Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola: Bollywood Banal

Bollywood multi-hyphenate Vishal Bhardwaj's latest proves that his films are only as great as their characters and their respective stories. Bhardwaj (7 Khoon Maaf, Omkara) produced, directed, co-wrote, and composed music for Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (or MKBKM), a romantic comedy set amid a contemporary farmers' revolt. Unlike Bhardwaj's superior dramas, MKBKM is populated exclusively by stick figures defined by conventional tics. Imran Khan plays Matru, a never-not-pouting chauffeur who refuses to admit that he's in love with Bijlee (Anushka Sharma), his rich boss's daughter. Bijlee has, in contrast, fooled herself into loving Baadal (Arya Babbar), a cartoonish lout from a rich family. But while Harry Mandola (Pankaj Kapur), Bijlee's lush of a father, tries to marry Bijlee to Baadal, he schemes with Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi), Baadal's mother, to legally steal Mandola Village's farmers' land. Harry's the most complex character in the film, thanks mostly to Kapur's sprightly performance, but even he's too easy to figure out: His conscience speaks when he's drunk, but it's stone silent when he's sober. MKBKM is comprised of rote scenes of broad comedy and arid melodrama, as in the scenes in which Harry declaims about how badly he wants to rob the local peasants. Not even a mysterious bandit calling himself Mao enlivens the proceedings. Save for a couple of visually engaging dance numbers, mostly shot with hand-held digital cameras, MKBKM is dishearteningly banal.

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