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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mukkabaaz - 2

Cameroon Bailey of Tiff talking to Anurag Kashap at the screening
of Mukkabaaz along with the lead actors Vineet Kumar Singh,
Zoya Hasan & Sadhna Singh 
In Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz (The Brawler) which had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2017, caste permutations get unencumbered playout, bringing up close the always unsettling and often ghoulish aspects of caste orthodoxy that continues to dominate the practice of Hindu religion. 

A not-so-young lower caste aspiring boxer Sharavan Rajput from Bareilly is keen to get a break at the national level. To get ahead, he has to serve the upper caste coach Bhagwan Das as his personal aide, doing odd jobs for the coach and his family – from buying vegetables to being a masseur to the coach.

Bhagwan, a Brahmin, is a local gangster who has made it good. He controls the local district boxing establishment and rules it with an iron hand. Sharavan is in love with Bhagwan’s niece, Sunaina, a young woman who is mute. An unexpected turn of events leads the headstrong Sharavan to beat up the coach, and in retaliation, Bhagwan takes it upon himself to ruin Sharavan’s boxing career.

The small town ambience, which includes small-town attitudes, is beautifully and sensitively etched in almost every scene. Sunaina is constantly made aware of her status as a woman, as a mute, both by her parents and especially by her uncle, the brutish Bhagwan, who slaps her for having the temerity of not immediately giving him a towel when he wants it.

Sunaina’s parents are at Bhagwan’s mercy, and unable and even unwilling to protest their continued mistreatment. Sunaina’s defiance is manifested in her carefree love for Sharavan, who despite his wayward ways is committed to her, and is willing to brawl his way through till he succeeds in getting married to her.

Sharavan’s extreme poverty and low social status prevent him from effectively challenging his coach, and being a realist, he makes reconciliatory gestures to assuage the coach’s ego, but the coach is in no mood to compromise. 

In a scene that is stunning in its depiction of the utterly casual callousness with which the upper caste treat the lower caste in India, the coach pisses in a bottle and asks Shravan to gulp it down if he is keen to develop his boxing career.

In another scene, another ‘lower caste’ supervisor takes immense pleasure in making a relatively ‘higher caste’ Sharavan work as a janitor and a peon in his office and records on his cell phone the menial jobs that he orders Sharavan to perform. 

The film also depicts the laggardly, lethargic and indifferent sports administration of the country of a billion plus people, that routinely produces ‘also-rans’ in international sports competitions.

However, the real deal in the movie is the filmmaker’s slap across the face to the proponents of patriotic nationalism, the cultural revivalists, the revisionists who are at present ruling India with unbridled power, and without regard to any democratic or civilizational norms or niceties.  

The film begins with a mob of gau-rakshaks (men protecting cows from turning into beef) almost lynching Muslims who are herding cattle. The mob records this act of violence on their cell phone and the video goes viral instantly. Later in the movie, when Sharavan gets an opportunity to get even with the coach, he punches the daylights out of him while muttering repeatedly 'Bharat Mata ki Jai!'  

The guileless love between Shravan and Sunaina slows down the film a bit, but its depiction is not romanticised. It’s love of a couple who is battling severe physical and circumstantial odds. The extreme violence (which is a constant ingredient in most of Anurag Kashyap oeuvre) is often too stark and makes one uncomfortable because of its brutality. The boxing bouts are as real as they can get. 

The performances of all actors are excellent. Jimmy Shergill as Bhagwan hams a bit. Ravi Kishan, one wishes, had a meatier role but excels in the bit part that he has in the film. The film, of course, belongs to Vineet Kumar Singh, who enacts the role of Sharavan, with panache and chutzpah that is at once fresh and breathtaking. 

In general, Anurag Kashyap’s cinema portrays India that Indians often don’t want to see. In his cinema, one can smell India in all its gory. Mukkabaaz portrays This is the reality of India that Indians want to forget and not change. It's a reality that foreigners are only now beginning to realise and question. 

One has come to expect cinematic miracles from Anurag Kashyap, and in Mukkabaaz, he nearly performs one.

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