Film Review: Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
A stylised, whimsical insight into Vasan Bala’s heart & mind
The film begins with a scene of a macho guy standing in front of a bunch of ‘safari suit’ goons. The guy looks like just another muscleman that we often see in Bollywood. The same type of ‘hero’ that has been churned out more than one can possibly imagine. The uniformed group that I mentioned before comes running towards him- with an aggravated look, possibly to defeat the hero. We hear the hero’s self-narration in the voiceover where he goes on about which could possibly be the final moments of his life! and another cliche!
Just then, the camera turns toward those running people, especially towards the one in the front; and breaking the fourth wall in the voiceover, the hero makes fun of this scenario. He questions how no one ever falls down while running or why everyone is screaming and running furiously towards him as if it’s the only purpose of their lives? The very next moment, the guy in the front, while running, falls down! That solely gives us an idea of the meta-journey that we are heading towards. We might have gotten our own Indian Deadpool.
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota has its own universe. It is not as fancy as it was for the Star Wars or as grand as Hong Kong. But Vasan believes that it is as gracious as those places because he had spent the childhood there. It is situated around Matunga, which is very unlikely to have this heightened drama. It is populated mostly by the middle-class people where the only goal they have is to get the education to carry on with the jobs and their mundane lives.
So, action movies were the only escape for children like Bala. They would have been so enveloped with just the idea of being this Sarv-shaktishali entity that they would never grow out of it. That’s why the film seems coming straight from his heart for the love and the associated nostalgia about action films from the 80s or 90s. Many of those influences are peppered throughout the film in the most organic yet outlandish way they can.
It unabashedly celebrates all the clichés associated with those films yet makes fun of them at every chance it gets. It doesn’t treat the audience as unintelligent beings, yet gives them the blast of entertainment that they crave for. It is a love letter to those over-the-top action films even after being mature enough to understand how funny it would seem in reality. You have to watch the film in order to better understand the paradoxes that I am presenting here.
The film has a protagonist that, as we have already seen in the trailer, suffers from Congenital Insensitivity to pain, a rare disorder. As the title suggests itself, it means that the man is incapable of feeling any kind of pain. The title is a nod to the cult-classic called ‘Mard’ where the child who grows up to be Amitabh, had the word Mard written over his arm with a knife. And obviously, he feels no pain either! Even the protagonist from Mard Ko Dard has a tragic tale to how his condition is revealed. And the occasional montages are also with the references to the likes of Terminator among others.
The kid, Surya, (Abhimanyu Dasani) is trained by his grandfather, his ajoba (Mahesh Manjrekar) in martial arts. He gets to watch action movies on VHS that were available at the time. While his father (Jimit Trivedi) hardly grants him any freedom by not exposing him to the outer world; his ajoba helps him to grow further. He lets him entertained in that fantasized world fuelled by pop-culture. He often narrates his own experiences, whether false or bizarre; to inspire him in some way. But he knows when to be real and to help Surya to break out the shell of his make-believe world. In a scene from his twenties, ajoba highlights on how, at his age, he needs to have a Sahe-li (Girlfriend) instead of Bruce-Lee!
A child like him, that seems weird or is unlike others, was prone to have bullies. In a similar fight where bullies were checking if he really gets hurt or not, we meet the female lead of the film, Supri (later played by Radhika Madan). She was the savior for him from that age, unlike the gender stereotype that has often been presented. She comes to rescue him and not the other way around. Even in a delightful scene later in the film, where she is fighting with a bunch of people, she doesn’t need someone to rescue her from.
With Kishor Kumar’s ‘Nakhrewali’ playing in the background, we see her using her dupatta as a means of her strength and not merely for protection. When our protagonist, in what he considered a dramatic entrance, comes to fight along with her; gets beaten just like the goons there! The romance builds with the action sequence, where she’s unlike the nakhrewali from the original song.
The film does use the cliché of lovers in the childhood meeting as adults only to fall in love again. But it is extremely self-aware in why it is doing that. We see two versions of people who had a share of their own domestic traumas and the way they deal with it. Surya who hadn’t seen the world outside his house hadn’t grown up in terms of how ‘normal’ people are. When they meet as adults, she tells him to grow up; where in fact she hadn’t come out of the traumas from her childhood either and is still vulnerable towards the reality around her. She can’t seem to explain that to him because she hasn’t confessed that even to herself.
This link with the childhood also connects it with Vasan, who is the brains behind this. The cult-classics that are so dear to him, keep him with this childlike vision, never wanting to grow up beyond the realms of those films. Both the lead characters have had similar problems in their early adulthood. In a scene involving a conversation with her mother, Supri explains the anxieties and fears that keep her in the chains, where everyone else from her age seems to have figured out what they want to do with their lives. On the other hand, Surya lives in the comic-book world built around, even as an adult, and never tries to fit in with the norms of the regular world. He was an outcast by his own volition.
Like any kid of his age and background, Surya grows up with a fascination towards a flamboyant hero, avenging all the misdoings in the world. After all, he had to avenge the chain-stealer that had killed his mother before! He sees this Karate-master (Gulshan Devaiah) on the VHS as a child, who beats a hundred people even after being disabled himself. Surya sees himself in that fighter, planning to grow up to be like him.
Little does he realize that they would be teaming up while fighting the master’s nemesis, once he gets older. The twin-characters played by Devaiah, are introduced as a ‘cliché psychotic villain’ and a ‘cliché hero’. Cliché because one of them who is ignored by the parent grows up to be this eccentric villain, doing random things to justify the ‘psychotic’ nature based on the trauma! The hero (Kumite champion) is cliché because he was wrongfully demonized despite being a kind-hearted person. Both the genre tropes are a delight to watch because of the immensely charismatic actor like Devaiah and the director who knows how to use his talent.
Devaiah is the highlight from this film who enters the fray after a while, yet manages to steal every scene he's in. Especially the last sequence, he delivers his dialogue with such authenticity that it blends the improvisation effortlessly with the narrative. Radhika Madan was a revelation here, who was even better than her bombastic debut from last year's Patakha. You have to watch the scene where she explains the joys of khujli or the conversation about her existential drain with her mother to get the range of acting ability.
Abhimanyu Dasani was balanced enough to take the lead and charming enough to bear the weight of the film. Thanks to him that we get an action-star who can also act! Apart from that, Mahesh Manjrekar was a delight as ajoba, in full-swing with his witty one-liners.
The music in the film had a clear purpose for every track. Composed by Karan Kulkarni, it seamlessly goes through the genres of jazz, rock-n-roll, RnB, rap and revolves around the world of its characters. Rappan Rappi Rap has many pop-culture references so does the track called Shaolin Sky, expressing the world Surya was allowed to live within. The delightful Dreamtime fuses just as well as the over-the-top Punjabi pop track.
The camera helps in sustaining a comical tone and a Wes Anderson-ish childlike world in a film styled more like a Tarantino-flick. The right balance is achieved with the occasional slow-motion shots or the lights that had been used effectively. Even a residential area looks like a legit battlefield, thanks to his camera angles. The action scenes were choreographed masterfully and edited with the right amount of emotional involvement without dragging it too much.
Despite all the praise, the film isn’t without its share of flaws. The pace feels inconsistent with some of the character arcs given more attention than needed; giving it a jarring effect. But the indulgent parts at times hardly become distracting when there is so much to love apart from that. Sure, the characters don’t have stronger motives for some of their decisions or the conflict isn’t really that riveting when you think about it. But does it really matter when the film is about the heart and the nostalgia more than anything? Should it even be a concern when the overbearing joy is all it was trying to convey? Obviously, there can be criticism, but I would rather encourage it as a step in a better direction. Wish this universe grows and we get to see more films like this.