Movie Review: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (2013)

Matru_Ki_Bijlee_Ka_Mandola_poster.jpeg4 Stars (out of 4)

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In my attempt to find the best way to explain why I like an unconventional movie like Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola as much as I do, I found my answer in my review of director Vishal Bhardwaj’s previous effort, the magnificent 7 Khoon Maaf:
7 Khoon Maaf is an all-or-nothing film. It either works for you or it doesn’t. Its strangeness will be a turn-off for some viewers, while others will lament a lack of explosive action scenes. But, if you’re in the mood for something a little different, beware: Susanna might just steal your heart.”

I feel the same way about Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (MKBKM, henceforth). I love it, but I understand why some people won’t. It’s a slow burn, with characters that are hard to pin down and a few odd elements that have to be accepted on faith rather than understood with reason. I think it’s fabulous.

The plot of MKBKM is the opposite of high-concept. In short, the story is about a wealthy man’s attempt to convert his land and the small village that sits on it into a massive factory, shopping mall, and apartment complex. Naturally, the villagers object to the plan, as do the man’s servants, his daughter, and strangely enough, the man himself.

See, the rich man, Mandola (Pankaj Kapur) has a dual personality: he’s a ruthless, ambitious tycoon in the sober light of day, and a populist by night, once he starts drinking. His handler, Matru (Imran Khan), is supposed to keep Mandola away from liquor. But Matru has little incentive to do so, as Mandola is a nicer guy when he’s drunk. Early in the film, an inebriated Mandola leads the villagers in a protest outside the gates of his own mansion, until he sobers up and realizes what he’s doing.

Mandola wants the factory in part to woo a fetching government minister, Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi), and also to secure a prosperous future for his only daughter, Bijlee (Anushka Sharma). He’s gone so far as to get Bijlee engaged to the minister’s son, Baadal (Arya Babbar), who, Matru repeatedly reminds Bijlee, is an idiot. Matru and Bijlee are, of course, a far more appropriate couple, despite their differences in economic class.

Bhardwaj includes a number of quirky elements in the film to elevate it beyond a simple parable about the dangers of progress at any cost. A scene in which Mandola confirms his plans with Chaudhari explicitly evokes images of the witches in Macbeth and takes place amid ruins on a hilltop reminiscent of Weathertop in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Promos for MKBKM featured one of the recurring visual themes: a life-sized hot pink buffalo that Mandola sees whenever his longing for his beloved liquor becomes too strong.

My favorite oddball touch is the way Bhardwaj deals with something that would’ve been a throw-away gag in any other movie. When Baadal first sees Bijlee in the movie, he’s accompanied by an African folk dance group that he purchased in an attempt to impress her. Rather than just disappear after the joke is over, the folk group remains through the rest of the film. They take over a room in Mandola’s mansion, join in dance numbers, and protest alongside the villagers.

That detail alone makes the movie for me. What else would one expect to happen to a foreign dance group transported to rural India? Bhardwaj — who co-wrote the screenplay with Abhishek Chaubey — takes a practical problem and turns it to his advantage.

The performances are great throughout: Pankaj Kapur growls his way through his dialog as cantankerous Mandola; Anushka Sharma is as spunky and lovable as ever; Azmi and Babbar are appropriately diabolical; and Imran Khan is clever and sexy as a budding revolutionary, whose sidekicks include an old man, a blind preteen, and a transvestite.

Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola is a must see. Even if you don’t love it, you won’t see anything else quite like it.


32 thoughts on “Movie Review: Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola (2013)

  1. Abdul Q

    Wow…I just watched this last night and keep looking inside here to see if you already write about it. While I thought I may only read your review days later, suddenly this entry came up :). I was thinking this film a bit like Wes Anderson’s isn’t it?….the absurdities of characters, story etc…..correct me if I’m wrong…such black comedy as Anderson’s are not everyone cup of tea….so it make sense if some people just hate this film πŸ™‚ Btw, I love this film….the 2013 Bollywood gems is finally arrive πŸ™‚

    1. Kathy

      Wes Anderson is a great comparison, Abdul. He and Bhardwaj both have such distinct styles and embrace quirkiness, finding humor in dark subjects without making things too grim. I think MKBKM has cemented Vishal Bhardwaj as my favorite director, regardless of language. Oh, and the music is great, too! I love that Bhardwaj writes the music and has his wife be his playback singer. That always makes me smile. Glad we get to start the year with such a great film! πŸ™‚

  2. Shah Shahid

    Your Review of this, is everything I expect this movie to be (haven’t seen yet)
    I was wondering why there’s rural village looking Africans in the promos. It had me theorizing everything from the period of the movie, to where it was set… I’m laughing my ass off knowing exactly how that works.

    Looking forward to this! πŸ˜€

    1. Kathy

      The use of the African dancers is hilarious. There will be some crowd scene, and all of a sudden, there’s one of the dancers! They have nothing else to do, and they can’t just disappear, so why not participate in village life? It’s so funny. I hope you like the movie. πŸ™‚

  3. Anushka

    Vishal bhardwaj is one of my favorite directors besides Mani ratnam,Nolan and some others…Though the critics didn’t quite like 7 khoon maaf,but in my opinion it was fascinating quirky fun..Didn’t like kaminey though..I just love the eccentric characters and story his films have..I am eager to witness the pink buffalo and the african folk performers

  4. Nicky

    Hi Kathy,

    I was curious to know whether you intentionally skipped reviewing Table No. 21 in favor of MKBKM as your first movie of 2013 in the anticipation that it would be good and you wanted to start this years review on a good note? πŸ™‚

    1. Kathy

      Ha! It wasn’t a calculated decision, Nicky. πŸ™‚ I missed seeing Table No. 21 on release day because I had an appointment that ran late, and my next opportunity to see it wouldn’t come until the middle of the next week. By then, I’d seen how poorly it performed at the U.S. box office and decided to wait until it came out on DVD. That said, I think I got lucky. πŸ˜‰

  5. JustMeMike

    Thanks for the fine review. I’ll be adding this to my must see list. It was your review that pointed me towards 7 Khoon Maaf, which I ultimately enjoyed and reviewed.

    Anushka is wonderful to look at, and, I’ve seen all her films up to now – which means – I’ll be looking forward to seeing this one asap – which likely means once the DVD is available.

    Azmi has been great for years so there’s another reason to see MKBKM for me.


  6. meeradarjiyr1

    Great Review! I really want to see this! Me and my sister though are glued to the song, as I have seen the advert so many times! Having said that, the trailer on TV doesn’t really give us an insight on what the story is about. Whereas your review really helped, so thanks!

  7. Keyur Seta

    We can agree to disagree on this as much as we have never done before, Kathy πŸ˜€
    I was sent to see this and I hated it! Was irritated by the jokes, characters and situations. They only made me question again and again – Do you seriously expect me to laugh at this? πŸ˜€ And, I liked Saat Khoon Maaf.

    Cheers πŸ™‚

    1. Kathy

      Oh, no! And I thought our disagreement over Cocktail was bad! πŸ˜‰ In MKBKM’s defense, I don’t think it’s necessarily a “laugh out loud” type film, though it does try to be amusing. Sorry you didn’t like it, Keyur.

      1. Keyur Seta

        Hahaha! Don’t be sorry Kathy πŸ˜€ Yes, it wasn’t a ‘lol’ type of film but after a point of time, I found it difficult to even sit through.

        However, the experience was many times pleasant to the one I had a week earlier with Meri Shadi Karao. I was sent for it’s premiere. The movie was like….. it doesn’t qualify as proper feature cinema. It was B grade. What’s worse is that the makers (Daler Mehndi. His son made his acting debut with this one) had invited relatives and friends. So obviously they were applauding and cheering every scene while I had an expression of a question mark over my face πŸ˜› I guess it didn’t release in Chicago. You’re lucky πŸ˜€

        1. Kathy

          The showing of Meri Shadi Karao must have painful to sit through, but at least you got a good story out of the experience! πŸ™‚

        1. Kathy

          Thanks for the link to your review, Keyur. The one theater in the Chicago area that shows Indian movies in languages other than Hindi never programs Marathi movies! I’ve read other good things about Balak Palak, so I’ll have to track it down when it comes out on DVD. I like Ritesh Deshmukh a lot, though I think he gets too readily pigeonholed into wacky comedy roles. If the industry won’t allow him to branch out in his acting roles, at least he can make the films he wants as a producer.

          1. Shah Shahid

            I prefer Ritesh in his more dramatical roles like RANN, NAACH (shut up, I liked it!) and others. He’s a talented actor. I’m waiting for him to grow out of the chocolate side hero roles.

          2. Keyur Seta

            You most welcome, Kathy πŸ™‚ Even I like Ritesh and even I feel he is being typecast. I loved his serious, real character in Rann but very few people have seen that film unfortunately. Now, he is also acting in a Marathi movie. We’ll get to see him play a meaningful character hopefully.

            Yes, I know Marathi films aren’t screened in the US. I always feel they should be. Pune 52 is releasing on Friday and it looks like an international film too. –

            Cheers πŸ™‚

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  12. Monica

    I recently came across your site, and I’m grateful for your Netflix list. I sought out this review because I adored the movie; I’ve probably watched it 3 times now. I’m glad to see we agree here! I’m an American who’s gotten into Bollywood in the past year, and I was so taken aback by how different MKBKM was than the mostly standard romcoms I’d seen so far. And I loved it! You mention the South African folk dancers; I was initially turned off by the fact that that they were able to be “purchased”, but I eventually came to accept it as part of the overall ridiculousness of the film. Pankaj Kapur is wonderful, and Anushka & Imran have great chemistry.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for the kind words, Monica! I’m glad to meet another MKDKM devotee. The movie’s a great example of why Vishal Bhardwaj is my favorite director. It’s a shame none of his other films are on Netflix at the moment. As icky as Baadal’s purchase of the African dance troupe is, what better way to showcase what an awful guy he is than for him to totally fail to understand the specific negative implications of purchasing people from Africa (as if purchasing any human was acceptable in the first place)? I really need to watch this again soon! πŸ™‚

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