Cast: Vineet Singh, Jimmy Shergill, Zoya Hussain
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Tum AC ghar me rehti ho, main ped ke neeche leta hoon
Tum nayi Maruti lagti ho, main scooter Lambretta hoon.
(You live in an air-conditioned house, I live beneath a tree. You look like a new car, I am an old scooter.)
Slow motion fist fight never looked more intriguing. A passionate but mostly untrained boxer is brawling with some ruffians on a congested street, and a mute girl is looking at him from a rooftop. There is pain, there is lust and there is a challenge. Can the boxer rise up, accept the invitation and fall in love with the girl who is so near yet so distant?
A gritty young man Shravan Singh (Vineet Singh) wants to be known as a ‘boxer’. It’s not just a game for him. It’s his ticket to a better life, one that offers respect. He keeps Rocky’s posters and calls himself Uttar Pradesh’s Mike Tyson. Boxing is the only thing he is good at, but he is way past the age he should have ‘made it’.
Like most of the sports federations in India, the UP federation is also cracking under political pressure. Bareilly politician and mobster Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill) is the kingpin who makes or breaks careers. Unfortunately, the girl is his niece and that might kill Shravan’s only reason to breathe, boxing.
It’s a set-up we have accepted as part of our lives. Itna toh chala hai -- As if struggle is the one thing aspiring sportspersons should accept as part of their career graph.
The officials are neck-deep in corruption. Everybody wants to be in the good books of political heavyweights. A malfunctioning system is internalized, accepted.
Shravan with his idealism is a misfit. He is angry, mostly aimless and certainly not the one to bow down. Even hundreds of punches can’t bend his spine.
Director Anurag Kashyap takes us inside the modest Singh household where they don’t understand everyday English; in fact they are irritated by it. They probably consider English as one of the reasons for their misery. The son talks about ‘passion’ and the electrician father hears ‘fashion’ and keeps lecturing him. It’s weirdly funny and a tight slap on the face of the education system and a society which equates knowing English with being educated.
Mukkabaaz keeps getting darker. In one of the scenes, Bhagwan Das asks a waiter to bring another jug for a harassed, helpless coach Sanjay Kumar (Ravi Kishan in a very unlike Ravi Kishan role), who belongs to a backward caste. Bhagwan Das, who is blind in one eye, immediately notices that the waiter’s right eye is of stone. For a second, it appears like the nature’s way of teaching him humility. But he isn’t the one to leave his caste pride.
Men like him are the reason boxing tournaments take place in open and the place allotted for it becomes somebody’s private property. Players don’t understand the difference between medicines and prohibited drugs. For them, winning the state or national level championship is about getting a government job. They never aspire to win medals. Kashyap brings all these facets out in the open and then makes strong comments.
From calling out ‘gau rakshaks’ to calling the championship sponsor Bedaag (spotless), he teases us with in-your-face humour. You don’t know whether to nod in acceptance or just look away when a boxing official tells Shravan, “Nobody wants to know what’s happening in your life.”
Kashyap’s terrific form continues as he spares no one. From reverse casteism to the messed-up political scenario, he trains his gun on many evils. Mincing words was never his style, but this is bolder and very effective.
Interestingly, Shravan’s love story with Sunaina (an enigmatic Zoya Hussain) never takes a backseat. It remains the prime emotion. The more ruthless the masters become, the more rebellious the oppressed get.
Jimmy Shergill might look over-dramatic to some, but he has tried his best to justify his persona, but such characters are not rare. Political aspirations collaborated with a strong sense of entitlement can lead to fatal actions.
Zoya Hussain is at the lack of words, but her eyes are not. She is aptly supported by the background music which needs a whole new article. It’s wonderful and non-mainstream but the songs dare you to overlook lyrics.
And then there is Vineet Singh. This is the performance we all will cherish for years. It’s legendary and who knows it might become his performance of a lifetime. You will root for him, you’ll duck the punches with him and then you’ll go down with him, but you’ll never leave him. He won’t let you. Our very own Rocky is born.
The 156-minute Mukkabaaz is the best film in last one year or so, and this year couldn’t start on a better note. Let’s cherish Vineet Singh and his thickheaded brawler with open heart.
Hum pehla dhakka nahi mare, hum pehla mukka nahi jade
Hum pehli gaali diye naa…
Unko kyun laga, bin baat ka tha
Humra jhagda jazbaat ka tha.
(I didn’t push him first, I didn’t hit him first. I didn’t abuse him either..
Why did he feel bad? My fight was all about feelings.)
Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha