By Poulomi Das Mar. 21, 2019
Vasan Bala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is an affectionate paean to childhood dreams without any filters of practicality as well as a tender tribute to a life spent at – and elevated by – the movies. Almost every frame of the film is a treasure hunt of retro movie references.
Seven years ago, writer-director Vasan Bala’s unreleased directorial debut, Peddlers chronicled the lives of destitute boys who found themselves trapped in Mumbai’s drug trade. If that was a film which trained its gaze on the destruction of innocence, then Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota – Bala’s hyper-enthusiastic debut release – does the exact opposite. It tells the story of a boy who goes to unimaginable lengths to protect his innocence.
At its core, the kooky martial arts action-comedy is a movie about finding an escape from unresolved pain. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’s hero, Surya, (Abhimanyu Dassani) is a 21-year-old fighter afflicted with a medical condition – “congenital insensitivity to pain” – which is also an odd superpower. And yet, he spends most of his life struggling to process the grief of being unable to save his mother, humoured by the over-protectiveness of his grandfather (a delightful Mahesh Manjrekar).
Jimmy, the film’s “cliche psychotic villain” (a freakishly entertaining Gulshan Devaiah) feels betrayed by Karate Master Mani, his talented twin brother (an unrecognisable Devaiah) for a past misstep. So he dedicates his adult years to manufacture opportunities to troll Mani – like mocking him for being a “Kamal fan instead of a Rajini fan” through a video call from a bathtub filled with rose petals or stealing a chain that means the world to him. The one-legged Mani, on the other hand, has guilt holding him down for betraying his brother, so he tolerates Jimmy’s eccentricities. And Supri (Radhika Madan), Surya’s childhood sweetheart, is in denial about feeling caged all her life, letting the responsibilities of life defuse her liveliness.
But sit with the infectious Bollywood parody that unfolds in Matunga, for a few minutes and it reveals even more layers. Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is at once an affectionate paean to childhood dreams without any filters of practicality as well as a tender tribute to a life spent at – and elevated by – the movies. It’s also a towering accomplishment of crafting a delectable Mumbai-bred vigilante origin story that mines the comic aptitude of the city, in a way that Bhavesh Joshi: Superhero hardly managed to achieve.
Just like Angamaly Diaries, Local Kung-Fu, and One Cut of the Dead, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota manages to replicate a wildly playful irreverence.
Almost every frame of Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is a treasure hunt of retro movie references, especially to Hong Kong cinema. Surya grows up with an incurable appetite for martial arts movies, giving Bala a chance to present a breathless cinematic reel, from Manmohan Desai (Mard) and Robert Clouse (Gymkata) to Prayag Raj (Geraaftar) and Alex Proyas (The Crow). Bala isn’t the first director to tip his hat to his favourite genre moments in his own movie and neither will he be the last. But what stands out is how Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota modernises these stylistic homages – it doesn’t make them inaccessible or come across like an inside joke between hardcore fanboys. Instead it operates like a passionate recommendation – a cinephile lovingly passing down his film education to as many people as he can.
There are times when the movie indulges itself: some hilarious sub-plots and dialogues distract from the comic-book silliness of the narrative. Image Credits: RSVP Movies
There are times when the movie indulges itself: some hilarious sub-plots and dialogues distract from the comic-book silliness of the narrative.
Image Credits: RSVP Movies
It’s best reflected in how Bala creates a ultra-kitschy retro moment for Supri’s introductory scene. Even though the moment is set to a recreation of Kishore Kumar’s “Nakhrewali”, he doesn’t just rely on the familiarity of the classic song to make it stand out. Instead it is packed with a meet-cute, a random child dreaming of a meet-cute on a sunny afternoon, and a rewarding role-reversal of the slo-mo action set-piece. In the scene, Surya, the film’s male lead, watches in disbelief as Supri sleekly glides over a car and single-handedly beats up a bunch of guys aided by a weapon as feminine – her trusty scarf. Similarly, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’s multiple action set-pieces are brought to life by their irresistible hand-to-hand action and their lack of performative machismo. Some of the sequences are laugh-out-loud entertaining, especially the one on a deserted road where Surya tackles half a dozen male nurses trying to get to Mani, while he casually looks on, occasionally squeezing an orange in someone’s face.
There are times when the movie indulges itself: some sub-plots and dialogues distract from the comic-book silliness of the narrative, like a misplaced love track, a backstory of abuse, or an Iron Man-inspired wedding. But what the supremely well-cast, directed, and edited (by Bala’s wife, Prerna Saigal) Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’s desi kung-fu physicality accomplishes, far outruns its minor weaknesses. Just like Angamaly Diaries, Local Kung-Fu, and One Cut of the Dead, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota pulsates with a singular energy that replicates a wildly playful irreverence. It’s multiplied manifold by the writer-director’s frenzied imagination that is immersed in translating a movie experience that genuinely cares for the audience, instead of trying to outsmart them. For it’s a potent reminder of why we keep going to the movies – to experience a cinematic Neverland.
When not obsessing over TV shows, planning unaffordable vacations, or stuffing her face with french fries, Poulomi likes believing that some day her sense of humour will be darker than her under-eye circles.