You don’t have to be the brightest bulb in the class to figure out that a socially-aware film on power outages in Indian towns and corruption in that sector is a grim, dense subject. But director Shree Narayan Singh, who is known for stoking the activist in you through his films like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, sets his eyes on enlightening us about towns that are plunged into darkness daily.
Set in the picturesque hilly hamlet of Tehri in Uttarakhand, the rakish Shahid Kapoor plays crafty lawyer Sushil Kumar Pant, known as SK among his besties Lalita Nautiyal (a winsome Shraddha Kapoor) and Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma). They are thick childhood mates and the film opens with their idyllic friendship and easy camaraderie.
But things turn sour when Lalita decides to date them in turns to find out who out of the two gentlemen is really husband material. Clearly, Lalita isn’t the brightest bulb in her village. Such a lame wager should have ideally sent the two men scrambling for cover, but this is Bollywood and the archaic duel is glorified and romanticised. While Lalita chooses her man, the casualty is their friendship that plunges into the ravine.
What’s the connection between the trio’s relationship and power outages you ask? Absolutely nothing. But here’s the thing. Director Singh is adept at tackling a socially-conscious film and tailoring it to a conventional Bollywood format filled with songs, dances and humour. For every grim reality, there’s a song to break the bleakness. Perhaps it is to balance out the dark topic at hand, but it adulterates the worthy cause and makes you wonder if they are too scared to commit to being full-time activists.
In Singh’s world, a legal battle between a small-time lawyer and a representative of the giant power corporation (an appealing Yami Gautam) is filled with witty repartees between lawyers who engage in three-minute monologues about how greedy private power companies have ruined the happiness of the common man. Toxic masculine jokes and heated, flirtatious banter is all in a day’s work for these two good-looking pair. It’s a smart way to make a tough subject palatable, but the danger is that your core issue is watered down and its impact may diminish too. And that’s what happens with this lengthy good vs evil drama — it flickers and sparks in spurts.
The bright spots emerge during the scenes where both the Kapoors are on call to look distressed when a common irrevocable tragedy strikes their lives.
Shahid is in great form as a cheeky lawyer who can be petty one second and heroic the next. All the principal actors deliver on the acting front, but the screenplay is choppy and inconsistent.
Shahid’s designer beard and perfectly combed hair also serve as a welcome distraction, but it makes you wonder if his suaveness befits his small-town rebel role.
With a running time of 155 minutes, Batti Gul... also stretches interminably. All the songs in the film are purely for ornamental purposes.
While the film gives you an idea about the gravity of the power-supply problems in Indian small towns, it doesn’t stoke the activist in you or make you enraged on behalf of the common man. You remain a mute spectator and that makes this film a lost opportunity.
Film: Batti Gul Meter Chalu
Director: Shree Narayan Singh
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Divyendu Sharma, Shraddha Kapoor and Yami Gautam
Stars: 3 out of 5