It’s not often that we go into watch an Indian film knowing full well that the base idea of it comes from a Pakistani film. Make no mistake, Bollywood isn’t certainly plagiarism free, far from it. But we haven’t been making too many films (good or bad). So, the trailer of Batti Gul Meter Chalu left me with a strange and unfamiliar feeling. How much of the story has been picked up from Nabeel Qureshi’s entertainer Actor in Law I wondered. Now having seen the film, I can safely say this was hugely different experience. I wish, it wasn’t. Directed by Shree Narayan Singh, Batti Gul Meter Chalu is a totally irrelevant film on an extremely relevant topic.
With Manto not releasing in Pakistan, Batti Gul Meter Chalu, was the rather ‘popular’ alternative provided to us by our distributors. The film begins, with what you could call a metaphor. Two men are traveling on a bus. Their names, Vikas (development) and Kalyan (Welfare). Like, the Vikas of our subcontinent their journey is seemingly endless. To take the matter a notch higher, the director has decided to show this storyline in black and white colors. To kill time, one starts to narrate the most famous fable of Uttarakhand. The story of Susheel Kumar Pant (Shahid Kapoor), Sundar Mohan Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma) and Lalita Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor).
For the 1st half of the film, we get to see this fuzzy love triangle between these childhood friends. Susheel Kumar Pant or SK is eccentric, conniving and a loud mouth lawyer, who blackmails companies into paying up in some form of legal extortion. Sundar Mohan is the responsible type and has taken a loan to start his own printing business. While Lalita Nautiyal or Nauti plays an independent 27 year old aspiring designer, whose family members are either convinced that she’ll marry off one of the friends or they simply don’t care. Set in middle India, with characters saying ‘tehra’ and ‘bal’ in every 2nd line, this indifference felt odd. All three are inseparable. Sundar is the ‘weak’ one who admits that given any difficultly he would run to SK.
Anyhow 1: when Nauti decides its time to tie the knot. She comes up with this ingenious plan of giving a one week trial run to each boy and then pick the man of her dreams. SK’s conflict is shown to a degree. With every client fees, he buys a gift for Nauti. But in this week, he is shown as someone who can throw a lavish party and dance his heart out but cannot run a home. While, Sundar is the exact opposite, the sweet, and homely type. Obviously, she prefers Sundar. And obviously, this causes friction between the newly in love couple (yes really) and SK. Perhaps, Nauti thought playing with the ‘male ego’ is child’s play. Also, yes it is also typical for men to wait until you are offered a week of dating (even if that means you are close to 30). Before she offered this idea, SK and Sundar never considered asking her out. The cute Chandler and Ross pact comes to mind. Also, father of Shahid Kapoor is looking to get married again. While the film uses this to induce laughter, it never really addresses it again. But I digress. SK is pissed, he breaks off the friendship.
Anyhow 2: Sundar & Nauti are planning happily ever after without their best friend. But the villain comes in shape of the electricity company. The film, tells us that from the beginning that electricity supply is a huge problem, yet Sundar thinks it’s a good idea to open a factory with heavy and consistent electricity requirements. Nevertheless, within a few months, he receives a bill of 54 lakhs and he runs to for SK for help. In a spout of jealousy, he hushes him away. Now Sundar, who is incapable and left out to fight on his own, commits suicide to avoid his home being sold to repay the bill and loan on the company. Insurance money would be the savior. He tries to make it look like it was an accident. The kirya karam take us to the interval. Nauti is infuriated about the loss of her lover and how SK failed his friend.
Anyhow 3: as soon as SK learns that his friend has died, something changes in him. Now he wants to fight for justice and cause. Shree Narayan Singh’s favourite narrative vehicle, a viral video makes SK a hero for all those who are aggrieved by the action of the electricity company. He offers hope to millions of citizens against this immoral enterprise which is stealing electricity from these sub urban dwellers and using it to run multiplexes in mega cities, we are told.
Anyhow 4: Nauti who by now has left all her desires and dreams of becoming a designer behind (or she is nailing it, we aren’t told) has forgiven her friend SK, because now he fighting the system for her dead lover/friend. A slimy court room sequence follows. Yami Gautam, as the defense lawyer for the electricity company has got easily the worst part of the film. She is there to give a landing to SK’s sexist jokes one after another. SK, who was used to settling outside of court, is now using his arguments for making comments about Yami Gautam’s figure, an erotic book that ‘fells’ out of Yami’s pursue and more such nonsense. Yet, she is flirtatious with him. Its beyond absurd. There is a twist in the tale but now you have run out of anyhows and want the thing to just end.
Shahid Kapoor as SK is at times fun but that is testament to his skills rather than anything to do with the script. Divyendu Sharma seems unconvinced of what he has been asked to do. So he borrows lines from “A Wednesday”. Shraddha Kapoor, well she tries and tries hard. Again she’s been given an absurd role play. Also, there is a scene where she is asked a question by SK and she promises to respond after the trial. We never get that response. I would be dammed if this was left open ended for a sequel. May, we do get an answer in last couple of seconds but I cannot be sure; perhaps no one can. We see a gori, serving tea at SK’s house but why was she there? No idea. There are so many ideas pushed into this box, that despite being very long the film has too many loose strings. When the script is incoherent, no amount of cinematography or background score (which I thought was done decently) can save it.
Batti Gul Meter Chalu is a film which reminded me of my 4 year old niece. She loves starting out puzzles, but never finishes them. She would start out with one and pretty quickly jump on to a new one. This film also simply focuses on too many areas. Eventually landing on the modern day formula of a viral video, social media movement, a pulsating speech; all in the name of nobleness. The topic is relevant, yet its treatment was shabby. Watch Actor in Law online; you’ll have a lot more fun.