Film Review: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola

Scattershot romantic comedy about an arranged marriage between an heiress and a politician's son that will ruin several rural farms.

Despite interesting themes and subplots, Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is a predictable romantic comedy that settles too often for easy jokes. Veteran Indian performers Pankaj Kapur and Shabana Azmi come off better than the leads, who find themselves boxed into a weak screwball setting. Broad and leisurely, MKBKM lacks the chemistry and plotting to build good word of mouth.

Harry Mandola (Kapur), a wealthy landowner with a weakness for alcohol, is a clown when drunk and sour when sober. He hires Matru (Imran Khan), a college-educated community activist, to keep him away from the local Gulabo liquor. Instead, both go on benders, stirring up local farmers against corrupt politicians—and Mandola himself.

Mandola plans to marry off his beautiful but spoiled daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) to Baadal (Arya Babbar), the playboy son of politician Chaudhri Devi (Azmi). The union would turn Mandola's farmlands into factories, enriching the conniving Devi while displacing Mandola's tenants.

But if the farmers can deliver their harvest and pay off their loans, the factory scheme could be defeated. Which is why Matru, disguised as "Mao," is passing out anti-Devi leaflets to the tenants. When Devi prevents dealers from purchasing the villager's grain, Matru uses his college contacts to get a better deal for the farmers. But Devi has more trouble in store.

That's the more dramatic, and engrossing, half of MKBKM. Mandola's hijinks highlight the disparity between rich and poor. Devi's cynical misuse of the law shows how hard it is for villagers to find justice. Producer and director Vishal Bhardwaj (who also wrote the music and worked on the screenplay) tempers these plotlines with jokes and slapstick, but bitterness still seeps through.

Unfortunately, the romantic half of MKBKM is much less successful. Baadal is too obvious a fool to pose much of a threat in the story's triangle. Bijlee throws a couple of minor tantrums, but clearly has her heart set on Matru. All that's keeping them apart are increasingly labored plot contrivances.

Bhardwaj, who directed two well-regarded Shakespeare adaptations, approaches the playwright's complexity in the film's climactic wedding sequence, which finds the five lead characters operating at cross-purposes with one another while discovering that their own motives aren't so sound. It's too bad the rest of the film couldn't match this level of inspiration.

Kapur and Azmi are delightful throughout, even when Kapur's Mandola hallucinates pink buffaloes instead of elephants. Sharma is effective as the high-spirited Bijlee, but Khan doesn't bring much energy to his part, and in fact seems to disappear from the film for long stretches.

Better songs and a stronger romance would have helped draw attention away from the film's unfocused screenplay. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola ends up a pleasant diversion that could have been much more.