Your usual cliché "carve the film's title in the baby's chest" thing.
What is left to say about Manmohan Desai's most over-the-top of over-the-top films, Mard (Man)? We direct you, in particular, to the reviews of Prof. Lutgendorf and BollyBob - both reviews amply demonstrate how incomprehensibly insane this film is. This is a film that makes LSD trips like Namak Halaal look as tame and predictable as lunch at my grandmother's. This is a film that broadcasts crazy in a way we didn't think possible. Like crop circle, tin hat, rivers of crazy, crazy.
Your standard super-intelligent and very polite tiger. How trite.
We at the PPCC are generally not fans of laughing at films in an ironic, semi-derisive way. We think that's unfair. A lot of work goes into making a film. Often it feels like you're laughing at the film's low budget.
But Manmohan Desai's Mard doesn't seem to go for any other response. Who is the target audience for a film like this? Desai - an imaginative, visually clever director who brought us the joys of Suhaag and Amar Akbar Anthony - is so intentionally over-the-top, it feels like he is very obviously not trying to suspend our disbelief. Dogs that whistle? British colonialists that suck the blood out of enslaved Indians? Statues coming to life?
A colonial British costume drama set in... two different centuries.
There is narry a serious peg to hang the audience's heart on. Instead, we are treated to such a spectacle of slapstick gore and perverse horror-comedy, that sometimes we laughed, but more often we were just like... WTF. Amitabh and Amrita's whole sadomasochistic romp, complete with whipping and rubbing salt in each other's wounds, was like... just WTF.
The narrative structure is fairly normal, by masala standards. Cue prologue. Once upon a time, evil British imperialists ruled the land. In particular, they harassed the noble King Azad Singh (Dara Singh) and his wife, Durga (Nirupa Roy), to no end. One day, when British forces were looming ever-closer, Azad sent his wife and baby son to safety. There, through a series of Desai-ian coincidences, the son was inadvertently adopted by an earnest, hard-working couple (Seema Deo and lovely Satyendra Kapoor, more on Satyendra later), while ever-suffering Nirupa Roy lost her voice from all that wailing. Yes, really.
The composition of this scene demonstrates that, despite everything, Manmohan Desai was a very sane director.
The trio of bumbling, über-sadistic villains - Dr. Harry (Prem Chopra), Gen. Dyer (!!!) (Narang from Don), and The Only White Guy (Bob Christo) - spend a lot of time plotting ways to make Indians suffer. Meanwhile, Azad's righteous baby grows up into the mardly Raju (Amitabh Bachchan), friend of dog and horse alike. When Raju runs into Dr. Harry's spoiled heiress daughter, Ruby (Amrita Singh), sparks - and salt - and whips - fly. Clearly, they are on their way to love. But alas, the Evil Trio are intent on ruining things, and they shuttle Ruby off to marry General Dyer's sadistic son, Danny (Dan Dhanoa), who runs a bizarre quasi-concentration camp where he makes Indians work until they drop, and then bleeds them in a forced blood drive for the "British soldiers in Burma". What?
Danny Dyer. He does a lot of cackling.
Poor Nirupa, losing her voice. At least now we get a temporary respite from her lecturing us.
The film's drama follows the usual tropes of saving Ruby from a dire (no pun intended) fate, and reuniting Raju with his biological parents. Meanwhile, as Rum rightly notes, Shashi Kapoor makes a cameo as a statue.
Hmm. In most other masala film reviews, we would then write "Much drama of the usual kind ensues." But not this one. Oh ho. The drama that ensues here is not predictable, logical, or usual, unless you happen to be from the land of crazy.
This whole sequence was kinda scandalous.
But hey, if that's what floats Amitabh's boat, whatever.
We were very excited to see this film, ever since reading the Prof. Lutgendorf and BollyBob reviews and ever since the poll results came in, so we're disappointed to report that we came away disappointed. Maybe we just weren't in the mood, fresh as we were from a purifying weekend uniting us with nature and river currents. We were in the mood for something calm and quiet, something, perhaps, starring Shashi Kapoor in a moustache with graying temples. We were not wholly emotionally prepared for the zaniness of Mard.
Amitabh looked positively studly, what with his Byronic drama in Maa Sherwali.
In particular, Mard was missing one of our favorite ingredients of masala films: big, squishy, masala dil. The appeal of director Desai's Suhaag, our all-time favorite masala movie, has often been the ultimate redemption of the neglectful father. We like to see characters be redeemed. We also like to see them be reunited, cry, appreciate their parents, overcome problems. Some of the usual masala dil is certainly present in Mard, but often it's overshadowed by the cartoonish demonization of the villains, the protracted humiliation of the good guys, and the colorfully violent revenges.
The demonization of the British in this film is thankfully too OTT to be taken seriously, though we did think the references to General Dyer were a little tasteless. At least, they made us squirm in the same way that The Producers makes us squirm - i.e. intentionally scandalous piss-taking of disturbing historical figures.
In terms of the music, three of the songs stuck out as being oddly compelling, in that they suddenly seemed quite earnest in this sea of tongue-in-cheek madness: like Prof. Lutgendorf, we noted Boori Nazarwale as being quite a heartfelt plea for the rich villains to grow a conscious. Ham To Tamboo Mein was a lot of fun - coming right on the heels of a scene between Prem Chopra and Amitabh Bachchan that made us laugh very hard - and with Amitabh wearing a goofily adorable moustache while flexing his shoulders in that charismatic way of his. But our favorite song was definitely Amitabh's wailing, despairing, FEEL THE DRAMAing Jai Mata Di. We love the intensity with which he throws himself into it; man, that's 110%! And he lights a lamp in his palm? Uhh, yes, Amitabh is a clearly the baddest of them all.
The very silly mirroring scene that we're embarrassed to admit made us laugh really hard. And if Prem Chopra improvised that he is a GENIUS.
About the performances: first and foremost, this film is the Amitabh Bachchan show. He displays his great Bachchanly range - we've always loved him when he does comedy - and you cannot help but root for him. Go, man, go! If anything, we just wish he had had more time to dance, since, like David Chute says, we love to watch Amitabh Bachchan dance. In a great, go girl power move, Amrita Singh generally matched her macho boytoy in terms of gutsy kick-assery - except for the (unfortunately) typical "silly, coy, and helpless" routines she had to pull now and again. Special note must be made of Prem Chopra and extra special note must be made of Satyendra Kapoor. Prem Chopra, one of those villains we usually don't love to hate but just plain hate, surprised us by making us laugh really, really hard during his whole drunken bhang mirror routine. And Satyendra! Ahh, Satyendra. Satyendra is actually one of the PPCC's underappreciated favorites. For those that don't recognize the name, he was the put-upon father in Deewaar, the put-upon miner in Kaala Patthar, and assorted put-upon policemen and father figures in your 70s masala fare. He long since burrowed his way into the PPCC's affections by playing earnest, decent fellows - and in Mard, he gets to really kick ass. Yeah!
Yeah, Satyendra! Satyendra! Gruff yet lovable father figure!
Dispenser of justice! Kicker of scary eyebrowless giants' butts! Yeah!