The flag-bearer of indie, dark, niche cinema, and the man who’s still stoking the fire of parallel cinema in Bollywood – Anurag Kashyap – is back with his latest offering, Mukkabaaz. So, does the film compare to his erstwhile classics like Gangs of Wasseypur, Dev D, Black Friday, Gulaal, and Raman Raghav 2.0; or does it completely miss the mark like his Bombay Velvet and No Smoking did? Well, thankfully, it’s a far cry from the latter two, but, unfortunately, it also misses the mark from being counted among the former entries. Mukkabaaz falls somewhere in the middle a la Kashyap’s Ugly, and that’s still good enough for diehard Kashyap fans and lovers of serious, realistic, gritty cinema.
Revolving around the world of boxing in Uttar Pradesh, Mukkabaaz focuses on Shravan Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh), a middle-caste, struggling boxer getting up in age, who not only rebels against Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Sheirgill), his upper-caste coach and the head of the boxing association of one of UP's prominent zones, but also falls for and wins the heart of Das Mishra's spirited niece, Sunaina Mishra (Zoya Hussain), who detests her uncle and desires nothing more than to break free of his shackles and live life on her own terms. Her parents have no qualms in allowing her to do so or giving her hand in marriage to Shravan, provided he at least wins a state-level boxing competition and get assigned to a secure government job. Sunaina's father is elder to Das Mishra but has been living under his thumb all his life, and both he and his wife hope that their daughter doesn't face the same fate.
How Shravan makes it as a boxer while fighting both in the ring and against Das Mishra's casteist, corrupt, political influence on the boxing association, and how he eventually secures a stable job and also wins over Sunaina's hand only to face a multitude of precarious impediments that Das Mishra creates - he refuses to come to terms with his niece settling down with a middle-caste man - forms the rest of the plot.
If you've heard of movies that are split into two halves in terms of quality, then Mukkabaaz is a movie of four quarters, where the first three make it look like a possible masterpiece, while the last one undoes all the great work and goes completely off kilter to the point where you'll be scratching your head wondering if Kashyap decided to hand over the reins for the last portions of the movie to a bunch of amateurs. The first three quarters that we're raving about are littered with an absorbing narrative; intense confrontational scenes; an in-depth look at the politics plaguing sports in the state of UP; an inspiring underdog struggle; and crackerjack dialogues that make you simultaneously guffaw, clap, and hoot.
However, as you approach the last 40 minutes of the movie all the above is wrapped in a ball, flung out of the window, and what takes over is a family melodrama against a not-so subtle backdrop that doubles as a tirade against the ruling central government. Regardless if you're a supporter of the current government and its policies, the commentary against it is too forced, in your face, and thoroughly unnecessary in a movie, particularly one that never sets out to have any such leanings in the first place. More disappointing is how it almost dismantles a perfectly good movie till that point. Another sore point is the excess usage of songs, which could put Sooraj Barjatiya to shame on his most indulgent of days.
What salvages Mukkabaaz's last quarter, and enables us to walk away still recollecting the film's best scenes and dialogues are the performances, with Vineet Kumar Singh and debutant Zoya Hussain painting a picture of the ideal rural couple in today's times - reveling against age-old rigidity and unwavering social bondages; helpless in many situations yet hopeful in all of them. Ravi Kishan pops up for a bit as a low-caste coach who does all he can to assist Shravan, having been at the receiving end of Das Mishra's corruption and casteist dogma. And then there's Jimmy Sheirgill, who's a version of Jimmy Sheirgill we've never witnessed till date, and one you'll wish to keep seeing more of. He's the very definition of a heartless, fundamentalist, zealot, and even when the screenplay becomes totally cluttered, Jimmy stands tall and begs us to focus on him rather than the lopsidedness of the proceedings.
Mukkabaaz is a serious film that had serious potential to be another Kashyap masterpiece. Sadly, you guess that his compulsions for needless political commentary mar the progress of his own baby. But, like we said earlier, it's still good-enough Kashyap and that should suffice for his fans and those looking for a decent, dark, and gritty diversion from mainstream Hindi cinema.
Movified Rating: 3/5
Images Source: Phantom