By the time most of us reach adulthood, we’ve figured out that society is unfair and you only get as much justice as you can pay for. But what if you grew up without that knowledge? What if you truly believed that you could fight the bad guys and win?
Such is the case for Surya, the hero of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (“The Man Who Feels No Pain“, MKDNH, henceforth). Born with a congenital insensitivity to pain, young Surya (Sartaaj Kakkar) spends most of his childhood indoors. His father Jatin (Jimit Trivedi) wants to protect his son not just because of his unique condition, but because he’s all that remains of Jatin’s wife (played by Shweta Basu Prasad), who died in a mugging days after Surya’s birth.
Jatin’s father-in-law lives with them, and he too wants to keep his daughter’s memory alive through Surya. Rather than keep the boy wrapped in cotton wool, Grandpa (Mahesh Manjrekar) encourages the boy to emulate his mother’s feisty streak (which we see through flashbacks as Surya imagines the mother he never got to know). Grandpa and grandson binge watch martial arts movies on VHS, with Surya acting out the moves and Grandpa teaching him how other people experience pain, so the boy can disguise his condition to the outside world.
An energetic boy with heroic instincts and an inability to accurately judge risk is a force to be reckoned with. [My nephew is basically Surya with pain sensitivity, so I speak from experience.] When the neighbors deem the 9-year-old wannabe vigilante a menace to society, the family moves away — separating the boy from his tenacious best friend Supriya (Riva Arora) and leaving her at the mercy of her abusive, drunken father.
Fast forward twelve years, and 21-year-old Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) is ready to head out into the world. His mission is to reunite with “Supri” (Pataakha‘s Radhika Madan) and meet his hero: one-legged martial artist Karate Mani (Gulshan Devaiah). When Karate Mani’s evil twin brother, Jimmy (also Devaiah), steals Mani’s locket, Surya is finally able to put his training to the test — against the pragmatic advice of Supri and Karate Mani himself.
MKDNH is a nostalgic action comedy. It is to martial arts movies of the mid-20th century what Super 8 was to old monster movies. MKDNH‘s stunts are all the funnier for the ways reality intrudes upon them. Surya envisions the way fights will go, only for them to play out in sloppy and un-cinematic ways.
Underneath all the flying fists and high kicks is a touching story about families. Jatin wants to protect Surya physically but emotionally, too, long after Surya has become an adult. There’s a compelling subplot about Supri’s dysfunctional family and whether she will follow her in her mother’s (Lovleen Mishra) footsteps and tolerate abuse for the sake of protecting someone she loves. Mani’s conflict with Jimmy is the continuation of a lifelong battle for their father’s approval.
Yet MKDNH is never maudlin. Writer-director Vasan Bala trusts the audience to feel the story’s emotional weight and connect with the characters while always being an out-and-out comedy. It’s a difficult feat that is executed to perfection.
I don’t think there’s any way to improve upon MKDHN. It feels like the fullest possible realization of Bala’s vision, from the music and costumes to Jay I. Patel’s cinematography and Prerna Saigal’s editing. Every one of the actors is tremendous, with Devaiah and Manjrekar making the most of their delightful supporting characters without overshadowing Madan or Dassani, in his very first film role.
I absolutely loved Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.