Director: Shree Narayan Singh
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Yami Gautam, Divyendu Sharma, Ashrut Jain
I’m not sure when Shahid Kapoor spoke to Akshay Kumar for career advice, but Batti Gul Meter Chalu waxes long and melodramatic about the country’s pressing socioeconomic evil – the “business” of electricity. If this is the best we’ve got, then the likes of Reliance and Tata have nothing to worry about.
Shree Narayan Singh, who last directed the highly questionable Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, spends 175 K-serial minutes trying to tell us that corrupt energy suppliers won’t let city malls and multiplexes go for a minute without electricity while fleecing poor Uttarakhand towns and small-time businesses are plagued with load shedding and power cuts. Oh, the irony. All through, I was waiting for the cinema hall to go dark – and I don’t mean this in a romantic-cinephile way, but in the projector-shuts-off-and-we-go-home way. I could swear I even heard one of those giant generator vans on the movie set provide ambient sounds for a silent scene (everyone is afflicted with such severe verbal diarrhea – because spunky middle-India characters and all – that such scenes are rarer than Shraddha Kapoor pulling off a Garhwali accent. The “bal” that Pahadi folks add at the end of most sentences to convey precision sounds like a sarcastic speech defect and punch line from the mouths of mainstream Bollywood leads. And if you think this parenthetical rambling of mine has gone on too long, imagine what the film must feel like).
Batti Gul begins, I kid you not, with a parallel black-and-white track of two clownish men named Vikas and Kalyan on a bus discussing the era-defining story of best friends Susheel Kumar Pant (Shahid Kapoor), Sundar Mohan Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma; another good actor choosing bad films) and Lalita Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor). One narrates to the other the events of the actual film, and during the hopeless ordinary-citizen-screwed and no-justice moments, the bus even slides off the mountain. That is: “Vikas” and “Kalyan,” the poster children of fake political slogans, are no more. When things look up, they are shown to have survived the crash. That noise you hear is Ingmar Bergman resurrecting himself so that he can un-make The Seventh Seal.
So SK, Tripathi and Lalita (nicknamed ‘Nauti,’ which for the longest time I thought was short for nautanki) are happy-go-lucky youngsters that spend 90 minutes of screen-time jabbering away in a town so sunny that the cinematographer shoots the entire opening day for night (simulating dark conditions by underexposing-in-camera or using post-production filters) to depict terrible electricity coverage. Never mind those silly shadows. SK is a lawyer who runs a racket of cash settlements, Tripathi is an entrepreneur who opens a printing factory and Nauti is a fashion designer with her own store.
These characters are either dumb or self-destructive – how else can you explain Tripathi’s decision to run a business that relies solely on consistent electricity, or Nauti’s decision to date both her friends for a week to choose a suitable groom? “When you getting Gabbar, why go for Samba?” sings the Ranveer-Singh-ish SK to her. Naturally, Nauti chooses sincere Tripathi over superstar SK, causes a rift, and shit hits the (stationary) fan when Tripathi’s printing business is hit with mega power bills. The evil electric company is denoted by the presence of three middle-aged men sharing one desk.
Shree Narayan Singh is less of a filmmaker and more of a deflected Amar Chitra Katha illustrator. He edits – which in this case means: simply assembles together the non-NG takes – his own movie
As the trailer proudly denotes, Tripathi commits suicide, SK turns a leaf and turns the story into one of the worst-written-and-directed courtroom dramas in the history of movies. Yami Gautam plays a character that doesn’t die for a change: the State lawyer, who exchanges flirtatious glances and bedroom-style arguments with our hunky prosecutor. He taunts her about heart conditions, adult pulp-fiction, while the female judge – who thinks she is doing a Saurabh Shukla from Jolly LLB – is a comic device who communicates in cricketing phrases. There’s a twist in the tale, too, but who cares?
Shree Narayan Singh is less of a filmmaker and more of a deflected Amar Chitra Katha illustrator. He edits – which in this case means: simply assembles together the non-NG takes – his own movie. But he lacks a basic sense of sequence. For instance, when SK visits the company head to threaten him with a court case, the camera cuts to a pen camera in his pocket, followed immediately by the shot of the CEO’s face – as if to suggest that the man is in on SK’s old sting-operation trick. Later in court the footage, which shows the oblivious man bribing SK, changes the direction of the case – which means that all Singh wanted to actually show was that SK was recording the CEO, and not that the man was aware.
This is just shabby filmmaking all around. It goes to show that today’s producers don’t care for the craft either, as long as there’s a “message,” a digital revolution (you know how most new-age filmmakers depict the power of the internet – a video goes viral, and the nation and news channels react in phases?) and a rousing monologue. So what if a few thousand screens squeeze the region’s power stations dry to broadcast this three-hour-long exercise of crippling nobility? It’s the thought that counts.