If there’s one thing this writer learnt from watching Mukkabaaz on a Friday evening in Chennai, especially when there were Pongal releases to choose from, is that director Anurag Kashyap has many fans in the city. Whistles and claps galore, the audience just couldn’t contain themselves.
And rightfully so, because Kashyap does know how to pack a punch with subjects like religion, caste politics, and nationalism that are generally considered as taboo subjects by Bollywood filmmakers.
Mukkabaaz, at its core, is about the many loves in Shravan’s life. His love for boxing, his love for Sunaina, his love for rising above all odds. It’s the intermingling of these love stories in Sharavan’s life that makes and breaks him.
And amid Shravan’s love stories, Kashyap weaves a tapestry of all things that plague the country. The cow vigilantes who prowl the streets of Uttar Pradesh, the upper caste bigots who discriminate without flinching, and the men who cannot stand to watch a woman make a decision of her own. It’s ambitious and risky, but when has that ever bothered Kashyap?
The film opens with well-built boys sporting t-shirts with ‘boxer’ written it, and carrying sacks of wheat and rice. Some are seen peeling onions and other vegetables. Shravan (Vineet Kumar Singh), who doesn’t quite understand why he’s made to do all this work especially when he’s moved to Bhagwan Das Mishra’s (Jimmy Shergill) quarters to learn boxing, decides to rebel. But not before he catches a glimpse of the beautiful and mute Sunaina (Zoya Hussain), Bhagwan’s niece. His rebellion costs him heavy – he’s punched and kicked, but he fights back, all while locking eyes with Sunaina. It’s love at first sight, and Shravan realises that he’d go to any lengths for her. Even if it means taking sign language classes, or worse, give up boxing.
A rural setting with houses made of rotting brick and kilns, the dialect, and the few English words that seep into an otherwise proper Hindi conversation are accompanied by some terrific acting, whether it’s the determined and sensitive Shravan portrayed by a superb Vineet Kumar Singh or the subtle criticisms by Ravi Kishen’s Sanjay Kumar. The acting is seamless, with each actor bringing in their own talent on screen.
Zoya Hussain as the headstrong, mute and stunning Sunaina is to watch out for. She manages to outshine everybody despite not uttering a word. Her well-etched out character and her expressions, whether it’s the coy girl who gives her lover a letter in secret or the angry woman who beats up a goon.
Jimmy Shergill as Bhagwan Das is subtle with his acting, something he’s always been good at whether it’s playing the chocolate boy in Mohabattein or a mustached bully with crazy eyes here. He speaks in a deliberately low tone, physically assaults without a hint of remorse, and removes his shades and shows off his dilated pupils to further intimidate the person standing in front of him. Much like the rest of cast, Shergill fits in an Anurag Kashyap film far better than most of his Bollywood counterparts.
Shravan’s ultimate goal in the film is to either stop becoming a mukkabaaz (brawler) and become a mukkebaaz (boxer) instead. His story is reminiscent of thousands of talented sports-persons who are forced into living a drab life of sarkari naukri because not only does sports, apart from cricket, amount to little in the country, the rampant corruption and bias end up breaking far too many dreams and spirit. As quoted in the film, even Dhyan Chand, a highly celebrated hockey player, lived his last years in penury.
The film also aims at taking potshots at people like Bhagwan Das who do so little in the field of sports especially when they have been given the responsibility to make it better. It makes you wonder how many such Shravans go unnoticed. How many such boxers with Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali in their eyes are forced to give up on their passion?
Vineet Kumar Singh’s sincerity and passion to play someone as passion-driven as Shravan is fairly evident. One look at his Instagram, you can see the videos of him working out and slogging it out to get the body and look right, in addition to learning how to pack punches while in the ring. It isn’t surprising though considering his previous films, particularly Bombay Talkies and Gangs of Wasseypur, had him play roles that were so full of sincerity. It’s about time he played the hero, and Mukkabaaz gives him just that.
There are, however, many unexplained scenes included in the plot that makes it difficult to follow. Shravan and Sunaina’s courtship apparently runs for years, but that isn’t portrayed until someone points it out. Similarly, Shravan’s determination and struggle for an opportunity to play happen in a span of two years. The fractured narration and the length of the film make the audience impatient, waiting for the end which is, unsurprisingly, quite predictable.
The songs by Prashant Pillai, Nucleya, and Rachita Arora are energetic enough for the theme of the film. But, sadly, it barely fits into the scene. Particularly ‘Paintra’ that has Ravi Kishan’s monologue in between is placed so awkwardly that you’re left disappointed, especially when you would have imagined it being the next ‘Eye of the tiger’.
The Mukkabaaz review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.