January 22, 2013

Mandola Revisited

Weapons of the Weak

The blogger went for a second viewing of Vishal Bharadwaj’s Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola, two weeks after the first viewing. While previous opinions still stand true  ( http://vichaarkhaana.blogspot.in/2013/01/mandola.html ) here are some additions to it.

Mandola (yes, I absolutely refuse to call it MKBKM!) provides a crisp opportunity to observe emotionally-wrenching depth conveyed with subtlety. When Bijlee goes looking for Matru in the rain-washed, deserted village, she only shows him, from a distance, her freshly hennaed palms . Not a single word is uttered. The sad-but-blank face of Anushka doesn’t even flinch. All the pathos of an unhappy present and doomed future are spared their conversion to words and we are left with just that one sight. That’s all.

Later on, when Matru is packing his stuff to leave, Bijlee simply says, “I have started brushing in the night”. No sentimental, mushy “I love you”-types expressing of love there. Just a simple dialogue, hinting at the depth of attachment, belief and hope, binding these characters in an unconventional yet romantic way. Economy of words has always been the forte of the brains behind this film!

Finally, the thought that did not leave my side since the very first viewing! Dialogues and actions of the movie constantly reminded me of J C Scott’s “Weapons of The Weak”! This movie is an exercise in the display of not just the arm-twisting tactics of the strong but also of the small stings that are weapons of the weak. Here the haves do not have it all. The have nots do not believe that what they have is insignificant in denting the haves, even if minimally so.

An obvious example of this was the usage of dung as cannonballs to disrupt ‘Operation Mao Mao/ Mow’. The villagers may not be laced with technologically advanced options to counter the chemically-armed, menacing son of the manipulating politician, but that did not prevent them from devising a smart (even if stinky) plan to protect their lush crops from being destroyed in the wake of midnight’s darkness. This was maximisng the usage of resources at their disposal, no matter how crude!

In their discussion with the politician (representing the state that wants the land), Mandola (who owns this land) and other officials (of the bureaucracy that will process this deal), tillers indulge in ‘coercive bargaining’ (Guha 1987:2001) to get a better price for their sacrifice (of land). Scott’s book demonstrates how…
In Malaysia the state has become the main provider of valuable public goods but has not succeeded in replacing the rural elites as patron at the village level. Many of the material benefits distributed by the state are mediated by the official party machine, which is controlled locally by landowning families (Esmon 1987:311).

Similarly in Mandola, when Matru circumvents the village patronage and attempts get a fair selling price for their wheat at the mandi (wholesale market), Mandola’s henchmen actively intrude to prevent the sale from taking place. Strains of ‘coercive bargaining’ can also be identified in other (crisp) exchanges between Jalebi Devi and Mandola, Mandola and Bijlee, Mandola and Matru, among others! In each of these scenarios the ‘weak’ character plays his/her asset to their advantage while bargaining for their personal benefits. The outcome of it may not always be entirely in their favour, but that small foot in the door is not an insignificant gain either!

This has been a stellar comeback for VB who was showered with widespread criticism for his previous directorial venture, a movie both the Lady (http://dolcenamak.blogspot.in/2011/02/7-khoon-maaf-and-me.html) and me immensely enjoyed. In Mandola there shines the characteristic wicked wit and sarcasm that comes from an evolved understanding of our evils. The ability to communicate it with simplicity and deadpan humour is the forte of VB and Gulzaar Sa’ab! Blessed are we to be living in the times that they are too!


Scott, J.C. 1986. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Connecticut:Yale University Press.

Guha, R. 1987. Presentation of Class in Everyday Life Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott. Economic and Political Weekly. 22:47. pp. 2000-2002.

Esman, M.J. 1987. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott. The American Political Science Review. 81:1. pp. 310-313.

January 11, 2013


l The Lines Are Drawnl

(*SPOILER Alert* this is not a review. Some implied puns of the film are ‘explained’ here.)

I could launch into a monologue of how much I love VB and the ability to look past the obvious and appreciate the inappropriately-titled Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola (MBKBM). Instead, i suggest you read Raja Sen's on it. 

What I will rather do is to claim that I could have walked into this movie during the interval and watched the proceedings without itching to get any info on the first half. Seriously! Come on, VB...आपका क्या जाता अगर आप हमारे time को थोड़ा और value देते और इस picture को ठीक length की बनाते ?! (exasperated translation – ‘what would you have lost had you appreciated the value of the viewer’s time and made this picture of the ‘proper’ length?!). Why indulge yourself SO much, man?! Just because I have instituted a whole school in the name of your style (and camp) of filmmaking, does not mean you’ll try my patience like this, no?

Once I have drawn the lines between the significance of first and second halves of the film, it is easier to enjoy what VB has served us.

This is not escapist cinema. It is a wisely-written topical satire with multiple references to the times of our lives lurking from every frame and most dialogues. Two best examples of such dialogues are one each delivered by Shabana Azmi (personal development = country’s development) and Pankaj Kapur (I dream of development…).

There are JNU jokes ;-)!  

VB even gives us acceptable labels, replete with foul adjectives. “Commie B*****d” and “Bourgeoisie B***h”. The world consists of only two kinds of people. Just remove the gender-specific expletives at the end, and there we are! Those who claim to be walking the grey middle path are only hiding their true colors. I certainly know the side I am on!

I absolutely LOVED the humour. They jokes are small, not in-your-face and don’t make you laugh-out-loud. Mostly, they sting…but there are enough of them to keep the grin coming back. I got them all… ALL! Thank You, VB, for doing a film that appreciates our understanding of subtlety and does not insult the intelligence by making stuff so annoyingly in-your-face. This is exactly like what we say in Hindi - "रेशम से लपेट कर मारना"! (to wrap in silk and whip!). any intention of political correctness is thrown to the winds, as the dialogues do NOT refrain from names-dropping for conveying the messages loud and clear. everyone from the Ambanis to Sheila Dikshit to the 'babalog' of Indian politics make an appearance in the lines!

Apart from the obvious ‘Mao-Lenin’ references that EVERYONE got, there were some others like: kursiyaan: chairs (political power): cheers!, the “tubelight” lighting up when Badal FINALLY gets his Mum’s hints at ‘Bijli’, and many more that I’ll continue to relish in my future viewings of this film.

The title of the film is unnecessarily long. While Jitesh Pillai may have found it interesting (aeons ago on Twitter, and he speculated it to be Gulzaar Sa’ab’s influence on VB), it didn’t really serve ANY purpose. This film is all about Mandola. The man and the village. Matru and Bijli are supporting characters. They didn't need an endorsement in the title of the film! Nobody would have accused VB of being partial if he had gone ahead with only “Mandola”, after all, that is the only word that has an actual pun element to it!

Arya Babbar does a good job of the moron he is supposed to play. The director gives us just enough seconds to exclaim “gadha” (ass/donkey) when Badal asks Mandola for how will he look in either choice of sherwani for the wedding and Mandola says “you’ll look the same”!

Imran Khan tries hard to justify VB’s choice of casting him and succeeds only till the extent where he can’t convey the ruggedness of a Haryanvi to us. First we are told he studied law. Then JNU is thrust into our face, which will make most people to conclude, incorrectly, that he studied law at JNU. Since that is technically not possible, VB, why the mashup? would it take too much footage to give a clear idea of where he studied law?!

Anushka, my love, does not get much meat to sink her teeth in, :-'(, but shines in a pre-climatic scene meant to portray her helplessness as a pawn in the game of greed and gain.

Shabana Azmi is ‘delicious’ ;-)! Her last outing in a VB film was the creepily wicked witch-act in Makdee, a decade ago. To see traces of that wickedness in some of the scenes here is delightfully satiating!

Pankaj Kapur takes the cake…A-L-L of it! He is the heart, soul and spine of this film. I’m so smitten by his character and acting that I’m not even qualified to sing his paeans here!

So unqualified I feel that I’ll not try to compose original lines for conclusion. I’d much rather cite Mayank Shekhar for that…

In portions, the film becomes then a somewhat literal, Leftist pamphlet, starring one of the leading men of romantic movies (Imran Khan), coming out of the most Right Wing of all cinema industries (Bollywood), funded by an American Fox Studio, owned by the Australian magnate Rupert Murdoch. This is fine subversion on the part of the filmmakers still…But then that’s also the beauty of capitalism, which this fairly intelligent, amusing take acknowledges by its very own existence.

PS: I chose this image ONLY because Anushka looks smoking in it! Yes, I love her THAT much!