve never been to one. The conversation among the characters is authentic. But the sad part is these characters don’t seem to be saying anything that interests anyone apart from the characters who speak.
Mundane matters acquire a certain engaging quality on screen only when ordinariness is treated with extraordinary empathy. This was the case recently with Irfan Kamal’s Thanks, Maa where one slum kid’s quest for a mother made all the routine characters assume a life beyond their appointed ennui.
In Madholal… the plot and dialogues create no interest in the characters. For half the film we grow familiar with the hand-to-mouth world of the protagonist Madholal (Subrat Dutta) his family of loving wife and two daughters and his circle of friends with whom he commutes by train every day. The conversation among the friends is essentially about sex, or the lack of it.
One can’t but recall with pleasure and warmth the middleclass ladies travelling to and fro in the local trains of Mumbai in the soap Ladies Special. Not one of the characters travelling with Madholal in these crowded trains appears interesting enough to meet, let alone take home.
Midway through the flat narration there’s a bomb blast on a train. The lives of the people who populate the film are turned around. Madholal, we are happy to know, keeps walking. There are some purposely poignant emotional-highpoints in the story that touch you with their sincerity in the second-half. Actor Purba Dutta who plays Madholal conveys a profound anguish and helplessness in the second-half. His train-journey at the end when he comes to terms with his changed circumstances in life is a measure of the resilience that Mumbai’s middleclass epitomizes.
Sadly the film never quite takes off. The plot is too blunt about its noble intentions to convey the grief of common people caught in the downside of terrorism. This look at Mumbai’s undying spirit is like a village mela after closing-time. If Slumdog Millionaire was Mumbai on steroids, Madholal…Keep Walking takes the lives from a chawl on a lifeless journey.