“Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota”… An affectionate, gently winking, beautifully made homage to our movie memories

Posted on April 6, 2019


Spoilers ahead…

Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, written and directed by Vasan Bala, opens in medias res. Also, in mid-air. That’s where the hero, Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani), is frozen, as though suspended from the sky with invisible strings. He is in mid-kick, and the people he’s targeting — it’s a classic one-versus-many stunt sequence — are racing towards him. His mind-voice says, “Har mind-blowing kahaani ke peeche kuch burey decisions hote hain.” What are these bad decisions? By the end of the film, you may find you don’t really care. Note that title again, which harks back to jaw-breakers like Paap Ko Jalakar Raakh Kar Doonga and Bandook Dahej Ke Seenay Par. The promise isn’t of sense, or even a story. It’s of a vibe. If you’re of a certain vintage, you don’t watch this film. You feel it.

The early parts soar on this vibe. The yellowed-by-the-sun quality of the colours in Jay Patel’s cinematography add to the feeling that we (the ‘70s and ‘80s born) are dipping back into a memory album of our own nostalgia. The film dips back into that time, too — despite its roots in the modern-day superhero movie. Surya has a “uniform” (Bruce Lee’s maroon tracksuit). He has an Alfred in his grandfather (a fantastic Mahesh Manjrekar, who exudes both impishness and grandfatherly love). He has a superpower: he is immune to pain. (For a while, he is also immune to women, though that issue is taken care of soon enough. Else, we might have ended up watching Mard Ko Hard Nahin Hota.) And he has his kryptonite. Without regular sips of water, his strength ebbs away.

But if we don’t get the feeling of watching a movie from the Marvel/DC era, it’s because this template is filtered through the prism of our own masala movie and the insanely imaginative (and cartoony) chopsocky moves from the Jackie Chan action epics. No one who grew up in the 1980s can resist misting up at the very specific choice of masala movie Surya’s grandfather keeps returning to in order to make the boy understand what pain is. It’s Geraftaar, and if like Vasan Bala, you are familiar with both the Hindi and the Tamil/Telugu film industries, you’ll know there was no bigger movie at that time. The film may have underperformed at the box office, but hell, it united Amitabh Bachchan with Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan. To use a term from these election times, a bigger mahagathbandhan is impossible to imagine.

The gut-level cinephilia at work here can be traced back to the title, born from a Bachchan blockbuster. Today’s kids might roll their eyes at the Mard line, “Jo mard hota hai usey dard nahin hota hai memsaab.” But if, like me, you watched wide-eyed as Dara Singh on horseback brought a taxiing plane to a halt with little more than a lasso and the cry of Jai Bajrangbali, you’ll know that the logic of a moment is less important than its ability to keep the pot boiling. Translation: you’ll really get this film. A locket (though one shaped like a south-Indian thaali), separation and reunion through key catchphrases, a good twin haunted by an evil twin — we get it all. As a special bonus to Tamil moviegoers, we have nods to ‘Karate’ Mani, Michael Madana Kamarajan and a Sachi yeh kahani hai-style song that traces a don’s backstory, but in impeccable “SPB Hindi”. And don’t forget what Rajinikanth was named in Thalapathy. Yes, Surya.

Among the many bliss-out scenes is the one where Surya runs into his childhood sweetheart, Supri (a wonderfully spirited Radhika Madan). He’s on a mission to save his grandfather, but he sees her and stops in his tracks. An action sequence (featuring her, not him) ensues. It’s set to Kishore Kumar’s Nakhrewali, and it introduces us to Supri’s signature “scarf move” – but the more important detail is how Surya forgets his mission and sits down to enjoy the fun. At this moment, he is us, the popcorn-munching, film-crazy moviegoer who can always get distracted by a movie. In a way, Surya has never lost that innocence. The “logical” reason is that his father kept him locked up and he never really saw the world – but raise a hand if you’ve guiltlessly slipped into a movie hall in the midst of more pressing concerns. Life, after all, is what happens between tubs of popcorn.

But once Supri makes her (re)entry, the narrative loses some of its momentum. In theory, I liked the detours into her life — a mother in whom the concept of serving your husband is ingrained (even though she claims she is not a pativrata), a domineering fiancé, another bliss-out bit of choreography (this one invokes Singin’ in the Rain) — but the flavour becomes a problem. Detours are a part of every masala movie, but the seriousness of these portions doesn’t fit with, say, the half-jokey tone with which the death of Surya’s mother is staged. It’s a relief to switch back to Surya’s narrative, which features a rollicking Gulshan Devaiah. I wish the twins he plays had had more to do, but their scenes are so out-there loony that it’s impossible not to crack a grin. After all, how many action heroes you know have vanquished an enemy with a well-timed squirt from a juicy slice of orange?

Many lines (especially one that tears into the gauzy Rumi-worship of this social-media era) had me in splits. Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota channels an older era of moviemaking and makes it palatable to a hip multiplex audience. I would have liked the stakes to have been higher for Surya, but I didn’t mind, as it fits in with the film’s core values. Surya’s “motive” has to do with the injustice meted out to his “guru”, and he makes the latter’s vengeance his own mission. It’s classic masala, and Abhimanyu Dassani’s impressive performance mirrors the director’s vision: a mix of affectionate mocking and serious homage. But even if none of this appeals to you, there’s the music (Karan Kulkarni, Dipanjan Guha) that does some serious ass-kicking of its own, and some of the most exquisite slo-mo action choreography. The film begins in mid-air. It ends on a high, too.

Copyright ©2019 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi