(This is not a review)
Bertolt Brecht, the great German playwright, made an acute observation about societies: The societies that need a hero are societies in danger; why would you need an extraordinary person to save the day if all was well. The manifesto that Anurag Kashyap seems to have started out his career with was to humanize people and situations, to bring out the greys in an industry filled with the overuse of its Parsi theatre roots.
Anurag Kashyap with his film Mukkabaaz seems to have mastered the appropriation of popular cinema motifs in his work which he claims to be about ‘real people’ and depicts ‘real stories’. His hero in Mukkabaaz seems capable of doing everything that a Salman Khan, Sunny Deol and Akshay Kumar have been found capable of doing throughout their careers. The hero from Mukkabaaz seems to be a direct descendant of the typical Bollywood hero of the 90s who fought the system and the bad guys against all odds with the strength and violence of his body.
But what might put the film in a confused space is that the film follows the same model of character depiction that it pokes fun at: The hero’s coach remarks that “real life is not like cinema and in real life a 2 and a half kilo hand can’t do much”, a reference to a Sunny Deol line from an advertisement. Now this is like a Meta moment in the film where the film is not only commenting upon the simplistic way in which very complex problems have been depicted in Indian commercial cinema but also talking about the influence that Bollywood has had upon the non-metro cities like Bareily where the film is set.
The film while trying to humanize and depict the grey shades of secondary characters reduces the caste politics to one huge roadblock in the hero’s love and sports life, the ultimate bad guy: Jimmy Shergill who is hero’s love interest’s uncle and a former boxer himself. Every time the villain comes onscreen the get up, the background music, and performance seem to overpower the need for a reason or logic as to why a villain is a villain. In this archetype humanizing the hero runs in contradiction to the genre of Parsi theatre character depictions which the Bollywood draws heavily from. But is this how Anurag Kashyap plans to deal with casteism? Is that what the layered and complex caste politics of Bihar and UP have to offer? To make matters worse he tries to open up the character of an OBC senior of the hero in Railways but leaves the Brahmin Jimmy Shergil as just the bad guy who will go to any extent to ruin the hero’s life. The senior seems to want the hero to do odd jobs in the office because he himself is an OBC who studied under dire circumstances hates the ones who get into the job through sports quota. This gentleman who is visibly very senior to the hero seems to be silenced and brought in line by the hero with the help of his Boxing prowess, the same skills that the hero uses to beat up Jimmy Shergil’s goons, once in the jail and once in Shergil’s father’s house where Shergil has kept the hero’s love interest captive.
There is an attempt by the cinematographer to make camera the eye of the audience in various violent scenes. Hence the camera sort of tries to capture the fights from outside the ring but just close enough to give the audience the feeling of sitting right beside the ring. While in the other violent scenes the camera is used to make the audience a part of the chaos of fighting. But the invincibility of the Hero and timed cutting of the heroine beating the goons makes for a detached stylized experience that Bollywood’s other big banner productions have done for a long time.
The questions that this article asks are not whether Mukkbabaaz is good or bad and why. This film sits within the larger cosmos of Hindi independent film which make audiences ask again and again why has independent Hindi cinema not hit its height till now or does it even exist? A lot of so called indie films in Hindi to have come last year don’t have a voice or a grammar of their own. These films including Mukkabaaz are basically old wine transported from a glittering wine bottle to a very cheap old wine bottle.