Batti Gul Meter Chalu review: Shahid Kapoor film is low on voltage
Batti Gul Meter Chalu
Director - Shree Narayan Singh
Cast - Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Yami Gautam
Rating - 2.5/5
Batti Gul Meter Chalu begins with an archery competition in a nondescript town in Uttarakhand -- in the dark. The one who hits the bull’s eye gets enough fuel to keep the neighbourhood community centre’s generator thumping for six months. Director Shree Narayan Singh aims to shock viewers with the abrupt beginning of his drama on frequent power outages, but for those who grew up in small-town India or its villages, the scene will only evoke nostalgia.
The film is supposed to be a sharp comment on the mirage-like ‘badhiya din’ -- we all know what that is a euphemism for -- which are a long way off, despite what the political slogans would have you believe. However, before we get there, we have to wade through an interminable first half, Shahid Kapoor-Shraddha Kapoor-Divyendu Sharma’s love triangle and songs with lyrics that go ‘When you gettin gold why go for tamba, when you getting Gabbar why go for Samba.” The film, just like the subject it deals with, fluctuates wildly before it stabilises.
Watch the Batti Gul Meter Chalu trailer here
Shahid plays SK, a crafty lawyer who will happily break the law to earn an extra penny, with Divyendu as his straight-as-arrow friend Tripathi. Shraddha is Lalita Nautiyal, an aspiring designer with a grotesque fashion sense. The trio has been buddies since childhood and now that Lalita is looking for a husband, she has decided to choose between the two. To judge who will make for a better spouse, she dates the both of them for a week and picks one. You don’t need to be the brightest bulb around to predict that this will lead to friction in their friendship.
More than an hour into the film, power cuts and inflated bills are nothing more than a minor inconvenience to all involved as the spotlight is firmly on garish clothes, gimmicky performances and the distasteful swayamvar. The film takes almost 1.5 hours to establish what the trailer explained in three minutes – and neither of the two manage to hold your attention for too long. If you are feeling antsy while waiting for the film to pick up pace, rest assured you’ve got company.
Post interval, and a suicide – not a spoiler – the film suddenly shifts towards activism. The fused bulbs and power cuts are no longer about fun and games as conscience calls SK and he decides to take on the corporate suits on his dead friend’s behalf. With the film changing genres and going from a muddled romance to a courtroom drama and social comment all rolled into one, Shahid also finds his pace. From a blackguard using his education – he actually took over seven years to get his law degree – to earn some money on the side, SK vows justice for his everyman friend and lakhs like him around the country.
Singh -- whose last film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, was about open defecation and a nod to the present government’s Clean India campaign -- is not pulling his punches this time. He bravely takes on the promises made by the successive governments and how they continue to be a no-show, especially for the have-nots in the country’s heartland.
The power scenario in India is a difficult subject to show on screen but there are moments when Singh manages to make it entertaining and enlightening. The fact that he is addressing the dichotomy between promises made and the reality of welfare schemes is brave in itself, given the political climate and the film industry’s propensity for safe subjects. It is a pity then that the heavy-handed treatment and clunky execution lets Batti Gul Meter Chalu down. The long speeches in the courtroom emphasise the obvious and underline it so much that the message takes over the film.
That was a problem with Toilet and Singh brings it to Batti Gul Meter Chalu, too; just like the sexism issue. If Akshay Kumar was stalking Bhumi Pednekar in his last cinematic outing, Shahid takes sexist digs at Yami Gautam -- the defence lawyer -- in a courtroom. The actor, like the director, is playing to the gallery and he knows it. It is ironic that a film that aims to shake a nation’s conscience takes such a low view of how its women should be treated.
At almost 165 minutes long, the film is extremely indulgent. There is an entire track about two bus commuters narrating the story so that the director can bung in a joke in the end. Such unnecessary flourishes make the film a stretch. And then, there’s the local dialect which may be authentic but tries your patience. Just like Yami’s Gulnar from the big city, who needs the judge to be her interpreter, you wish the makers had handed you a dictionary -- or at least subtitles.
Batti Gul Meter Chalu’s trio -- Shahid, Shraddha and Divyendu -- find a surer footing in the film’s second half but it is a pity that such seasoned performers such as Farida Jalal and Supriya Pilgaonkar are as important to the film as scenery. Sushmita Mukherjee, as the judge, is forced to smile off SK’s toxic transgressions in the courtroom and she is capable of so much more.
Butti Gul Meter Chalu had a lot of promise, but just like the government it targets, it fails to deliver.
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