Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota movie review: Hilarious Hindi action movie scores a flawless victory
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
Director: Vasan Bala
Cast: Abhimanyu Dassani, Radhika Madan, Gulshan Devaiah
Thirty years ago, the job given to me whenever the family would rent a VHS cassette would be to “check the print.” The tapes inside would get worn out after multiple playback in multiple players, and eagerly anticipated screenings would go wrong if the quality wasn’t — behold the pun — up to scratch. These scratches of overuse indicated something seen so often it had literally been rendered unwatchable, but also something beloved. Something worth pausing and rewinding and cueing up and watching again. Those who love the movies also love when movie clichés line up just right.
Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is an ode to joy, a celebration of the cassette-tapes its maker has been brought up on. It is an action film, about fights and villains and the importance of pain, and Bala serves up chopsocky goodness not only with directorial flair, but with the benevolence of a friendly neighbourhood ‘Chinese-van’ cook, drowning chowmein in soya sauce and vinegar.
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Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is the movie Farah Khan would have made if she had a thing for Bruce Lee. That analogy goes deeper than love for screen silliness, mind you, since Bala’s comedy is also a precisely choreographed one. Bala is a distinctive filmmaker with immediately identifiable style, and if I were Hrithik Roshan, I’d be calling him up right now to give him the reins to my superhero character. This man deserves to be controlling a franchise. Finally, we have a Hindi action film with set-pieces and fight-scenes well worth rewinding.
Picture the heroine’s first fight. Making sure to first tie back her hair, The Girl slides across the front of a car in a white dress, while lassoing a goon with her dupatta — all as the 1956 song Nakhrewaali plays on a nearby radio. We frequently use the word ‘nakhra’ for airs rather than girls flying through the air, but a nakhra is also a skill, an art, an elaborate power-move hidden up one’s sleeve. The Girl has a bagful of fury.
The Boy, meanwhile, can barely say Ouch. Raised on a Bruce Lee-and-water diet, Surya grew up hearing himself described as a “medical miracle” by doctors surprised by his rare condition, a congenital insensitivity to pain (Surya, haphazard narrator of his own film, advises us to Google this later). His grandfather, in an attempt to let him fit in, teaches him when to pretend and say “Ouch,” but this girl — The Girl who doesn’t say ouch — makes our hero forget his cue.
Surya’s story could be a standard-issue revenge saga, but it isn’t just the story of one boy prone to dehydration. It is a story of The Girl, fearless and determined while refreshingly unsure about how smart she is and what she can make of herself. It is the story of Surya’s irrepressible grandfather, always in his corner. It is the story of twin brothers, who grow into opposing clichés — a superhero and a villain. (That’s what happens when one brother idolises Kamal Haasan and the other prefers Rajinikanth.)
The film has a rightly grungy texture, highlighted by its consciously unspectacular Bombay locations. Surya practices flying kicks in front of a Madhubala mural and punches the air next to an undertaker’s van. Jay Patel’s cinematography strikes the right balance between choppy and lucid, keeping fights laudably coherent while sometimes going poetic, like frames where The Boy and The Girl flank a ladder on a roof. The music is excellently picked and very catchy, working even better because of editor Prerna Saigal’s rhythmic cuts, driving the narrative forward dynamically.
Young Surya is most endearing, beset by young classmates, advancing on him with the dividers from their geometry boxes open, like switchblades. It feels like the indie comedy Son Of Rambow, but the violence in Bala’s film escalates — just because his hero doesn’t feel pain doesn’t mean he can’t be hurt, and his is a grisly, tragic backstory. The brightest spot is Supri, the girl who watches over him. Until, one day, she vanishes from Surya’s life.
When she reappears, she’s a poster-girl for the martial arts mentor Surya has only studied from afar, the way Eklavya learnt from Dronacharya — and the way all of us learn from far-flung masters of motion pictures. Surya is slow-motion stunned to see her, and rightly so. He can’t believe she’s taking life with the Karate-Man so casually, she can’t believe he still hasn’t grown up.
Abhimanyu Dassani is perfect as Surya, making an impressively limber debut with a stoic curiosity — with the blankness appropriate for someone who doesn’t know physical pain. He’s forever wide-eyed and, by not reacting to popped bones or bleeding palms, makes us wince on his behalf. You’re only in hot water if heat bothers you.
Radhika Madan is a fantastic Supri, and the Pataakha actress shines in a role that allows her to literally expand Surya’s world. She’s a girl who makes up her own post-coital Singing In The Rain moment before casually buying and popping a contraceptive. The chemist raises an enquiring eyebrow, she replies with a reassuring thumbs up. All is indeed good.
Mahesh Manjrekar brings tender unpredictability to the role of the ever-encouraging grandfather, turning an overdone character into someone special. Gulshan Devaiah, playing twins Master Mani and Jimmy, does that two times over. Be it as a brute who intimidatingly eats banana chips, or as one-legged karate master stopping to put on his singular shoe, Devaiah massively amps up the film’s comic-book feel as he takes turns playacting as Nicolas Cage characters from different eras.
Like all the truly great action films, this is also a love story. Between woman and man, yes, but also between fan and film, between a maker and his martial mentors. References abound. From Bruce Lee’s iconic 1971 red jumpsuit to George Lucas’s cult film from the same year, from Kundan Shah to a Kamal Haasan comedy about lookalikes, to say nothing of many, many martial arts and action references, all woven cleanly into this fourth-wall breaking joyride. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, frequently filmed in affectionate and glorious slow motion, is a salutation.
It is also a reassurance. Video may once have killed the radio star, but as long as films like this can be made and played, over and over, videos aren’t going anywhere. Their influence lasts, as the prints inside our head stay pristine. They live.
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