'Mukkabaaz' (2018) Review: Lacking clarity and purpose, fails to pack a punch

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Mukkabaaz, Vineet Kumar Singh, boxing practice

Mukkabaaz is the latest offering from the Indian filmmaker Anurag Kashyap who is best known for making genre-breaking films like Black Friday, No Smoking, Gulaal, and Dev D. The film is a joint production of Aanand L. Rai’s Colour Yellow Productions and Anurag Kashyap backed Phantom Films. The film stars Vineet Kumar Singh, Zoya Hussain, Jimmy Shergill, and Ravi Kishan in major roles. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The story of how the film came into being is certainly an interesting one. Vineet Kumar Singh, who plays the eponymous character in the movie, came up with the idea for the movie and approached Kashyap with the hope of essaying the lead character. Perhaps, the inspiration came from the famous story of how Sylvester Stallone wrote the script of Rocky and how he managed to convince the studio bosses to hire him to play the lead character in the film. Kashyap bought the idea on the condition that Vineet would train rigorously for the role of the boxer, leaving everything else aside. Vineet obliged and trained just as a real boxer would for a year under an actual boxing coach. Seeing Vineet in the movie one can easily tell how badly he would have wanted to play the part in the movie.   

In my review of Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), I had written how Anurag Kashyap had a definite edge over his peers when it came to representing Indian cinema in the global arena. Kashyap had been on a roll with Gangs of Wasseypur proving to be a career highlight. People had already started comparing him to the likes of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen. But things changed after Bombay Velvet (2015). It was said to be Kashyap’s dream project. Made with a whopping budget of INR 84 crore (840 million), the film marked a departure for Kashyap who over the previous decade had succeeded in carving a niche for himself in Hindi cinema with low budget films. Given the film’s humongous scope, Kashyap seemed to have put a lot on stake with Bombay Velvet. He was clearly walking on thin ice. Watching the movie one got a feeling that Kasyap was out of his comfort zone. The film ended up garnering terrible reviews but it was nowhere as bad. In fact, the film did have some admirable qualities—in particular the cinephilia is seemed to ooze with. Alas, the film bombed at the box-office, merely managing to make Rs 22.27 crore.
Vineet Kumar Singh and Zoya Hussain in Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz
Vineet Kumar Singh and Zoya Hussain in Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz
All these years Kashyap had been telling media that he was unable to make the kind of films he wanted to make because of the lack of resources and now that he had all the resources at his disposal he failed to deliver. Reports of him leaving India and settling in Europe started doing the rounds. But soon the rumors were put to rest as Kashyap came out with his latest offering Raman Ragav 2.0. Despite garnering some positive reviews internationally, the film failed to impress at the domestic box-office.  While watching Raman Raghav 2.0, I noticed something that I haven’t noticed before in an Anurag Kashyap film.  He looked completely lost as a filmmaker. Even at his self-indulgent best Kashyap was known to highly engaging films. No Smoking, perhaps, is the best example of Kashyap delivering despite it being an exercise in self-indulgence. But, Raman Raghav 2.0 was unbearable to watch that it made some of the recent films by his mentor Ram Gopal Varma look like masterworks of cinema. It was a really sad moment seeing Kashyap lose his way like that.
Jimmy Shergill as Bhagwan Das Mishra in Mukkabaaz, Directed by Anurag Kashyap
Jimmy Shergill (right) as Bhagwan Das Mishra in Mukkabaaz
Mukkabaaz has been touted as a return to form for Kashyap. Now, the film was well received at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival as well as the 2017 Mumbai Film Festival. Now, Mukkabaaz is certainly a improvement on Raman Raghav 2.0 and it also have the trademark Kashyap elements. Nawazuddin Siddiqui makes a cameo appearance that’s straight out of Dev D. Also, Jimmy Shergill’s Bhagwan Das Mishra seems like a distant cousin of Ramadhir Singh—the iconic character from Gangs of Wasseypur essayed by actor-director Tigmanshu Dhulia. As a matter of fact, Mukkabaaz is replete with references to Kashyap’s earlier films. Seeing one self-reference after the other, one is painfully reminded of the Farah Khan films starring Shah Rukh Khan. Kashyap has described Mukkabaaz as a love story and not as a sports film and yet the game of boxing is central to it. But the manner in which he has shot the boxing bouts offers nothing refreshing. It’s well known that Kashyap greatly admires Martin Scorsese and yet he fails to take any inspiration from the innovative camerawork Scorsese employed to shoot the boxing sequences in his 1980 seminal masterwork Raging Bull. Also, Kashyap seems to take his characters a bit too seriously and as a result they never really come to life, perhaps with the exception of the leads, played by Vineet and Zoya. The film also fails to do justice to its theme of caste discrimination. A movie like Sairat, for example, does a much better job of exposing the dark side of caste divide that plagues India. The strongest point of Mukkabaaz other than its solid acting performances is its background music which tries its best to provide impetus to a movie which is at least 25-30 minutes too long.
Vineet Kumar Singh, physical training and transformation, exercise, fitness, Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz
A Still from Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz
Overall, Mukkabaaz is all about Anurag Kashyap trying to prove yet again how politically aware he is as a filmmaker. The central theme of the film is how the corrupt and bureaucratic system is responsible for plight of sportsmen in the country. And Kashyap's film does great justice to it. The film also touches upon lynching and hate crimes committed in the name of caste and religion, and although the intentions are certainly commendable it just doesn't come out organically. He preaches incessantly for over 150 minutes, without really showing us anything that we haven't already seen in his cinema. His earlier films like Dev D, Gulaal, Gangs of Wasseypur, etc. too offered food for thought but they were also endlessly engaging to say the least. But, sadly, Mukkabaaz fails to pack a punch even if we look at it merely from the perspective of entertainment. Yes, the style is very much there but even that looks rather stale. But, the worst part is that just like in Raman Raghav 2.0, Anurag Kashyap seems to lack the clarity as to what it is that he is trying to tell us through his movie. The end result is a film that feels like a sermon lacking purpose and conviction.

Rating: 5/10

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