Agreeably amusing but unduly extended, “Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola” suggests what might have resulted had Rodgers and Hammerstein lived long enough to attempt a Broadway musical about the Occupy Wall Street movement. Helmer/co-scripter Vishal Bhardwaj has concocted a feel-good trifle about a clash between rapacious capitalists and resourceful farmers that includes at least one passing allusion to India’s real-life Naxalite militants. But fleeting topical references do little to elevate the pic above the level of standard-issue Bollywood song-and-dance. As such, it should appeal to undemanding devotees in international theatrical and homevid release.
Pankaj Kapur robustly overplays the lead role of Harry Mandola, a wealthy industrialist who, while sober, plots to gain control of farmlands surrounding his Haryana village to build an automobile construction plant. When he’s drunk, however, Harry is a more of a fun-loving, freewheeling populist. Indeed, at one point, the seriously inebriated industrialist actually leads a demonstration against his own land-grabbing scheme — with a little help from Matru (Imran Khan), his faithful young driver, who secretly moonlights as a farmer-rousing political activist known as Mao.
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To advance his grand ambitions during stretches of sobriety, Harry is playing footsie — sometimes, quite literally — with a corrupt politician (Shabana Azmi) who expects to solidify their long-term partnership by having her hunky dullard of a son (Arya Babbar) marry Harry’s beautiful daughter, Bijlee (Anushka Sharma). But Bijlee, a tattooed free-spirit who’s not nearly as flighty as she initially appears, can’t help noticing that Matru may be a more simpatico soulmate.
As predictable as it is derivative, “Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola” borrows bits and pieces from a wide variety of sources (Kapur’s hard-drinking Harry recalls the mood-swinging millionaire of Chaplin’s “City Lights”) to fashion a lightweight comedy that nevertheless would benefit from judicious trimming. An especially tedious scene, involving Harry matching wits with a fountain in the village square, is only the most obvious candidate for deletion.
On the other hand, the leads are engaging, the songs (with lyrics by “Slumdog Millionaire” Oscar winner Gulzar) are pleasant, and a few of the wackier touches — particularly scenes involving real and imagined pink buffaloes — are likely to generate smiles, if not belly laughs. Glossy production values are up to Bollywood standards.