When an Indian filmmaker stamps his authority over a film, he is often accused of being ‘indulgent’. It happened with Kashyap in ‘No Smoking‘, Bhansali in ‘Sawariya‘, and will probably be said of Vishal Bharadwaj’s Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola.
This term has always baffled me. I mean, these little indulgences, those quirks, are what define the filmmaker. Otherwise, we would have similar filmmakers making similar films, all through the year. How bad can an indulgence be?
Now, coming to Vishal Bharadwaj.
Among my favourite filmmakers in the world, and perhaps the only true auteur in our country today. Starting as a music director (Satya, Maachis, and the ‘Chaddi pehen ke phool khila hai’ song from Jungle Book), the man moved on to films where he writes the story, screenplay, dialogues, gives the music, sings the songs, produces, and directs the films.
His body of work has a clear graph. He started off with children’s cinema (Makdee, Blue Umbrella), to Shakespearean tragedies (Maqbool and Omkara) to the Tarantinoesquq Kaminey. His latest film resembles Saat Khoon Maaf (where the first hints of a distinct style were seen).
Matru ki… is a film in a fictional village which is more or less owned by Pankaj Kapur. A stern, greedy bastard in the day, but a concerned, friendly drunkard in the night. He plans to transform the village into another Gurgaon, and getting his daughter married to the Chief Minister’s son is his gateway.
I won’t reveal anymore of the story for the sake of those who want to watch the film. But here’s what I will say.
The film is not easy to digest. The dialect is not smooth on the ears, the narrative strolls around aimlessly, picking itself up suddenly, and then taking a break along the turns, helping itself to a few pegs, much like the protagonist of the film. The story is an antithesis to Kaminey, if you think about it. Kaminey had a zillion characters, and if you went for a loo break, you would have missed a key plot point, thanks to an Usain Bolt like screenplay.
Here, Bharadwaj lets his story graze in an open field. He lets it sit in the sun, chew some grass, and ruminate. And that is where you as the viewer, begin to shift in your seats.
There are samples of the quintessential Bharadwaj, with dialogues like ‘Tere ghar pe Mao-Lenin nahi hai kya?” or the tribute to Emir Kasturica, in the form of a brass band that’s named ‘Kasturi ka band’. For a movie geek, there are such gems of brilliance that stick out in the middle of the otherwise earthy lump.
If there is something I badly missed, it’s Bharadwaj’s music, coupled with Gulzar’s lyrics. Each of his earlier films had soul-stirring music, but his latest offering offers nothing more than a few strains here and there.
And here is where my question troubles me. Where does a filmmaker draw the line?
Where does the filmmaker stop being the maker of a product meant for mass consumption, and let the real Vishal Bharadwaj creep into his creation?
And as a consumer of the product, where do I draw the line? Do I look for what pleases me, or take a compassionate view of what the man is trying? Do I go by actions, or intentions? I do not have the answers.
Finally, it all depends on whether you are a Bharadwaj fan or not. If you are the kind who demands a bang for every buck you spend at the movies, you will be disappointed.
But for the man who gave me so much, I can surely overlook this as a stepping stone, a learning curve. Years later, the film will probably be looked at as one of his in-transition works.
And I as a viewer, would willingly participate in it. I love the guy!