One looks forward to a Vishal Bhardwaj film for varied reasons. For this supremely talented storyteller/music composer, stories have preceded stars, which, to be brutally honest, is a rarity in Bollywood. Though he has worked with A-list names, he's *not* made it a compulsion or regularity. Additionally, one cannot accuse him of peddling saccharine sweet romances, brain-dead comedies or fancy family dramas to his spectators. Experimenting with varied genres, pushing the envelope vis-Ã -vis the subject matter of the film and often focusing on small-town stories has been his forte. Also, the soundtrack remains fresh in your memory, even after his movies make an exit from cinema halls.
With MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA, Vishal goes to the Indian hinterland yet again to narrate a brand new story. This film, like some of his past works, reflects the rustic flavor of villages/small towns. The supremely talented film-maker is often accused of making 'dark films', but MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA is an exception. Vishal tackles a serious issue, but makes sure he injects dollops of humor this time. Be forewarned, the humor is not the leave-your-brains-at-home kind of stuff that we get served in most films. It's quirky and unconventional.
MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA is definitely not Vishal's best work, though the master touch is evident in several sequences. The story barely moves in the first hour; there are stretches when the account begins to blur. Thankfully, the sequence of events and some exceptional moments in the post-interval portions save the film from tripping. At the same time, I wish to add that the film could've done with some judicious trimming for a stronger impact. It's way too lengthy!
Set in the rustic surroundings of a village in Haryana, MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA is about Harry Mandola [Pankaj Kapur], a wealthy industrialist who loves his drink, his daughter Bijlee [Anushka Sharma] and the unusual bond they both share with Harry's man Friday, Matru [Imran Khan]. Much to her father's delight, Bijlee is all set to marry Baadal [Aarya Babbar], the son of a powerful politician Chaudhari Devi [Shabana Aami]. This alliance, which is far from just being a simple union of two young people, becomes the seed for a story that brings twists and turns in the lives of Matru, Bijlee and Mandola.
One has come to expect genuinely hatke stuff from Vishal Bhardwaj and MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA is no exception. Right from the casting to the setting, the plotline and the twists, even the music... you can't draw parallels with any movie you may have watched. That's one of the significant reasons why this motion picture thrives. But there're shortcomings galore... The erratic writing [screenplay: Abhishek Chaubey, Vishal Bhardwaj; script consultant: Sabrina Dhawan], a few sequences are stretched for no reason, the uneven pacing distracts you from staying focused. In addition, like I pointed at the very outset, the humor is quirky and may not appeal to the hoi polloi. The Haryanvi dialect is another deterrent. The lingo remains faithful to the flavor of the region it chooses to depict, but a section of viewers will find it difficult to comprehend what the on-screen characters are expressing at times.
Having said that, it's tricky to find any slipup in Vishal's implementation of the material. The handling of a number of sequences is exemplary, especially the dramatic ones. Also, a few lines [dialogue: Vishal Bhardwaj] are truly side-splitting, not distasteful, although a few words ['Paincho'] may appear offensive. In fact, there are several gems in the narrative, making it difficult to pick just one and highlight here.
Vishal teams up with ace wordsmith Gulzar yet again. The duo has always believed in experimentation and MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA is no exception. He amalgamates folk and western rhythms to create tunes that sound so distinct, but are ear-pleasing nonetheless. The soundtrack may not be mainstream [like 'Dhan-Te-Nan' or 'Darling'], but is pleasant nonetheless, with two standout tracks -- the title number and 'Oye Boy Charlie'. Cinematography [Kartik Vijay Thyagarajan] is top notch.
Each and every actor fits in delightfully in the structure of the tale. After DELHI BELLY, Imran faces the biggest challenge of his career as he attempts to portray a Haryanvi in MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA. By transforming his looks and working hard on his dialect and body language, Imran shuns the chocolate boy image with this performance. The act takes him to another level, in a different league altogether. Anushka has emerged one of the finest actresses of her generation. Her character is truly complex: She's confident and mischievous, yet vulnerable and naÃ¯ve. Her smoldering looks coupled with a nuanced performance will win her praise. Her styling too catches your eye.
Pankaj Kapur enacts the flamboyant and boisterous part with gusto. The veteran goes all out for this role -- singing, dancing, jumping into a pool -- and it is this enthusiasm, besides a splendid performance, that merits the highest praise. Shabana Azmi is magnificent, as always. Her character changes colors constantly, an act only a powerful actress could've essayed with expertise, and Shabana takes to it like a fish takes to water.
Aarya Babbar is a complete revelation. He gets a meatier role this time and he handles it exceedingly well. Navneet Nishan is alright.
On the whole, MATRU KI BIJLEE KA MANDOLA holds your attention in parts, but that's not enough. The first half is lackluster, while the post-interval part catches some steam. However, the excessive length plays a spoilsport. Below expectations!