“Batti Gul Meter Chalu”… High on decibels, low on impact!
Director Shree Narayan Singh seems to have a thing for high volumes. If we take into account his previous venture Toilet – Ek Prem Katha and the newly released Batti Gul Meter Chalu, Singh is easily amongst the rare few would not mind the blaring noise during festive occasions and at wee hours in the night. Such is the decibel level in everything associated with these films that we feel as if the characters have a microphone placed in their larynx. To make it further distressing, Batti Gul Meter Chalu speaks the Kumaoni dialect which – according to the film – is as simple as adding ‘thehera’ and ‘bal’ at the end of every sentence.
With Batti Gul Meter Chalu, Singh takes up another social issue – fraudulence triggered by private electricity suppliers. One needs to note how the film cleverly harps only on the private sector and there is not even a fleeting mention of their government counterparts. Before the film plunges into this complex web, we get to meet the cheekily named prime protagonists – Sundar Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma), Susheel “SK” Kumar (Shahid Kapoor) and Lakshmi “Nauti” Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor). Equally smitten by Nauti, SK and Tripathi set up a swayamvar-like arrangement where the girl gets to pick her life partner out of the two. Extremely silly but wholeheartedly commercial, this tiny stretch is the most endearing in the film’s 2 hours 40+ minutes runtime. There is an adorable song plus the guys – of disparate personality traits – trying to the woo Nauti in their own unique ways. Her decision is followed by a predictable dent in their closeness. In a parallel track, the film also explores the deceit that Tripathi faces at his recently-setup factory. The culprit is the power provider and soon comes the jolting interval point which, one must agree, holds our attention.
Constructed on a shaky foundation, it is the second half of Batti Gul Meter Chalu that derails the film to a point of no return. Stagey and unoriginal, the film transforms into a bizarre courtroom drama where the loudness quotient shoots up with no signs of calming down. Enter defence lawyer Gulnar (Yami Gautam) who is probably the least prepared of her clan in Hindi cinema history. The film also makes sure that she is openly harassed in the verbal form which is not okay at any platform, let alone the courtroom. So much so that SK even finds a copy of a soft-porn novel that the young woman lawyer is incidentally carrying in her bag. Predictably enough, the audience emerges into a rousing laughter and the deal is done for the writers. Does it make any sense? No. Would a seemingly hardworking and academically adept lawyer do anything close to it? No.
Batti Gul Meter Chalu also boasts of a female judge (Sushmita Mukherjee) who fails miserably in her attempt to be funny – a character that is predictably by design following the success of the Jolly LLB series. The film also strangely changes contours within the courtroom. At one point, SK is all jovial, cracking inappropriate jokes and second later, he sheds tears for the cause that he is fighting for. In reaction shots, we see the visitors sobbing too, who, again, were all giggles barely a minute ago. The writing is so unidimensional that we end up missing the customary “Objection, Milord” that is commonly heard in erstwhile courtroom drama features. Well, here the affluent, influential accused is perennially dumbstruck with hardly any noteworthy assertion to make, let alone come up with a plausible twist.
Credited as the editor as well as the director, Singh’s editing (or the lack thereof) is one of the film’s biggest liabilities. Before one feels the need for trimming the needless bits, it is also evident how Batti Gul Meter Chalu is so exasperatingly written (Siddharth-Garima) that it takes light years to establish its characters and the immediate premise. As for Singh’s work, he uses two narrators (shot in monochrome for some reason) to bring forth an odd humour track. Not only is it totally unfunny but its usage also adds greatly to the film’s length. There is excess exposition with countless flashback scenes and recurrent shots for reasons that are best known to the director. Establishing shots are not one but multiple similar frames packed one after the other. In order to make his characters appear together in close-ups, Singh composes them in a way that they are dangerously close even in a professional setup. Singh also (consistently) lacks the ability to connect sequences in a way that they blend seamlessly. For instance, there is a recess at the court during which we see an intense looking Shahid Kapoor, brooding over something. Cut to the next scene, we see him trumpeting slogans with no context whatsoever.
It also doesn’t help that Batti Gul Meter Chalu gets zero help from its main lead Shahid Kapoor who delivers the weakest performance in his career. This fiasco could be attributed to the filmmaker’s obsession for a loud storytelling style, which Kapoor is unable to harmonize with. Looking radiant, Shraddha Kapoor seems to be improving with each passing film. The actor also appears less strained while attempting the local dialect, as compared to Kapoor. Divyendu is quite scene-stealer, doing the quintessential good boy part with great flair. One of his monologues makes us wonder why there is a scarcity of good roles for a young actor of his calibre.
Shree Narayan Singh’s approach to the film is just as one-note as it was in Toilet – Ek Prem Katha. Both of them feature men who fight against a system which is backed by unaware citizens who flimsily coming out in large numbers seeing random newspaper clippings and television reports. There are relevant messages which get irreparably diluted in haphazard writing and lazy, indulgent making. Nevertheless, after having endured nearly 3 hours in a cinema, one truly wishes that Batti Gul Meter Chalu could make a little sense – if not for core issue then, at least, in the central romance. While the latter brings you some temporary respite, the entire ‘power’ struggle and the simplistic culmination to it make sure that we flaunt an epic facepalm as we exit the cinema hall.