By Deepa Gahlot
Shree Narayan Singh’s last film Toilet Ek Prem Katha brought the issue of open defecation into Bollywood mainstream, but when he tries another film about a social issues—Batti Gul Meter Chalu—he trips up like a faulty fuse.
First of all, the three-hour film doesn’t even begin till it is almost time for the interval. Most of the first half is wasted in establishing the love triangle between small-time lawyer Sushil Kumar Pant or SK (Shahid Kapoor), fashion designer Lalita ‘Nauti’ Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor) and newly minted entrepreneur Sundar Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma). Later in court, when a battle is being fought over mental harassment of a power consumer, leading to his suicide, the love story pops up and the question is eventually asked about what one has to do with the other. Exactly!
So after the song-dance-friendship-banter-golgappa eating in picturesque Tehri, Nauti has to choose between the two men, and she picks the decent and stable Sundar. SK is a sore loser, and when Sundar comes to him for help, he turns his friend down. Sundar has received a hugely inflated power bill for his new printing press and faces ruin if he is unable to pay.
Sundar thinks it would save his family and their home if he were dead, and insurance would help clear debts. His own guilt and a grief-stricken Nauti’s taunts lead SK to court to challenge the power company and its devious ways. The defence lawyer is Gulnar Rizvi (Yami Gautam), who matches SK sneer for sneer, but is the target of offensive sexist dialogue.
The problems of deficiency in an essential service, overbilling, corporate greed and apathy are very relevant, but Singh turns the courtroom scenes, presided over by a bored-looking judge (Sushmita Mukherjee), into a travesty of the legal process. So in the end, neither the love story, nor the flag-waving hit the spot.
The songs are awkwardly fitted in (the horrendous Gold-Tamba song had no business in this film) and of the actors, only Divyendu Sharma musters up the required spark. Uttarakhand had been shot in all its scenic splendour, and the characters speak the local dialect, but this attention to detail is not applied to the rest of the film.
Director: Shree Narayan Singh
Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Shradha Kapoor, Divyendu Tripathi, Yami Gautam, and others
Deepa Gahlot is one of India’s seniormost and best known entertainment journalists. A National Awardwinning film critic, Deepa has watched more movies and theatre than most people in the country. An author of several books on film and theatre, she has had an extremely successful run as head of theatre and film at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, during which she helped nurture several original productions. For Xyngr, Deepa Gahlot reviews theatre and cinema.