Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Jan 12, 2013, 06:04 PM IST
The patriarch Mandola in this film (Pankaj Kapur, who will thankfully no more be referred to as an “under-rated actor”) is a much better human being when he’s drunk: care-free, talkative, mildly charming. This is true for great many drinkers by the way. They give alcohol a good name. Multiple personality isn’t always a disorder. Only that in Mandola’s case, the flip in his personality is fully schizophrenic. Over a few bottles of liquor he goes from being Harry, a sophisticated, scheming landowner with capitalist ambitions, to Haria, a Commie nut, who leads a march of protestors into his own mansion.
Mandola in the movie’s title refers both to the feudal lord and a village in Haryana that’s named after his impossibly rich family. You would imagine an alcoholic born to such wealth would fancy scotch or single-malt for his preferred drink. Mandola loves an odd brand of pink coloured country liquor called Gulabo. He should ideally stop at four drinks, by which I presume, he means four bottles. He glugs down up to 42 of them in one drunken spell, by which time the transition in his personality is complete. This funny premise could be straight from a Kader Khan script.
Mandola’s driver Matru (Imran Khan: looking comfortable, though furthest from his comfort zone as an actor) grew up with the maalik’s daughter Bijli (Anushka Sharma). He is an educated man and clearly over-qualified for his job. His real duty, according to the master, is to actually stop him from drinking. He does just the opposite.
The driver has plonked himself in this household mainly to restore for farmers in his village their right to their own land. In the same way, the filmmakers have planted thoroughly entertaining gags and skits and dialogue in the narrative to survey all those things that have come to define or defile the new, post-Nehruvian, oddly liberalised, democratic India. They hardly hold themselves back, right from taking the piss out of “crony capitalism”, a corrupt bureaucracy, to taking pot-shots at young nincompoop hereditary leaders of Indian politics. This obvious scheme – for both Matru and this movie – seems to work, for the most part.
The promos give out very little and encourage just about enough curiosity. The dancing black people from the trailer incidentally are slaves shipped from Africa by a hilarious political dynast to impress his girlfriend! Wild flights of imagination such as these can be irresistible at times. There are quite a few. They’re adorable, for sure.
It’s only when the filmmakers push some gags or scenes too far, or for far too long, that interest levels begin to dip and the film moves away from economy of expression to that ‘un-special’ zone, belabouring a point. At moments like these, it's the dialogue alone that saves the day. Bharadwaj’s last film Saat Khoon Maaf had a wide range of characters, a compact story-line but hardly a strong enough conflict. The problem with this film is just the reverse.
The film’s main quarrel is actually very genuine and real. It strongly reflects our times. Shabana Azmi plays a state chief minister who’s been in power for two decades. If the world was really a stage, politicians would be its finest actors. The word hypocrite incidentally comes from the Greek work for actor. She speaks for development and the poor in public while playing footsie (quite literally) under the table for her own personal progress. As do all other actors in this Shakespearean stage.
Sadly, only some of the author’s anger seamlessly converts itself into splendidly dark humour in the way that Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro did throughout. Maybe more characters and many other layers of intrigue could’ve helped (it certainly did for Bhardwaj’s Maqbool and Omkara).
In portions, the film becomes then a somewhat literal, Leftist pamphlet, starring one of the leading men of romantic movies (Imran Khan), coming out of the most Right Wing of all cinema industries (Bollywood), funded by an American Fox Studio, owned by the Australian magnate Rupert Murdoch. This is fine subversion on the part of the filmmakers still. This space can easily dry up. Other recent movies on similar subjects, though they were both thrillers (Dibakar Bannerjee's Shanghai, Prakash Jha's Chakravyuh), were equally bright.
But then that’s also the beauty of capitalism, which this fairly intelligent, amusing film acknowledges by its very own existence. Watching it would only mean more such.