On Mukkabaaz and related things (a tweet to Anurag Kashyap)

thanks to Qalandar for the shout-out on this one..

I finally caught up with Mukkabaaz and I believe this is your best overall film since Black Friday (admittedly I haven’t seen Raman Raghav or Bombay Velvet yet). I won’t reintroduce the long laundry list (!) of my issues with a lot of your work but Mukkabaaz is not just a fine film, it is an important one. Besides these two the only other pieces of your filmmaking I’ve liked to any comparable degree are the first half of Gulal and to an extent the first 20 min of GoW 1. Perhaps I ‘like’ Mukkabaaz even more than Black Friday. All the masala tropes you tweak here, all the gender subversion, all the superb visual choices, all the socio-political veins of this world, everything is perfectly blended with the narrative logic of the story. And the film is also a deeply affecting work, not canceled out or deconstructed by your more polemical urges. There is plenty of caustic commentary in this movie, a great deal of black humor, but its naturalistic triumphs are still always animated by the ghosts of 70s genres.It is not an easy marriage to pull off and before this film it has always been an uneasy one in your work. Dev D and GoW are equally examples of this ‘failure’, as I see it. Put differently an economy of gesturality (GoW is the best example) is simply ’empty’ without enough of an investment in that ‘former’ world which more easily housed such ‘signs’. This has always been my problem with Tarantino as well. Leone’s best works or something like the Lady Snowblood double are already auto-deconstructive, they don’t really need Tarantino’s further efforts. What one is left with in Kill Bill is a cinema of pure effect (which has also been RGV’s problem over time). In other words the rendering of political faultlines and the like as pure aesthetics. A deeply problematic choice in an artistic enterprise, possibly moreso in cinema. Now GoW, on these terms, is assuredly more ‘responsible’ than Kill Bill but it is not quite as much so as Django (the only Tarantino I truly like and where I believe he finally gets it right, again in terms of this entire debate). Leone’s deconstructive mode still works with a vast nostalgia, we are at the end of a great tradition, the gestural here can still be indexed to that vanishing world. This is why even his ultimate Western (at least one that completes a certain sequence for him), Once Upon a Time in the West, is also his ultimate homage to the genre (on a related note you too have some wonderful shots in Mukkabaaz that reference other iconic moments of cinema, from the ants coming out of the hole to the girl emerging from a portal of sorts). The subversion must always secretly be in love with that which it subverts! I know of course that in most of your cinema you precisely display such ‘affection’ but the right balance eludes you more often than not. GoW yet again is deeply symptomatic here. However the answer to it is Mukkabaaz! I would in fact like you to go even further in this direction. Truly take on an epic framework, Leone-like, and do justice to it in the mode of Mukkabaaz. All of this does not mean that the rest of your work isn’t interesting. To paraphrase Zizek a bit one only argues with that which is even worthy of debate. Because I have always thought highly of your gifts, I have never thought too highly of your films, barring on the exceptional day! But Mukkabaaz is truly extraordinary. It would take too long to itemize all of its strengths, I’ve only tried to reference some very quickly and schematically, I should however add that I absolutely love the beautiful love story at the heart of the film. And if I like a character here even more than the mukkabaaz (!) it is his lover and wife. She is the true soul of the film. I’d lastly say here that this is not simply about my personal choice and interest as a viewer (though of course it is this as well) that defines my ‘criticism’ of your work. It is also that I am relatively uninterested in genres and narratives that are easily available on the film festival circuit or in various super bazaars of international cinema. Yes you give a certain ‘Indian’ twist to some of these but so what?! A film does not become remarkable simply by providing such local twists to global formats (this is a bit like celebrating all those local iterations of global capital, it’s still the same logic). What I am interested in is that formulation which subverts such inheritance by truly re-thinking it and not simply by poking child-like at its eyes. The latter might shock but it isn’t authentic subversion. Mukkabaaz is at any rate a world where you avoid all these dangers. It’s a crucial film for our age but its importance is definitely not limited to the contemporary in any sense. I loved everything in it, everywhere. I look forward to your Manmarziyaan as well for somewhat similar reasons (and others!) but honestly I’d be surprised to find a better work than Mukkabaaz here. All the best going forward to a future where I hope your ambition veers more towards the important rather than the merely interesting and/or intelligent.

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12 Responses to “On Mukkabaaz and related things (a tweet to Anurag Kashyap)”

  1. Superb note here, one that bears multiple readings, especially on the arc of Kashyap’s career…

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  2. Kashyap just needs to go back to school and learn basics of story-telling. His strengths may provoke academic interests, but its difficult to sit through his films. He is like that guy sitting opposite to my desk with decent technical knowledge, but no idea how to put it to good use and be productive.

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    • And the problem is that he is no fresher. With his experience he is expected to deliver …

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    • Check out mukkabaaz. You won’t have those problems here. Not that I agree with your point. Storytelling is relative to the nature of the film. I also don’t believe in audience tyranny. The audience too has a responsibility to be open to different kinds of storytelling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you cant the interest of your audience then you dont have an audience. Will check out mukka.

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        • Amit Pandey Says:

          mukkebaaz is a decent one time watch… all main players did fine job…

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        • Kaagaz ke pool couldn’t interest its audience. There is an encyclopedic list of movies that couldn’t interest their original audiences. Many of these are now on ‘greatest’ lists. Beyond this though you can’t follow this logic half-way. So if it’s all about the audience you should also be celebrating many Salman films that seem to excite the audience (at least initially). Similarly you should be supporting many films or stars that you routinely make fun of.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. tonymontana Says:

    Great to read your note Satyam, and some valid and superb observations. You’re particularly on the money in your read of GOW and Kill Bill, though I consider the latter to be one of my personal all-time favourites. The style over-compensated for a lot of other things in Kill Bill.

    Have been meaning to watch Mukkabaaz for a long time now. Wonder why it hasn’t released on Netflix yet. That is a haven for Phantom films.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s on Erosnow. You can sign up for a 2 week free trial and watch it. You can access the same channel through Prime but here you don’t get the free trial.

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  4. Terrific comment, Satyam. Glad you liked the film so much.

    While I quite liked the film overall (especially the milieu), the second half of the film isn’t that coherent or well thought out, IMO. Kashyap’s cinema includes a lot of detours, and most of the times, the detours are more interesting than the main journey, but here the second half was quite… conventional. That’s probably the only complaint I have about the film.

    That being said, the performances are all top-notch. Absolutely loved Vineet Kumar Singh; Jimmy Shergill was terrific as well. And who could have guessed Ravi Kishan was capable of giving such a moving performance?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks much Saket.. to be honest I felt the film was always conventional in terms of its basic framework. I certainly see where you’re coming from in terms of the second half but to my mind the greatest strength of the film is precisely this tweaking of traditional registers. As an aside this film could be seen as the ‘un-Dangal’! On Kashyap once more I’ve always liked him most when his narratives are anchored in somewhat more traditional ways. I think his subversive instincts work best with such a ‘given’. When he goes more experimental he doesn’t strike me as being as interesting. The experimental is in any case a mode that has to be handled with great care. Kashyap’s (again for this viewer) comes across as not greater than the sum of its parts. To be fair I’m not saying this is a problem with all of his work. There’s still a third box here, the Ugly one, where there’s nothing wrong with the film (though I find it loose at points), but it’s a genre and treatment that seem rather too available elsewhere in the world. Here the fact that it’s set in India doesn’t do as much for me on its own. On a related note I loved Masaan. I’d take it over a lot of Kashyap’s work.

      Liked by 1 person

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