Synopsis – A social movie about escalating electric bills.
My Take – Led by Akshay ‘Bharat’ Kumar, Bollywood is currently in a phase where it churns out at least one film, in a gap of few months, dealing with the current social stark issues that are hampering the growth of India and its common man. Often sponsored by the government itself, this set of well-intentioned message based films are unsurprisingly doing well despite their often simplistic and broad strokes writing, mainly as it’s hard not to relate oneself to a David vs the Goliath premise. Here, director Shree Narayan Singh, whose earlier film, the very likable Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (starring Akshay Kumar) tackled the issue of open defecation and fueled the propaganda surrounding cleanliness and lack of outdoor toilets in rural India, takes on the issue of exorbitant electricity bills, greedy power distribution companies and the common’s fight against it.
Even though the film is a social drama at heart, it has its entertaining moments with some light-hearted sequences, all the while capturing the state of Uttarakhand in all its mountainous glory. This is a story that needs to be told, undoubtedly, but this time around the balance just doesn’t fit in, mainly due to its excessive length and haphazard writing.
I get it, taking a serious topic like wrong billing and other fraudulent practices of private power companies in India against whom complaints are futile, and dealing with it entertainingly is a Herculean task at the least, but this time around, director and editor Shree Narayan Singh and writers Siddharth-Garima, stretch the whole idea, while mixing it with the unnecessary masala, so long that it just robs the film of its impact. However one big reason the film deserves a watch (at least once) is for the performance of one of the most robust and powerful actors in the country, Shahid Kapoor, whose brilliant monologue towards the end of the film is a major highlight.
Set in Uttarakhand, the story follows Sushil Kumar “SK” Pant (Shahid Kapoor), a happy-go-lucky resourceful young lawyer, who took seven and half years to pass his Law exams and earns good money by blackmailing every other business in town. His only sense of moral compass is his friendship with Lalita “Nauti” Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor), a small time fashion designer, and the honest Sundar Mohan Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma), who starts a small-scale printing press in their home town, to earn money the right way. So close are the trio that when the time comes to choose between the two, Nauti decides to spend a week dating each in turn before deciding on whom she will marry. After a week with SK, she starts spending time with the gentle and very responsible Sundar and falls in love with him.
Humiliated and angered by the outcome, SK immediately severs his ties with the two. Meanwhile, Sundar’s company which is only a few months old ends up being charged an inflated electricity bill of 1.5 Lakhs, despite the fact that his machines are working mainly on a generator. The situation escalates when he requests SPTL, the Privatized Electricity Company charging the bills to perform a meter check, which results in a bill of 54 Lakhs, running his company into bankruptcy. With nowhere to go and complain, battling depression, Sundar commits suicide hoping that the insurance money will suffice for the maintenance of his parent’s living, and his debts. Set aback by the events, a guilt ridden SK has a change of heart and decides to teach the power company a lesson, by taking them to the court, and battling against Advocate Gulnaar Rizvi (Yami Gautam), SPTL’s lawyer, all while starting a movement that is echoed around the country.
The film covers today’s business monarchy that misuses its position in exploiting the common man. No doubt, in terms of its detailing and nuances, this is by far the best film as there are so many aspects of a society that are brilliantly covered with each character and dialogue being relatable. We keep hearing about the electrification of India’s remote villages, but do we actually know how frequently rural households experience a single evening that isn’t plunged into absolute darkness by power cuts? There’s definitely a message here for all of us who are used to the comforts of uninterrupted electricity supply and have no idea about the issues faced by the small towns and villages. The bit that really its home though is an impassioned plea for delivering on the promise of ‘Achche Din’, and righteous rage over the fact that so many Indians still don’t have access to basic electricity.
What works here is that director Singh establishes the outage at the onset by his use of darkness throughout the film. Cinematographer Anshuman Mahaley captures the serene locations around Uttarakhand beautifully. Director Singh also uses black and white scenes to kick off the narrative, as an artistic leitmotif, to distinguish the story from the editorial. Here in a bus journey, two co-passengers Vikas and Kalyan are used as narrators to propel the narrative forward. These double-entente names and other poetic applications make this satire stimulating and amusing
Also like his earlier film, here director Singh tries to sell his social message through relationships – this time through the friendship between Sushil, Lalita and Sundar. Some of the best moments of the film include the sweet camaraderie between the three. But for all its good intentions, this is also a fairly flawed film. The local dialect is a good addition, but the thing about a dialect is that, when done well, it adds authenticity to a story, enhancing the local flavor. When, however, the diction goes awry it rankles like a jarring note. The language, or rather it’s mangling, robs this tale of the very impact that its dialogues were meant to have.
For the most part, the film keeps you engaged because the story has enough to chew on, but is however crippled by excess. But the main problem lies in the story itself as the film stretches on forever (161 minutes) without saying much, making the first half come across as an elongated and ill-conceived love story, that is languid but painful, with Lalita emerging as a confused soul who does not know whom she likes of her two childhood buddies for “more than friendship” – as if that is a compulsion! The second half is more fun and drama as it is a courtroom scene in the main, but the frivolous judge and the proceedings, which often border on the absurd, simplistic, childish or irrational, pull down the so-necessary-to-make-an-impact serious quotient. For someone who took seven years to pass his bar exam (as against to the stipulated five years), it’s hard to believe that SK is now the best lawyer in town. The director depicts him as someone who uses immoral ways to ensure his self-created cases are settled out of court. Yet, in the courtroom for what may seem like his first fight, he seems surprisingly at ease.
Given that courtroom dramas like Jolly LLB have given us a peek into the proceedings inside the courtroom, the lack of an authentic representation is evident here. Lawyers present witness without an intimation, and video evidence is submitted as a surprise. There is some attempt at humor here as well, but what hits a completely wrong note here are the sexist jibes SK throws at Gulnar. The songs are an asset but “Hard Hard” and “Gold Tamba” are speed-breakers in the narrative.
On the performance front, this is without a doubt Shahid Kapoor‘s show. Here, he is correctly charged up, uncouth and, in his own way, ruthless. He emotes exquisitely with his delicate facial expressions. Shraddha Kapoor as the fun-loving and bubbly Nauti is confident and earnest, while Divyendu is sincere with his efforts. Yami Gautam as the lawyer opposing Shahid seems inadequate. However, it is not her act as much as the lack of meat in her character that is to blame. Samir Soni too is wasted in a small role. Sharib Hashmi as one of the narrators is likable as always. On the whole, ‘Batti Gul Meter Chalu’ is a well-intentioned message film coated with a thick layer of melodrama, that is let down by its laborious pace and tedious writing.
Directed – Shree Narayan Singh
Rated – PG
Run Time – 161 minutes