Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mukkabaaz—Of Bahut Hua Samman

Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz is the story of two star-crossed lovers set against the backdrop of boxing. Shravan Kumar Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh), who calls himself the Mike Tyson of Uttar Pradesh, wants to be a boxer. He trains under an upper caste coach named Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Sheirgill) who holds enormous power in selecting players for the state- and the national-level boxing championships. Bhagwan Das has a niece Sunaina (Zoya Hussain) who cannot speak. Shravan falls in love with Sunaina and marries her. Shravan has a confrontation with Bhagwan Das who then uses all his power to thwart his dreams of becoming a boxer and also tries to separate him from Sunaina. 

Mukkabaaz has some influences from the story of Ramayana. The character of Shravan in Mukkabaaz is named after Shravan Kumar from the Ramayana who was mistakenly killed by Prince Dashratha, father of Lord Ram. In the story, Shravan had come to collect water for his aged parents, who were both blind and whom he had been carrying on a sling for a pilgrimage. When Shravan's parents learned about Shravan's death, they are unable to bear the shock and curse Dashratha that he will also experience grief due to loss of his son. In another Ramayana influence in Mukkabaaz, after Sunaina is abducted by Bhagwan Das, Shravan tells his friend, "Agar Sita ko khojna hai toh Lanka me ghusna padega." If they have to find Sita, they will have to enter Lanka. When Shravan and his friends reach the place where Sunaina was kept, there is again a mention of the Ramayana. Shravan's friend Gopal compares Shravan with Ram, and Sunaina with Sita. He also talks about Ashok Vatika and Pushpak Viman. Thus, Bhagwan Das is likened to Ravan. Just as Ravan was a Brahmin, Bhagwan Das is also a Brahmin here. 
In Anurag Kashyap's Raman Raghav 2.0 as well, there was the theme of the Ramayana. When Raman (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is being interrogated by the police, he points to a picture of Hanuman at the back of the wall. His sister's husband says that his brothers are in Sri Lanka, another place associated with the Ramayana. The man (Mukesh Chhabra) who had lent money to Raman tells Raghav (Vicky Kaushal) that Raman calls himself Ravan at times. Raghav's car also had a Hanuman in it. Later, Raman meets Simmy in a grocery store, and tells her that it was Dussehra. Later, there are shots of Ravan's effigy burning. When in the end, Raman is arrested he says that a pure Brahmin like Ravan turned into a villain because of women. Ravan invented the airplane just because he wanted to abduct Sita. The film's premise was also that there are a Ram and a Ravan in inside each of us, the good and the evil, and they are only mirror images of each other. 
In addition to the Ramayana, Mukkabaaz also has a mention of the Mahabharata. Bhagwan Das tells one of his boxers that it is written in Gita that if one is friends with the enemy, then, it is not easy to win the war. He says, "Dushman se dosti karoge toh Mahabharata kaise jeetoge." In an earlier instance, Shravan writes to Sunaina where he mentions that ever since he has seen her, there is a Mahabharata going on in his heart. 

One of the central themes in the film is that it repudiates the concept of respect. It gives a call for rebellion when it says, "Bahut hua samman." Enough of this respect. In India, we are told to respect the people in authority and to never question them. This authority could vest in someone just by virtue of their age. Mukkabaaz tries to question this notion and says to hell with this obedience. It is no surprise then that the film's villain is named Bhagwan—God—who runs an organization called Bharatiya Sanskriti Sena but is impotent. It is making a point to even question God. Additionally, the film's theme of boxing is giving a punch to the rigid sanskriti and the traditions that are creating barriers between people. In the film, Shravan refuses to massage Bhagwan Das' back (and his ego) but has to pay a price for it. Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking also dealt with the theme of authority and totalitarianism. Baba Bengali (Paresh Rawal) was the representation of the dictatorial government. Many thought that the film advocated the cause of no smoking, but in reality, it championed the cause of freedom, which is the basic right of every individual, even if that person is not really a good human being. Like smoking was used in that film, here boxing is used to make a point.
Bhagwan Das Mishra uses his influence to stop Shravan from playing in the district championship. Shravan meets Bhagwan and requests him to let him play. Bhagwan, then, urinates in a bottle and asks Shravan to drink his urine thinking of it as nectar. Amrit hai, gatak jao. Jeevan daan de denge. It is nectar. Gulp it down. I will give you a new lease of life. Shravan is not the one who believes in following the principles of Morarji Desai; therefore, he does not drink it. The film shows many such instances involving pissing. At some point, Shravan is put in jail as he broke the car lights of the man who had come to see Sunaina for marriage. While Shravan is in jail, Bhagwan sends his goons to beat him up. When the hired goons arrive, Shravan is urinating in the jail's toilet. They beat him when he is doing the act. Shravan pays them back in kind by hitting them. Moments later, the police inspector questions Shravan when he is sitting on the toilet seat. He tells the inspector that he will not take a beating from anyone. During another stage in the film, Shravan gets a government job after he wins the district championship. However, his boss keeps giving menial personal tasks to him. After a point, Shravan loses his cool and gets into a physical confrontation with his boss who pisses in his pants out of fear. Shravan makes a video and threatens to leak it if he continues to behave the way he does. Finally, we again see the act of pissing in the last few moments of the film after Shravan rescues Sunaina from Bhagwan. He is asked to take a leak for a fitness test, and it is shown that his urine has blood in it. Shravan then says, "Jeet to hum chuke hain, sirf ladna baki hai." He has already won the battle; he just needs to fight. The blood in his urine was the symbol of his victory. The same element is used at different stages to get back at someone. The references to urine are in line with the film's premise of pissing off people.
Mukkabaaz's milieu is depicted with authenticity as Anurag Kashyap knows the place and the system out-and-out. The prevalence of caste, the nexus between politicians and sports, the cow slaughter-related lynchings, the issue of unemployment of shikshit berozgaar, and the rustic language spoken by the characters are rooted in the setting. Shravan describes the impotency of Bhagwan Das by saying, "Unki beedi me tambhakoo nahi hai." His beedi does not have tobacco in it. At another instance, the boxing competition had to be shifted because a politician's relative was getting married in the boxing stadium. This is pretty common. When a politician gives a speech about boxing, he mentions that the great boxing legend Muhammad Ali was from Uttar Pradesh and then apologizes after someone tells him that he was from Kerala. This politician could well compete with the Chief Minister of Tripura Biplab Deb in giving the most outrageous statement. At another instance, Shravan's father sits near an electricity pole and talks about putting a katiya, a common phenomenon in that part of the country, as was also depicted in Deepti Kakkar's Katiyabaaz. Shravan's father gets another hilarious scene when he confuses the word passion with fashion. All these instances bring a layer of reality to the film. 
One of the most interesting scenes in the film is when Bhagwan Das calls Sanjay Kumar (Ravi Kishan) to warn him from coaching Shravan. In the meeting, Bhagwan asks Sanjay's caste. Sanjay replies that he is a Harijan. Immediately, Bhagwan calls the waiter and asks him to bring a separate jug of water for Sanjay. When we look at the waiter, we see that he also has a stone eye, just like Bhagwan's. I felt this particular scene acted as a mirror to Bhagwan, who cannot 'see' that there is no difference between him and the other man. They both have the same flaws, so, why this caste supremacy over another man. This one-second scene felt so powerful as compared to some other scenes. There are many other caste-based references in the film as well. At some point, Sanjay tells Shravan that he got inspired by Pele's story and wanted to be a boxer when he was growing up. However, the upper caste kids did not let him play. He practiced by himself alone, but never got a chance to play. In another depiction of caste discrimination, Shravan's boss who is a Yadav (Other Backward Classes) makes a video of Shravan doing cleaning tasks. He tells Shravan that there was a time when his father used to work as a servant in the house of Bhumihar (Upper Caste) and now the time has reversed. Later, Shravan would turn the tables and record a video of his boss wetting his pants. Then, in another scene, Shravan tells the office peon that he is not a Chaprasi, and the peon shoots back that aren't they human. Also, we never get a confirmation about Shravan's caste. It remains ambiguous. Bhagwan Das tells Sunaina's father Gopal (Sukhesh Mishra) that there is no proof of Shravan being a Rajput. Gopal replies that he also brought the Bedaag Detergent guy, who was an Aggarwal. Bhagwan counters that he was rich. Gopal says that if having money makes someone a Brahmin, then, he is too poor to be called one. Sociologists have cited that capitalism and wealth can help bring down the caste barriers but class barriers are coming up in its place. The film shows how being rich and proficient in English are becoming the new class barriers. Shravan's boss asks him to take permission in English by saying, "May I come in." Even Sunaina is reading a book on learning the English language.
One can always count on Anurag Kashyap to include a film-related reference in his films. In Shravan's house, there is a poster of Tatineni Rama Rao's Main Intequam Loonga (1982). The film is the story of Kumar (Dharmendra) who likes boxing, but his mother Janki (Nirupa Roy) does not want him to be a boxer. Kumar gets to know that his biological father (also a boxer) was killed by G.D. (Amrish Puri), who trains boxers and only wants his trainee to win the boxing championship. Kumar takes revenge for his father's death by winning the boxing championship against his father's killers. It is easy to discern the similarities between Mukkabaaz and Main Intequam Loonga. Additionally, there are other films that can be seen in the film. At one stage, the song Elo Ji Sanam Hum Aa Gaye from Rajkumar Santoshi's Andaz Apna Apna is playing on the television in a shop. The name of the Wi-Fi for Shravan's internet connection is Bajrangi Bhaijaan and the password is Dabangg. During Gopal's wedding, a remix version of Mere Pairon Mein Ghunghroo from Harnam Singh Rawail's Sunghursh (1968) is played. Interestingly, this song has often been played in Lalu Prasad Yadav's election rallies. In one scene, we also see the remix version of Dheere Dheere Se starring Sonam Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan. The film's characters also mention Bruce Lee and the romance between Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.
Main Intequam Loonga
Andaz Apna Apna

I must add that anyone interested in the art of subtitling must watch how Mukkabaaz has subtitled the lyrics of the songs. It is excellently done. It retains the flavor of the song without losing the context. The film credits the subtitling of songs to Neeraj Ghaywan. No wonder that the subtitling is great as the director of Masaan knows the importance of the same. Most films subtitle the dialogues but often ignore the songs. Even the subtitles of the film's dialogue are done with an attention to detail. In some scenes, the subtitles mention OS that stands for Overlapping Dialogue where two characters speak over each other.
In Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha, the monotonous daily routine of Ved (Ranbir Kapoor) is depicted using some repeated scenes. He is shown brushing his teeth, eating his breakfast, cleaning his car, and taking the elevator to his office. I was reminded of these repeated scenes when Mukkabaaz shows Shravan following a similar template. There are repeated scenes of Shravan waking up, washing his clothes, ironing them, doing the pooja, and tying the laces of his shoes. Mukkabaaz could well be called as Tamasha in some form. While Tamasha is based in an urban and a caste-neutral setting, Mukkabaaz belongs to a small town where caste decides one's entire existence. Ved deals with his inner demon to be what he wants to be. Shravan has to fight the system (and many other things) to do what he wants to do. In Tamasha, Ved meets an autorickshaw driver from Allahabad who had wanted to be a singer but circumstances forced him to do something else. He tells him, "Andar se kuch aur hi hain hum, aur bahar se majboor." He is something else from inside, but he is helpless from the outside. Who knows if Shravan had not been able to get a government job, he could have been saying the same words. As Shravan's father tells him, "Aadmi ka dushman aadmi nahi, uski apni paristithi hoti hai." A man's enemy is his own circumstances. 
In Madhur Bhandarkar's Indu Sarkar, the lead protagonist Indu (Kirti Kulhari) stammers while speaking. The film is set in the time when former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed the rule of emergency in India, which led to severe curtailing of the fundamental rights of the citizens. Indu's stammering pointed to a restriction on some of these rights, most notably, the right to freedom of speech. Indu rises up against her husband, also interestingly named as, Navin Sarkar. Indu Sarkar was a decent film. Anurag Kashyap's political views lie on the other end of the spectrum as compared with Madhur Bhandarkar's; however, both of them have shown this curtailing of speech using the metaphor of voice. In Mukkabaaz, Bhagwan's brother cannot assert any authority over Bhagwan even though he is the elder one. Bhagwan's wife does not say anything to him. They cannot speak in front of Bhagwan—God. It is actually Sunaina, who has no voice, speaks through her actions. She refuses to be called a takiya (a pillow) or an apaahij (a disabled). She calls herself a cow in a letter to Shravan. Ironically, the very act of her chewing gum, like a cow all the time, even at the time of her wedding showed that she is no cow.
During the final competition in the film, a lady's voice can be heard that says, "Bachchon se kabhi yeh mat kehna ki woh kuch ban nahi sakte kyunki sabse zyada chot tabhi lagti hai." Do not tell the kids that they cannot become anything because that is what hurts them the most. I was curious by this product placement of Savlon in the film. It is rare to see something like this in an Anurag Kashyap film. I cannot find the original advertisement, so, I am not entirely sure if this particular slogan was created only for the movie to fit with its narrative. Also, I must mention that I rarely use the word organic in the context of films. However, when Shravan starts chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai while hitting Bhagwan, it did not feel organic to me. It felt gratuitous and forced without any strong reason to include it in that situation. Some other political references in the film also felt forced.

Mukkabaaz begins and ends with similar scenes. In one of the early moments in the film, Shravan fights with Bhagwan Das and his goons to impress Sunaina. A bloodied Shravan smiles at Sunaina who was watching him from the roof of her house. The scene is repeated in the end when Shravan is in the boxing ring and his opponent knocks him down. Shravan again smiles and looks up at Sunaina. He might have lost the fight but he won the battle against Bhagwan Das. As he had said, "Jeet toh hum chuke hain, bas ladna baki hai." In his defeat was his victory. Here in lies the film's unconventional ending. The hero does not get up and fight back to win the championship because he has already won. He had promised Sunaina that he can even give up boxing for her. And, he does to live his other dream.
Vineet Kumar Singh has given an excellent and a memorable performance as Shravan in the film. He struggled for years to become an actor. One can see the real-life parallels between his story and Shravan's. They even share similar names—Vineet Kumar Singh and Shravan Kumar Singh. In an earlier scene in the film, Sanjay Kumar tells Shravan that people used to call him mukkabaaz (the brawler), but he could never be mukkebaaz (the boxer). It is Shravan who has to now decide whether he wants to be the brawler or the boxer. After watching this film, one can say that Vineet Kumar Singh has crossed a similar barrier of acting where he has transitioned from a mukkabaaz (a good actor) to a mukkebaaz (a great actor).

The song Mushkil Hai Apna Mel Priye is inspired by a poem written by Dr. Sunil Jogi. It is picturized on Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the film and is reminiscent of Emotional Attyachar from DevD in which he had played Patna Ke Presley. My favorite line in the song—Tum Kohli ka virat shatak, main follow-on ki paari hoon.
Books In Movies:
Sunaina reads English Grammar and Composition
Other Reading:
1. On No SmokingLink
2. On Raman Raghav 2.0Link

Dialogue(s) of the Day:
"Are destiny bhi koi cheez hota hai."
—Shravan Kumar Singh, Mukkabaaz

"Boxing pe picture banti hai to 40 crore kamati hai, tournament rakho to 40 jan dekhne nahi aate."
—Bhagwan Das Mishra, Mukkabaaz

"Jo sabko lagta hai wahi sach hota hai."
—Inspector, Mukkabaaz

"Aadmi ka dushman aadmi nahi, uski apni paristithi hoti hai."
—Shravan's Father, Mukkabaaz

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