Mukkabaaz movie review: Anurag Kashyap's film beautifully explores love in the time of hate
Director: Anurag Kashyap
In the grand old halls of Liberty cinemas in Mumbai, made at a time when it was Bombay, history of Hindi cinema has a special space. Made in the art deco style the year India got its independence, it was named Liberty celebrating this very spirit of new hopeful India that was going to unfold.
Where films like Mughal-e-Azam and Mother India premiered in the fifties — one can close one’s eyes and imagine a bustling audience filled to the brim in the 1200-seater theatre. Last night (12 October), the same place came alive with the opening ceremony of Mumbai Academy of Motion Images.
Just as the halls had filled with movies from a time when audiences screamed in joy when love won over its enemies, Anurag Kashyap’s new film Mukkabaaz unfolded with a new rendition of the eternal ingredient of literature and of cinema: Love. And within it, there is another story, of the world that love is surrounded by: Hate.
As the young aspiring boxer Shravan Singh from Bareilly meets the eyes of the beautiful niece of his boss, Sunaina, there is a moment on screen like good old love stories had. When the world shuts down for them and you know their long fight in a difficult society is about to begin, his with his boxing and her’s with her voice that is without words. And the story begins, a film about love, hate, perseverance, sport and about India.
This is Uttar Pradesh, where anger is brimming over, aspirations are carefully crushed in the wheels of bureaucracy, and young men are looking for an identity in mobs and clusters.
The boss — a man who runs a fiefdom with the local boxers as his servants — is named exactly as men in power delude themselves into believing, Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill); he's driven by hatred and violence. Mishra would do anything for his ego, hurt by the best brawler in town Shravan Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh) and Sunaina (Zoya Hussain). She cannot speak but has a distinct and firm voice brought forth through technology; texts, photographs, recordings and her own will.
The metaphor of voice, rebellion and voiceless men and women runs beautifully through the film, especially in the way it adapts modern devices in its narrative, to show how modern identities are created.
The path of the lovers as it is meant to be, is full of hurdles not just from the world but also from their individual aspirations desperate to survive in a limited society where they belong. With Bhagwan Das resolving to never let Shravan compete in the district championship until he lets go of Sunaina, there is another narrative that lurks, one about caste and the entitlement and the state of sports and sportsmen at the local level.
In an interesting touch later, a sub story about reverse casteism is yet another episode of an earnest Brawler paying for something that is equally unjust for him.
It is precisely these moments sprinkled through the film that makes the story also about India, where you work hard and wonder if the one above you in designation or class is the one who has your destiny in his pocket. The lovers battle hatred separately and together, the brawler finds a coach (played by Ravi Kishen), a man diligent in his dream of coaching young boxers amidst nonexistence state support and adversity. A man who quietly pushes Shravan and reminds him his love will win if his sport does.
In a country where sportsmen struggle for respect, Mukkabaaz is also about the sub culture (and neglect) of boxing in dusty towns. The soundtrack of the film pushes the story with its satirical words, including the track Paintra by Nucleya with boxer boys on the banks of Banaras.
The performances of the main and the supporting cast bring out each of the distinct characters they play. The film takes its time to tell its story the running is almost 2 and a half hours in this Festival version. But then it takes time love and fairness to fight its battles and stand up to the consuming hatred and vengeance of people with power.
Mukkabaaz was screened at the opening ceremony of JioMAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival. It will see a theatrical release on 10 November.