'Mukkabaaz' review: Terrific performances, riveting narrative

Mukkabaaz review: Terrific performances, riveting narrative

Anurag Kashyap doesn't tell the story of a boxer with 'Mukkabaaz'; he presents a vignette of contemporary India.

By Deepa Gauri

Published: Thu 11 Jan 2018, 12:55 PM

Last updated: Fri 12 Jan 2018, 12:50 AM

Here is a name that sells independent spirited Indian cinema to the world: Anurag Kashyap. If 'Gangs of Wasseypur' defined the director, his real contribution would be how he inspires young filmmakers not to go by formula. He has become - let me dare say - the new 'system'.

The perils of such recognition, where the name goes ahead of the product, were obvious in 'Bombay Velvet', Anurag's tribute to Martin Scorsese. His new film 'Mukkabaaz', too, is an equally befitting homage to the auteur (think 'Raging Bull').

But 'Mukkabaaz' is no 'Raging Bull' (not just thematically) just as 'Bombay Velvet' was not in the league of Scorsese's works. That brings us to the question: Is Anurag getting away with less-than-spectacular works? Isn't he becoming a slave of his own identity?

For the western press, it is easy to celebrate Anurag; their window to Indian cinema is through this man. The current crop of Indian critics, who got their first break from Bollywood's masala, too are more than obsequious to him.

This preamble was warranted because 'Mukkabaaz', for all its big pluses, pales before some of the fantastic works that happen in Indian cinema today - and yet reach nowhere - because the makers are yet to be heard or noticed by the Western press.

What Anurag brings before us, again, is a template he has mastered. It is the template of 'going local' to 'go global'. It is the template of being politically correct to pacify the liberals, and to 'astonish' western reviewers who like to see India through the cliched prism of class/caste conflicts.

You see that in 'Mukkabaaz', the story of Shravan (Vineet Kumar Singh), 'Uttar Pradesh's Mike Tyson,' and his conflict against the system, demonized by the upper-caste Bhagwan Das (Jimmy Shergill).

The tale gets complicated as Shravan finds love in Sunaina (Zoya Hussain), the mute niece of Bhagwan. Not atypical of Anurag, Sunaina is terrifically bold, and there is a blistering intensity to the couple's romance.

As with films centred on sports, 'Mukkabaaz' too needs that grand chase: here it is Shravan's quest to reach the national levels, a journey in which support comes from Sanjay Kumar (Ravi Kishan), the new coach and the antithesis of Bhagwan.

The dramatic clash of castes and the statement against cow vigilantism that line the narrative are vintage Anurag - his strength as an observer of society filling every frame.

With witty and provocative dialogues, the proceedings are masterly before it pales towards the climax, where Shravan must pursue his dream as well as his missing wife.

The sub-texts that Anurag throws at you are not lost; the narrative strands he wants to share with you are rivetingly crafted.

Yet the sum of the parts doesn't make for an amazing cinematic experience. Perhaps, it is because Indian cinema has moved on from where Anurag first redefined it, or perhaps, the expectations were too high.

With fantastic performances by Vineet and Zoya, 'Mukkabaaz' also shines for its cinematography and earthy music (though too many tracks take it closer to Bollywood's home-ground and the film quite a lengthy affair).

At one point, Shravan is told to be a mukkabaaz (a brawler) than a mukkebaaz (boxer). Anurag should have told that to himself: to be the brawler with one masterstroke of a film than be a boxer, creating just another 'good' indie film.

Starring: Vineet Kumar Singh, Jimmy Shergill, Zoya Hussain

Directed by Anurag Kashyap

Now playing at theatres in the UAE

Rating: 3.5/5

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