The problem with political satires made in India is that there’s too much to mock. Or perhaps too little to admire. Almost every day, some bizarre incident occurs in some unexceptional corner of the country.
In most cases, newspaper headlines are fodder enough; they don’t really need to be expanded upon any further. Yet, many filmmakers insist on discovering innumerable ways of parodying a famously outdated system, draconian laws and a rural culture that is already a parody onto itself.
Events such as these—that of a village man being jailed for allegedly raping a buffalo—don’t need to be dramatized any further. They barely raise eyebrows anymore, let alone attracting a group full of curious moviegoers. The days of Peepli Live and Dekh Tamasha Dekh are ending. This is perhaps where Vinod Kapri, a veteran journalist and prolific documentary maker, goes awry with his textbook satire.
Even satirical tales have lost its novelty and belong to a formulaic genre of sorts: For instance, the casting options for most rural-based portraits of ludicrousness have an auto-fill button—Om Puri, Annu Kapoor, Ravi Kishen, Sanjay Mishra, Brijendra Kala (and often, Satish Kaushik and Adil Hussain) are swiftly inserted to lend credibility to a muddled script. The farcical aspects of protests, news anchoring and crowd reactions are painted in such obvious tones; everybody from a judge to a vet is made to sound like superstitious illogical nincompoops. I’m sure these chaps exist, but they’re probably far more interesting and deadpan in person than their caricatures portrayed on screen.
As the translator in charge of converting this real-life incident into a work of heightened fiction, Mr Kapri seems to have forgotten that storytelling is a process of coherent documentation. The trick to effective sociopolitical satires is to present the absurdities of reality, instead of forcibly making reality look absurd. On paper, this incident—without forced elements of quirky satires, bumbling characters and daft decisions—is already interesting enough. It doesn’t need 133 minutes (120 minutes too long) of put-on awkwardness and an accordion-driven background score to drive home the message.
Centered on an aspiring policeman named Arjun (Bagga; looks more the village simpleton) who is framed and humiliated after bedding the frustrated wife (Bhatt) of the Pradhan (Kapoor), Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho is an impossibly long sequence of misfires that presumably occur whenever someone is convicted of raping an Indian animal.
That Miss Tanakpur (Buffalo; underplays) ends up as the film’s most sensible performer is down to the sheer repetitiveness of Om Puri and Annu Kapoor’s Haryanvi accents. Right from the beginning, when Rahul Bagga struggles to portray the inherent embarrassment of shopping for a bra, and when the Pradhan seeks mumbo jumbo remedies for premature ejaculation, it’s quite obvious that the film is too obsessed with its texture to come to the actual point of this story. These superstition-driven scenes, byproducts of inexplicable character traits, seem completely out of sync with proceedings, only designed to elicit a few chuckles. To make matters worse, Arjun’s joyless face constantly interrupts the farcical sequence of police reports and corrupt ministers. It feels as if two different films—one about Batman and his pitiful family, and the other about Joker and his band of boisterous villagers—are spliced together abruptly without a semblance of mood and continuity. Bagga looks so sorrowful that he deserves the prison sentence for spreading gloom, and for trying to remind us that this is serious shit.
Speaking about shit, at least four unrelated scenes bear various representations of steaming excreta—sometimes shaken, always stirred, but at times way too pure. Talk about stretching a gag too far. Or shit hitting the fan. Or…you get the gist.
At one point, Hrishita Bhatt is required to share an emotional piece of woman empowerment dialogue with her bff (buffalo). No points for guessing who hams it up, and who we eventually end up having a beef with.
In the end, Mr Kapri tries too hard to over-fictionalize and over-decorate an incident that is self-explanatory. His film isn’t badly made, and doesn’t boast of terrible performances. But there’s so much more, or in this case—so much less—that could have been done with it. Ironically, a documentary on this event would appear far more believable.
(The film is rated U/A: Certain sequences suggest excretion, exposure, Om Puri and obscene male body shapes)
Hindi, Haryanvi, Comedy, Color