Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

January 11, 2013

Dil dola re, dola re…

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:40 pm

January 11, 2013

Cast: Pankaj Kapur, Imran Khan, Anushka Sharma, Shabana Azmi, Arya Babbar, Navneet Nishan

Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

If it’s true – what director Vishal Bhardwaj would have us believe in that cheeky anti-smoking disclaimer that precedes Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola – that too much of anything, even water and lemon, is harmful, then the filmmaker evidently doesn’t practice what he preaches. This outrageous comedy after all shows little concern for our health as it delivers laugh after side-splitting laugh.

Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola might well be described as Bhardwaj’s holiday movie – a mad story with crazy characters – but fortunately for us, even in a light mood, the director can be counted on to say interesting things.

In a fictional village in Haryana, the wealthiest resident, Harry Mandola (Pankaj Kapur), has conspired with a cunning minister (Shabana Azmi) to usurp the poor villagers’ farmlands so he can build an industrial plant. Harry has a drinking problem, but he’s a better man when he’s under the influence, sympathizing with the villagers’ condition, even going so far as to lead a procession against himself one intoxicated night. His Man Friday, Hukum Singh Matru (Imran Khan), has been hired with the sole purpose of controlling Mandola’s drinking habit, but that’s easier said than done. Meanwhile, in an alliance that would benefit both sides, Mandola has gotten his motherless daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) engaged to the politico’s dimwit son (Arya Babbar).

From hallucinations about pink buffaloes to a potentially fatal drunken flight, the film’s humor alternates skillfully between the inventive and the slapstick, seldom striking a false note. His tongue firmly in cheek, Bhardwaj also takes pointed jabs at the nexus between those in power and those with deep pockets, making a case for the oppressed rural population often stuck in between.

Not one to dumb down the material for a wider audience, the filmmaker throws in clever references like that brass band shop in the town square named Kusturica, or the savior of the downtrodden, named after a Communist icon. In other scenes Bhardwaj is more direct, like that one in which the scheming minister, while berating her no-good son, gives him the example of real political heirs who caused their parents little trouble.

Aided by an excellent music score packed with hummable gems, and working off a terrific, layered script, the director sketches his quirky characters lovingly, giving them soul so you form a sense of real attachment to them. The chemistry between Mandola and Matru is magnetic…witness that scene in which they decide to punish a well for standing in their way. Bijlee, for all her brashness, reveals real pathos simmering beneath the surface, particularly in her scenes with her father.

But it’s not just the principals, Bhardwaj handles even side characters with great affection, giving them little moments to make an impression…like Matru’s trusted eunuch friend, the blind boy sporting Aviators, and the local doctor’s overweight wife who misunderstands Mandola’s buffalo obsession.

If there’s anything that feels contrived, it’s a scene between Matru and an old college friend he taps for help, or the broad strokes with which the director caricatures Azmi’s corrupt minister, although the actress herself gives a deliciously evil performance. The language and accents in the film feel unfamiliar, and take some getting used to. It’s impossible to catch every joke and dialogue, which is a pity given that the writing is so rich.

Of the cast, Anushka Sharma is dependably feisty yet achingly vulnerable, breathing life into the conflicted Bijlee. Imran Khan, for his part, offers a solid, confident turn, owning the character of Matru completely, holding his own even while acting off a veteran like Pankaj Kapur.

The film, not surprisingly, belongs to Kapur, who never misses a beat as the paradoxical Mandola. It’s wonderful how he’s particularly lucid when he’s drunk, making the most sense in this senseless state. But it’s Arya Babbar who catches you completely off-guard with a delightful performance as the politico’s daft son. Watch how he “gifts” his fiancée a Zulu dancing troupe, or even his late reactions to his mother’s sinister brainwaves…the actor is the surprise packet in this charming film.

Returning to form after the disappointing Saat Khoon Maaf, Vishal Bhardwaj gives us a film that’s enjoyable and relevant in equal measure. I’m going with four out of five for Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. The year’s first gem has arrived – don’t miss it!

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. wit all do respect -4 is a lot rajeev sir, not as good as kaminey 🙂

    Comment by oswin — January 21, 2013 @ 6:57 pm

  2. for the first time ever I am disappointed with your ratings… until now i always preferred reading your review and then decide whether to watch a movie or not… And same thing happened with Matru… seeing u giving it 4 star made me book ticket for my entire family of 8 and i all did was regretted trusting ur review… Sir this movie is only 2 star and not more… i wonder what made u give it a 4…

    Comment by sandipa — January 22, 2013 @ 2:25 am

  3. first time I am disagreeing with you. I didn’t find any thing good in this movie. 4 star too much.. 2 star is fine.

    Comment by Om — January 22, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

  4. I read someone say that Rajeev Masand’s reputation is at stake and that he shouldn’t continue to be this way! It’s unfortunate for you to have lost faith in his reviews.

    Movies (just like any other form of art) are subjective. People have opinions, they can be polar opposites. Honestly, reading the movie review by Mr. Masand and all the negative comments about the film, makes me want to watch the movie all the more.

    It’s important to disagree, nicely. 🙂

    Comment by Ashwin Chandrasekaran — January 23, 2013 @ 1:40 am

  5. Hi Rajeev,

    It has been 6 years since i am following your reviews. This is the first time i am commenting on your site. To begin with, i would say, your reviews are awesome. I would like to rate your reviews, if you don’t mind, i rate them 4.5/5.

    Sorry for that 0.5 deduction. That is done knowingly to make u think more refreshingly awesome. I would love to say that i have got chance to watch better movies following your review process. I have come to know about some movies which would have never come across me if you were not there. Moreover your reviews match around 85% of stuff which i discover in a particular cinema. Sometimes i find unnoticeable stuffs to be noticed really in movies from your comments.

    I often go through the interviews u have done to stars and directors. I loved the one with Brad Pitt, Anurag Kashyap, Rajamouli … lot more to mention.

    I don’t have much time to write more. But for sure, i wud like to add more stuff. Catch you up sometime.

    Comment by Praveen Brahma — January 23, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

  6. I don’t think this movie deserve more than 2 star. You rated GOW 3.5, is this movie half than GOW??

    Comment by Ashfaque Shaikh — January 25, 2013 @ 6:06 pm

  7. Super movie! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your views. How do you balance populism and excellence?

    Comment by sid — January 26, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  8. Very nice movie 🙂

    Comment by gr8 movie :) — January 26, 2013 @ 7:54 pm

  9. bad movie weak story bad plot and a few good jokes and imran khan please visit haryana once before u try to impersonate a haryanvi……. pankaj kapur was good as always

    Comment by shubham girdhar — January 26, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

  10. Finally , an honest review praising the film for what it is…. a brilliantly witty comedy which also acts as an equally brilliant satire. Cannot fathom how this movie is getting panned by the critics and audience- the performances were brilliant, the comedy was witty and intelligent and the wacky characters were well presented.Sigh….this gets bad reviews and Son of Sardar earns 100+ crores….Really?!

    Comment by Sanchit — January 29, 2013 @ 12:26 am

  11. The film deserves 4 and perhaps 4.5 for the sheer creativity and originality of its scriptwriter, director and actors. Its an immensely watchable film.

    Some people may complain since it doesn’t have that “regular entertainment” factor that most of them are used to watching these days, aka, Salman Khan flicks and Akshay Kumar capers….

    For cinematic excellence, this movie stands out!!

    Comment by Sandyman — January 29, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

  12. Seriously, 4 is too much!

    Comment by Rehan — February 12, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

  13. This is the first time i am disappointed with ur reviews..this move doesnt deserve more than 2 stars at max 2.5 and this 0.5 more becuase od pankal kapoor….

    Comment by Kunal — February 23, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

  14. Vishal tries to marry a housefull kind of comedy with that of a peepli live satire but sadly it doesn’t really strike a chord to make a “gem” as you say it is. But the performances are brilliant and the music is hummable and I do must confess a mild affection towards the film. But is it a 4 out of 5 or is it a gem of a movie..? I’m not so sure. But I appreciate one thing about your review though. You are the only critic to mention that the accents and the languages are a little tough to understand and take some getting used to. Keep going man.. 🙂

    Comment by Sreejith M P — May 23, 2013 @ 8:45 pm

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