Mumbai, 21 Sep 2018 14:46 IST
Shree Narayan Singh's film has an entertaining plot, but it has too many embellishments that take away from its core strength.
Even as the story of Mumbai returning to normalcy after the showdown between two powerful conglomerates over control on the electricity board simmers down, Shree Narayan Singh's Batti Gul Meter Chalu arrives as a timely reminder of the power conglomerates wield over the common man. While the film captures the frustration and injustice, it fails to restrict itself to the key story and wanders quite a bit.
The story belongs to Sushil Pant (Shahid Kapoor), a street-smart, wily lawyer in Tehri, Himachal Pradesh. His life and exploits of blackmailing small industries that advertise falsely are often ignored by Sundar Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma), and their common love, Lalita Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor). They live in a town where electricity is a spiritual presence, invisible, and proven only through the bills charged by the company. Lalita aka Nauti chooses Sundar over Sushil (another metaphor, or are we reading too much?)
When Sundar's printing press runs up a bill of Rs5 lakh and keeps mounting to Rs54 lakh, he is stricken. After the consumer complaint board, electricity board fails to heed his complaint, his press closes down and the lenders come for his house. Afraid, he throws himself into the raging Ganges river. This lights a fire in the guilty heart of Sushil, who decides to take the electric company head-on.
This is where the film truly begins. The problem is this moment is the intermission of the film. Siddharth-Garima's script wanders quite a bit before finding its centre. Not that the bits before aren't entertaining, but they seldom have a connection to the plot. A sharper edit and the removal of a few unnecessary scenes might have made this a much better film.
The story really takes off in the second half, with Shahid Kapoor hogging the screen. Shahid is a mix of lawyers between A Few Good Men (1992) and My Cousin Vinny (1992). The actor is given enough meat in his role and chews it up with relish. His bravura finish towards the end, complete with a 3-minute monologue makes an impact.
Shraddha Kapoor is charming and matches the two leads for attention. However, her character is quite fickle and not completely fleshed out. Her decisions often appear confused, making her difficult to relate to.
Divyendu Sharma is an effective performer. As the foil to the hyper Shahid and Shraddha, he is very good in the emotional sequences and puts in a mature performance. The trio's relationship is a key element of the story, and is placed well.
While the story might take its time, it is the dialogues that truly keep it refreshing. The pahari lingo and style of speaking, as well as the gauche attitude of the brash lawyer played by Shahid, are quite entertaining.
At times, the film entertains at the cost of reality. There are moments when the narrative shifts between the narrator and the on-going story, making it a disturbance rather than an effective narrative ploy.
When in court, the film goes full Rajkumar Santoshi rather than Chaitanya Tamhane. One almost expected the judge to pull up Sushil for his antics in court and fine him for not upholding the court's decorum. The opposition lawyer, played by Yami Gautam, has to even bear the brunt of him stealing her Hindi Mills and Boon equivalent.
But then, this is a Hindi film. Suspension of disbelief is a necessary element. Ergo the full-blooded twist towards the end which tugs on emotional heartstrings and gets a justified catharsis.
Shree Narayan Singh uses symbols and metaphors, even in the narrative. The director pulls no punches in his sly take on 'Vikas' and 'Kalyan' who are absent, though talked about all the time. While his Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (2017) was built around the government's scheme of toilets in every village, Batti Gul Meter Chalu dredges up the truth behind the big electricity claims of the government. The corporate hypocrisy, corruption, and red tape are relatable elements to anyone who has paid an electricity bill in India.
The only regret is that Singh allows the narrative to take its own sweet time before he tackles the issue.
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