Verdict - Mukkabaaz doesn’t scream how good it is, it bleeds. The film is cinema at its best.
If there's one thing that was certain after watching the trailer of Anurag Kashyap's latest film Mukkabaaz, it looked like India's Tarantino would make his return to form with a bang. After the debacle of Bombay Velvet and the divided reaction to Raman Raghav 2.0, Kashyap, like an expert boxer, was waiting for the right moment to land that one punch which would simply knock the audiences out and with Mukkabaz he KOs all the criticism and doubts from the people who thought he had lost his way.
It's a film brimming with realism and in Kashyap's films, the stories don't take place in a fairyland but in an environment where human emotions take their darkest form and dreams die a putrid death. The film opens with a scene where Muslim traders are beaten up and forced to say Jai Shree Ram. The goons are local boxers who are trainees at a local gym but moonlight as gau rakshaks. Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill) is a local politician in Bareilly who runs that gym where boxers train to represent their district at the state level.
He is the authority who has the final say over which boxer is going to represent the district but rather than training them, he uses them to do his household chores such as buying groceries, washing utensils or cooking non-veg. One fine day, a lad named Shravan Singh (Vineet Kumar Singh) decides to rebel and vents out his frustration (lands a punch) on Bhagwan Das over not being allowed to play for more than 2 years. But as much as this rebellion is over the exasperation of not being able to play, the source of ignition is the zeal to impress the girl (Zoya Hussain), aptly named Sunaina, our protagonist lands his eyes on.
Its love at first sight for our hero but in order to impress her, he lands on the wrong side of Bhagwan Das who tells him that his dream of becoming a boxer is over. From there on starts the struggle for Sharvan who has to become a boxer and get a government job so that he can marry Sunaina. She longs for someone who looks at her the way Ranveer Singh looks at Deepika Padukone! She is a girl who has dreams of her own and won't marry someone who doesn't understand her. Incredibly fierce and mentally strong, she is the dominant one in the relationship and stands as a rock-solid support behind Shravan. Hussain lights up the screen with her amazing performance.
Kashyap deals with the problems plaguing Indian society in his own way. The caste norms that are still prevalent in modern-day India tell us the harsh reality we are living in. Similarly, sports are just a medium of getting a second-grade government job that is highly coveted in small towns. Parents are happier if their child manages to get a job rather than following his/her dreams or passion. Fighting all these odds is our hero Shravan whose complicated situation is beautifully and rather humorously supported by the poem "Mushkil hai apna mel priye". Ravi Kishan also shines in a surprisingly restrained performance.
Vineet Kumar Singh gives the performance of a lifetime as the determined boxer eager to prove himself in the ring as well as outside of it. In Sunaina, he finds the inspiration for his passion, love and stands up against a person who he knows is going to make their life a living hell. The film solely rests on his shoulders and he effectively delivers throughout its 155 minutes of runtime. The actor has made notable appearances in Kashyap's previous films like Ugly, Bombay Talkies and Gangs of Wasseypur but with Mukkabaaz he leads from the front and beautifully emotes Shravan's happiness, anger, frustration, pain and love.
Every story has a hero, heroine and a villain and Jimmy Shergill gives a terrifying performance as Bhagwan Das Mishra. He will stop at nothing until he has destroyed his enemies. Rather than killing them, he goes after the things they love the most and keeps hurting them till they break. A person is as good as dead once he loses his loved ones and his dreams and Bhagwan Das feeds off of this fear. His bloodshot eyes are enough to send chills down your spine. He is probably the villain Bollywood was waiting for a long time now.
Mukkabaaz might be Anurag Kashyap's most mainstream film yet and the director has struck all the right chords with it. In Kashyap's own words, he wanted to make a film that could reach mainstream audiences, something even 10-12-year-olds could watch. Mukkabaaz is a shocking departure from dark, twisted and in your face abusive characters from his previous films. The director beautifully captures the essence of small-town life, how people talk about their dreams and inspirations, the courtship between lovers and how caste & religion are strongly imprinted on everyone's minds.
It is not a sports film nor is it a film dealing with social issues or preaching a positive message. The film is a love story set against the backdrop of boxing and touches upon all the relevant issues plaguing our society such as corruption in sports, casteism and religionism. The film makes us root for a protagonist we know may lose any time as odds are heavily stacked against him. As much as the viewers are going to be shocked with why would a filmmaker like Anurag Kashyap direct a love story, after walking out of the theatre, chances are that everyone is going to be applauding the film that arguably is his best yet.
Mukkabaaz doesn't scream how good it is, it bleeds. The film is cinema at its best.