Anurag Kashyap, the director of Mukkabaaz, should take a bow.
Finally, here’s a boxing biopic that doesn’t bend over backwards to glorify its subject.
The unassuming hero, actor Vineet Kumar Singh as an aspiring boxer from Barailley, is bruised, battered and isn’t an assured winner at the obligatory big fight that usually sees the subjects seize the coveted title. It’s such a relief because Hindi sporting biopics are guilty of extolling their central character into a flawless legendary figure.
Here, Shravan — the classic underdog trying to qualify for the district level championship — is trampled upon by powerful goons in his town (Jimmy Shergill) and barely keeps his head above the game.
What makes Mukkabaaz pack a punch is that it manages to weave several subtexts in its narrative, in addition to being a fascinating boxing drama. The chaotic milieu of Uttar Pradesh — its deeply-ingrained caste divide, the rampant corruption among small-town sports authorities and the sadism of those in power, is brought to the fore in all its messy glory.
What is also intriguing to watch is that Kashyap has delved into the ‘small fries’ of sports. These players are at the bottom of the sporting food chain and there’s nothing glamorous about their struggles.
The silver lining in this gritty, bleak drama comes from the strong thread of romance. The sparks between the repressed Sunaina, a speech-impaired Brahmin woman, and Singh, who belongs to a relatively lower caste, mixes things up. It isn’t just a distraction, but forms the core of this film. While the film moves at an unhurried pace, it delves into potent issues such as patriarchy and privilege, otherwise rarely discussed in Hindi films.
Actor Vineet Kumar Singh isn’t blessed with matinee idol looks. But what he lacks in that department, he makes up for it with his earnestness. When he bleeds, you feel the pain and that’s essential to such a gloss-free film. He was convincing as a struggling pugilist and had that raw, crazy look in his eyes. His desperation to make it big in the boxing world is palpable and he looks the part, too.
Zoya Hussain is luminous in her role as the brassy Sunaina. She’s feisty and fabulous in her first mainstream Hindi movie role. The two have good chemistry and fit like a glove.
While the first half starts on a sure footing, it’s the second half that falters and loses its steam. The antics of the antagonist, played by the mighty Shergill, borders on the ludicrous. He’s ruthless and mean, we get it. But was there a need to make him so obnoxious?
His villainous acts, which includes the kidnapping of his own niece Sunaina, seemed staged in an otherwise melodrama-free film. Shergill is great at being pure evil. But his unbridled hatred towards Shravan came across as unhinged.
But it shouldn’t stop you from giving this biopic a shot. It’s a delightful ringside view of athletes trying to make it in sports that are considered insignificant in India. Plus, how many times can you boast of watching a Hindi film that has flawed, but ferocious leads?
Don’t miss it! Film: Mukkabaaz
Cast: Vineet Kumar Singh, Zoya Hussain, Jimmy Shergill and Ravi Kishan
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Running Time: 2 hour, 25 minutes
Stars: 3.5 out of 5