What happens when the grit and determination of Sylvester Stallone’s ROCKY and the furious rage of Robert De Niro’s RAGING BULL date in the hinterland of India that is divided by caste and ruled by nationalistic and religious passion? – A BRAWLER (MUKKABAAZ) is born.
Anurag Kashyap’s latest MUKKABAAZ is a shift from the greasy, disturbing yet terrific dark thrillers like RAMAN RAGHAV 2.0 that serves as a genre bender in Bollywood sports flicks, its unusual, political, laced with powerful dialogues and terrific acts that jabs the caste system, religious intolerance and corruption with hard hitting punches.
However, Anurag Kashyap’s joust with the system and the populist studio owned sports flick in Bollywood like MARY KOM, M.S DHONI : THE UNTOLD STORY based on sporting legends somewhere in its tryst gets baffled and allured by Bollywoodish esthetics, a phenomenon the radical Anurag Kashyap is unknown for.
Resulting in MUKKABAAZ trying to win in points (read get a wider audience) and it does eventually by all the jabs and punches but that ‘knockout’ punch is missing the way Kashyap has landed earlier in his previous endeavors be it BLACK FRIDAY, DEV D, GANGS OF WASSEYPUR, RAMAN RAGHAV 2.0, UGLY.
Set in Bareilly a place before the sweet BAREILLY KI BARFI was known for its lost jhumka, begins when an aspiring Mike Tyson of U.P. Shravan Kumar Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh), punches his coach - the local stronghold and boxing federation boss, Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill), after an argument.
Shravan’s dream of becoming a district-level boxer gets beaten by the casteist, sexist, patriarchal and corrupt upper caste boxing promoter Bhagwan Das Mishra who takes the punch as an attack on his pride. To make matter worse, Shravan has fallen in love with Bhagwan Das Mishra’s mute niece Sunaina (Zoya Hussain). Rest is how Shravan's fights with casteism, favourtism, corruption, and regional politics to get into the national level with the help of a coach belonging to lower caste Sanjay Kumar (Ravi Kishan).
Interestingly, MUKKABAAZ is a movie that relies on the perspective of the viewers. A scene that clearly defines the difference between ‘how’ we are watching and ‘why’ we are watching makes it a genre bender and the whole sequence comes with a well built establishment that cements Anurag Kashyap’s liking to Martin Scorsese. After the initial banter with Coach Sanjay Kumar, Shravan is made aware of the difference between a brawler (MUKKABAAZ) and a boxer (MUKKEBAAZ) and here the filmmaker achieves triumph in this gender bender which is not just a sports film it’s a love story, family drama and attack on the caste system rolled into one. Ironically, if I say the movie packs hard hitting punches more when the gloves are off, it won’t be wrong.
Still, after all genre crossing by Anurag Kashyap in an engrossing script written by Prasoon Mishra and the director himself on a story by Singh Srinet Mukti, K.D. Satyam and the actor Vineet Kumar Singh which is said to be inspired by a real life incident, the overwhelming cautiousness to say that we are ‘real’ hampers the proceedings. Examples of Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Salman Khan are used just to reestablish the fact that things are ‘real’ over here, the soundtrack which is mocking and pounding if you listen separately comes suddenly without helping the purpose.
Another problem with MUKKEBAAZ is a sudden compulsive realization by the maker that things should be hipster and everybody should connect. So, subtitles get popped up and a solo dancing on the banks of Ganges unnecessarily appear.
Vineet Kumar Singh excels as Shravan Kumar Singh and delivers a powerful performance packed with punches of conviction and hooked with ease.
Zoya Hussain makes a riveting debut. Jimmy Shergill is top notch and Ravi Kishan is excellent. Dialogues are outstanding.
Technically sound with fantastic production values, the movie captures the essence of the hinterland right from the first blow.
All said and done, MUKKABAAZ is an unusual sports flick that qualifies to be a gender bender in spite its attempt to get hooked to the wider audience, thanks to the constant jabs and punches to the caste system, religious intolerance and corruption.