Mumbai, 13 Oct 2017 10:50 IST
Updated: 13 Jan 2018 11:03 IST
With its scathing social commentary on politics, caste and education, the film is a layered, pacy entertainer worth the time.
Among the many adjectives applied to Anurag Kashyap, one of the most fitting is 'irreverent'. In Mukkabaaz, the director creates a film so close to the mainstream world yet distinct in its experience. It almost feels like he is thumbing his nose at the system that elevates and separates different kinds of cinema.
Mukkabaaz is the story of Shravan Kumar (Vineet Singh), a talented boxer, who makes an unwanted foe in Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill). Mishra happens to be head of the Uttar Pradesh state boxing federation, a realm he rules with an iron fist.
When Shravan Kumar foolishly stands up to Mishra, he gets beaten up by Mishra's goons. The same goons are seen in the film's opening sequence beating up a 'cow trader' forcing him to scream 'Jai Shri Ram'. One sequence is all it takes for Kashyap to establish the use of violence as a political and caste tool, a theme that runs through the film. It is a choice the boxers face — toe the line or be governed by it.
Shravan Kumar also falls in love with Mishra's mute neice Sunaina (Zoya Hussain). Sunaina has the same problem with authority as Shravan, and despite her condition, she uses her phone as a tool to speak up against her uncle's violence. With the double indemnity of his caste and love, Shravan fights his way through a system that continuously seeks to trip him.
Kashyap eschews linearity and genre discipline to create a unique and entertaining film. The shift from the dramatic pathos to social irony and sarcasm adds sparkle to the film. The dialogues are scintillating in their colour and language.
Vineet Singh displays the muscle and steely determination required to play a bull-headed boxer but sometimes lacks the charisma. That is brought to the screen by newcomer Zoya Hussain. She has no lines in the film but holds your attention in every scene.
Apart from the leads, the characters of Shravan's father, his friend Gopal, and Sunaina's mother live with you. Ravi Kishan does an entertaining turn as the stern coach who takes up Shravan's cause. The biggest cheer in the audience, though, was saved for Nawazuddin Siddiqui who makes a special appearance as a wedding singer. The last time he did that was for Dev.D (2009).
As for Shergill, the actor delivers as the cold caste-coloured uncle, but sometimes appears too rigid. The wry, rigid posture that is a signature of his sometimes makes the character seem too underwhelming.
Like his boxer, Kashyap has thrown every ounce of bitterness and anger earned over the years into Mukkabaaz. From the ironic 'Bharat Mata ki jai' to the statement about 'cow protection' and the direct comment on the caste issue, the director is at his irreverent best. It remains to be seen if some political buffoon gets offended by this.
The ethos of the lower-caste boxer in Uttar Pradesh allows him to use the ongoing tussle of the saffron brigade against meat as an undercurrent in the story. The portrayal of boxers, who depend on meat for training, having to work as guardians of politicians who ask them to beat up cow traders or beef eaters is a sharp statement on the system. It also establishes the social injustice against the hero from the first scene, and makes for a compelling fight.
A long film (2.5 hours in length), Mukkabaaz puts to rest any questions about Kashyap's ability to make an entertaining film. The pace and treatment are very mainstream, but the content and script are as edgy and raw as they come. However, every time there is a possibility of the film entering some very dark realms, it does not. It even has a fairly happy ending. For Kashyap fans, it might be a new experience.
The music is another highlight of the film. Filled with some fantastic and rebellious poems that are refreshing for their original idioms, they help the film move apace. Each song lands with an impact that isn't unlike a swift uppercut. Like Masaan (2015), Mukkabaaz has a soundtrack that pleasantly surprises you.
But the finish of the film lacks the impact it needed. It lends the feeling that the scriptwriter/writers ran out of ideas and wrapped it up after coming to an agreement.
In all, Mukkabaaz is a film that offers enough of a reminder that Anurag Kashyap still carries within him a brawler's instinct to not let the system dictate his moves.
Mukkabaaz was screened at the 19th MAMI Mumbai Film Festival on 12 October 2017.