A True-Blue Love Story
In case there's some confusion on that front, this film is essentially a true-blue love story, rather than a boxing/sport film (strictly speaking), or even a film on the love of sport. What's clear as bottled water though is its sharp, unsubtle political statement. Politics - whether caste/Dalit/gender -- in the correct sense, defined as response to oppression, or injustice of any kind.
The film is set in Bareilly: boondocks of Uttar Pradesh. And in a filmic way, no one, absolutely no one, gets the North Indian boondocks better than filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, if his masterpiece Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012) is anything to go by. You can smell the 'mitti ki badbu' (stench of the street, soil) in all its flavours, while the second-unit gives you a fine, wide view of the semi-dystopia you're specifically situated in.
Mukkabaaz marks Kashyap's fab return to a realm he understands and expresses best -- with all its flaws, angst and humour, Tarantino-esque pop-culture references, making it all as distressing as it is frickin' fun and real. While watching from the ringside, you also can't avoid a bout of depression (as you shouldn't).
At the centre of this is a young girl (stunning Zoya Hussain), basically trapped behind closed doors, looking for a possible escape route from a world where her voice can't be heard -- both literally, and figuratively. She's mute by birth. The man who's willing to defeat anyone, in the ring or otherwise, to win her, is a mukkabaaz, an ace local boxer, whose sporting ambitions at best would cap at landing a respectable, but essentially second-rate job through 'sports quota' in the government, which is by and large true for all non-cricketers growing up in India.
One Vineet Singh plays the lead, the determined Mukkabaaz, in this movie. He's also contributed to the script, and lyrics in the film's soundtrack. He's the sort of man, who could so easily merge in the Bareilly backdrop. I've known Singh socially for quite a few years now, as an actor, much like his character in the film, quietly biding his time, like several others in Versova, hoping to deliver a knock-out punch, if and when he does land a chance. I met him recently right after watching about 20 minutes of Mukkabaaz at the MAMI festival (had to leave because the sound in the theatre was terrible). That long, warm hug we exchanged expressed more than one can in any short consumer review. He's simply stellar!
It also takes balls of steel on the filmmakers' part to cast an actor in the lightweight category of fame, and walk away with the swag of having made a full-on desi, mainstream movie. Besides a brilliantly curated background score, the most 'Bollywood' element of Mukkabaaz is the main villain (Jimmy Sheirgill), the small-town Mogambo, who bears not one redeeming quality. He treats his entire family like doormat, his niece like personal property, Bareilly like his fiefdom, and UP boxing like his private house-party. He's also an elected politician.
Could there be a case to make a film on politics, which is ostensibly about sport? Yes, when sport is pretty much played like politics. Outside of a farmer's, you may (rightly) assume that a sportsperson's is the most honest job -- you reap what you sow, the results are there to see, and you can't fake greatness. One can't help but admire the smarts and manipulative skills of desi politicians that through proper elections, and thereafter favouritism, nepotism, and blatant corruption, they manage to hold complete control over something as objective as sport in India. I only know of few horror stories in cricket. You can easily imagine what it'd be like once you dig deeper.
Kashyap uses sport (even romance) as fine entry point to speak truth to power, along with the phoniness of 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai', where we apparently love our country but hate our countrymen. 'Bahut hua sammaan' as a hook is to Mukkabaaz what 'Kehke loonga' was to Gangs Of Wasseypur. And, really, kehke li hai, completely.