A song that rips apart every health awareness campaign, home remedy, and old wives' tale the average Indian has been assaulted with, followed by the sight of a stretch limo in a wheat field – now, that's a masterstroke. From there, Vishal Bhardwaj's latest offering gathers momentum, each scene wackier, each tirade more ironic, and each line funnier...for all of fifteen minutes. Then, the movie slips from satire to spoof, and clumsily tries to bring in a social message, finally collapsing.
Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola has a cast that could have lifted the film, with the right triggers, but the script and storytelling fall short. The only factors that remain consistent are the brilliance of Pankaj Kapur and the hotness of a stubble-sporting Imran Khan. Set in a Haryana village, the film sets out to tackle the political issue of forcible acquisition of arable land. What could have been stinging social satire, is undermined by over-the-top acting, predictable twists, and set pieces. But its biggest shortcoming is that it only skims the surface of the complex issue it seeks to tackle.
Mandola (Pankaj Kapur), we find out, is a socialist when he's drunk, and a capitalist when he's sober. He lives in a faux colonial palace with his nymphomaniac daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) and Shakespeare-spouting driver Matru (Imran Khan), a law-graduate from JNU. Say what? Yeah. That's where the film starts going downhill. Enter Chief Minister Chaudhury Devi (a miscast Shabana Azmi) and her bimbo son Baadal (Arya Babbar), and the focus suddenly shifts from exploitation to relationships. The punch in the early scenes peters out, and sophisticated comedy gives way to slapstick.
Pankaj Kapur and Imran Khan have enough chemistry to pull off most of the sillier comic sequences, but there's simply too much unoriginal humour – every sketch reminded me of something I've seen before. With the storyline turning inexplicably superficial, the narrative begins to feel tired. While parts of the plot are hammered in repeatedly, too much is left to conjecture, and important turns in the story aren't explained. What are Matru's ideals? What made him come back to his village? What is the revolution his batch-mates ask him about? How deep is his servant-complex? What exactly is his equation with Bijlee?
With none of the other actors able to respond to his energy, Kapur's performance starts sagging towards the end. While Anushka Sharma and Imran Khan are good with facial expression, they both struggle with the dialect, and end up sounding like regular city kids trying to fit into an ancestral village, not city-educated villagers.
The Verdict: The film is enjoyable in parts, but it simply doesn't come together.
From Killa to Masta
The Man with the Iron Fis
Director: The RZA
Starring: The RZA, Russell Crowe, Rick Yune and others
The opening sequence says all there is to say about a martial arts film starring Tarantino protégé and hip-hop star, RZA – this will be an orgy of three-point landings, flashing knives, flying limbs, bone-crunching, and blood-gushing...lots of it. It's populated by characters with names like Golden Lion, Silver Lion, Bronze Lion, Copper Lion, Brass Body, Lady Silk, and Poison Dagger. There are Gemini Twins, who appear to have some incestuous thingy going. There's a Wolf Clan whose members dress like wolves. There's a Hyena Clan whose members dress like hyenas. And the plot's about as unimaginative as the names.
RZA appears to have figured that making music for Quentin Tarantino qualifies him to make movies; and that watching the Shaw Brothers' movies qualifies him to write a martial arts film. He's had the good sense to fill it with actors who are martial arts experts, so that the action remains a treat, if you like watching people kick each other in the gut after elaborate leaps and spins. But it also means there's nothing original about the film, except that it may be the first martial arts film that stars people of diverse races.
Leading the international section of the cast is Australian Russell Crowe, playing British Jack Knife, whose weapon of choice is a...wait for it...knife. Having rescued a harlot-in-distress from a fat customer, he wins brownie points with the Madame (Lucy Liu), and spends his knight in shining armour with four hookers. RZA plays Blacksmith, a young man who escaped slavery in America to forge weapons in China. Somewhere between saving up to buy a prostitute he's in love with, and sticking to his principles, he gets into enough trouble to become the movie's eponymous character. WWE star David Bautista stars as Mr Kwan aka Brass Body, an invincible brass-bodied baddie. Joining them is Rick Yune as X-Blade, who has so many hidden blades in his costume it would be very unwise for him to get drunk.
With lines like, "Never turn your back on a wolf; it will bite you in the ass" and "Your journey doesn't have to end here. By that, I mean your life journey", we figure the jets of blood that spurt from sundry limbs at regular intervals are rather more subtle than the dialogue.
The Verdict: Remember those vague Oriental movies that were dubbed so badly in English that the actors' mouths would move for seconds after the line ended? If you loved them, you'll like this.