Madhur Bhandarkar: Chronicling different aspects of society

If cinema is a component of society, shouldn’t it mirror elements of society within it? Well, rare as it maybe Madhur Bhandarkar’s films does so in bold strokes. Madhur Bhandarkar has you covered when it comes to the gray areas of journalism, fashion industry, jail, politics, and corporate sector. They're are known for their social commentary which involves coming face-to-face with hard-hitting truth questioning the sense of self and the real nature of things. They resemble society and it's people so closely that Madhur could be considered a kind of a sociologist. The characters in his film resonate with people of our lives they could socialite, a beggar, politician, actor, buisness person, saint, gangster, anything. He as freely depicts the outcasts such as homosexuals, bar dancers as he does the inherent part of society like policemen, socialites etc, he's versatile like that with long range.

Born on 26th August 1968 Bhandarkar didn't went to FTII, he like Quentin Tarantino went to films. He flunked class 6th and then went on to become a delivery boy at a video cassette store and then he opened his own shop. He was an ardent movie buff and watched movie religiously, he also watched various shootings that happened in his area. Later, he assisted Ram Gopal Varma and found his own voice through his cinema. He came from the same camp Anurag Kashyap came from. He succeeded so much so that he's been honoured with Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award.

Madhur is a National Award favourite. He’s won Best film on other social issues for Chandni Bar, Best Feature Film for Page 3 and even Best Director for Traffic Signal. Since National Awards are the closest thing we have in India for Academy Awards, it shows his stature as a director. He has received multiple nominations for Filmfare awards as well. This demonstrates how his films resonate with both intellectuals and ordinary individuals. He's very versatile he can make critically acclaimed films in one hand on the other a masala flick. He hasn't been in the 100 crore club yet. None of his films have come closer to that number.

It so happens woman play a pivotal part in this society, as with frontrunner in Bhandarkar’s films. Him being a male director captures these women lead through his lens with believability. As Zoya Akhtar is a female director who creates memorable male characters, Madhur is a male director known for creating iconic female characters. His films explore feminism and female power or lack thereof with panache. His films don’t offer simple answers but paint a realistic picture that may prove polarizing to some. Madhur doesn’t always delve into serious matters, he breaks the norm and do comedy as well like in Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji. He frequently collaborates with his set of actors like Atul Agnihotri, Konkana Sen Sharma and side actors like Manoj Joshi, Upendra Limaye. He often surprises with cameos too like Sudhir Mishra in Traffic Signal or Karan Johar in Fashion or Prahlad Kakkar in several of his films. Madhur's Calendar Girls is the one dark spot in his career, it is one big disappointment.

Calendar Girls

It is Madhur’s weakest, one that makes you question why ever did he bothered with this one. Had he adapted Helen Mirren’s Calendar Girls with veteran actresses that would’ve been refreshing to watch in Indian screen for a change but he tried to chronicle the lives of models who star in Calendars. Calendar girls has five protagonists. One of them is from Lahore, Pakistan but who’s living in London with her boyfriend Nazneen. After being chosen for the calendar, she leaves her boyfriend who disapproves of her choice. They possibly banned the film in Pakistan because they disliked her portrayal of a Pakistani girl. The other four are from various parts of India like Mayuri from Rohtak, Nandita from Hyderabad, Paroma from Kolkata and Sharon from Goa. The film serves cheap jokes in the name of their introduction of these girls to the photographer Timmy. It uses various shots which we have already seen in MTV shows countless times, it lacks invention in visual field and the social commentary that is signature Bhandarkar is more haywire than on point. Madhur, who had a cameo in Fashion, makes another appearance in this film, but it fails to save the movie due to its lack of substance. The film fails to adequately research the link to illegal cricket betting in India, which is a subject explored in films like Jannat and shows like Inside Edge, even though Paroma’s boyfriend Pinaki is involved in it. Sharon makes a successful journalist but Nazneen and Paroma aren’t as lucky. Nazneen becomes an escort and gets hit by a car, resulting in her death. Paroma gets arrested in the betting case and tries to take her life, but the producers of a reality show intervene and offer her a chance to be a contestant in their show. Nandita becomes Harsh Narang’s wife, but she has to give up her moral standards. Mayuri becomes an actress whom Madhur approaches for his next.


Trishakti marks the debut of Madhur. It maybes one of his weaker films but it paved way for his better films, films that he’s known and lauded for Chandni Bar. Mumbai’s criminal world is the focus of the film. The city’s most feared gangster, Rajeshwar Raja, has Hamid as his right hand. One day when the opposition, Hasan’s men are about to kill Hamid, three young men Bajrang, Sagar and Mahesh save him. Hence the name Trishakti. Rajeshwar Raja praises them by offering them to work for him. Their whole life is about to change. The movie not so subtly raises an important issue of patriotism in camouflage and makes us question about the blindness of justice. Although it doesn’t have a strong female character that’s staple to Bhandarkar’s films. Film songs are easily forgettable and the box office reception was a disaster. It attempts to cover multiple storylines, including a criminal war between Hasan and Rajeshwar Raja, Inspector Dayal’s opportunistic involvement, Sagar’s personal love life, Mahesh’s struggle to prove himself to his father, and Bajrang’s backstory, but ultimately it’s central focus feels gimmicky. Too many twists in a short time make the film convoluted and lacks coherence. Yet the constituent of realistic cinematography and tight editing are still there and the crime angle intertwined with political sphere reminds us why it's a Bhandarkar film. The film doesn't even comes close to Satya or Parinda.


As the name will have it, with Satta, Bhandarkar takes us to the dingy alley of politics seasoned with tricks and dirty tactics that politicians play to build and keep their house of cards. There’s a Jessica Lal-esque incidence in the film, Vivek Chouhan kills a bartender who refuses to serve him drink after the bar has closed. His pomposity doesn’t allow him to take no for an answer. He’s jailed by an honest police officer Pawar. Her in-laws and party head of the region Yashwant Varde steered Anuradha Saigal Chouhan who’s Vivek's wife, to take his place and contest election, which she despite her reasons not-to, does. She wins and develops entanglement towards Yashwant who teaches her political stratagem. Viewers can expect many twists and turns. Bhandarkar subtly highlights the challenges of maintaining innocence and altruism in politics. Critics have praised RaveenaTandon for her portrayal of Anuradha but it feels over the top at times. Her search for identity seems forced as it not backed by any foreseeable actions. The film answers how to do good amidst political malice. Atul Agnihotri is his usual great performance as Yashwant. Anuradha asks Anna Saheb, a veteran party leader who isn't corrupt, "What is the meaning of Satta?" From there the gear of film shifts.

Aan: Men at Work

Even with big names like Irrfan, Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, Shatrughan Sinha, Lara Dutta, RaveenaTondon, Om Puri, Jackie Shroff the film could barely collect it’s budget at the box office. Even critics didn’t receive it well calling it a masala Bollywood flick. The movie takes us to Mumbai’s crime branch headed by DCP Hari Om Patnaik who believes in doing his job in honesty and for pride and stature that comes with it. He’s supported by Senior Inspector Vikram Singh and Sub Inspector Appa Kadam Naik. Hari Om is committed to cleaning the streets of Mumbai, which have been divided between bhais and Didis. He starts with killing Yeda who’s responsible for the death of Head Constable Khalid Ansari and arresting Pathan. The film tells us about the less talked about problems of Police, related to their salary and media’s treatment of them. In such an environment, it’s easy to be corrupted and manipulated by businessmen and politicians. Bhandarkar once again sheds light on the otherwise darkened profession of Police. The songs, even though serving the narrative, cannot make a lasting impact. Ordinary people often fear police officers who have a duty to serve, but they also have a humane side despite being exposed to trickery, deceit, and violence. The film fails to serve the gravitas Shool or Gangajal did.


In Chandni Bar Mumtaz’s son Abhay, who’s a good child goes to Juvenile Jail for a false case. What happens inside changes him forever and turns him into a gangster like his father Potiya. In Jail, the police arrest Parag Dixit, a well-to-do 9 to 5 worker, due to drugs found in his possession. He says he’s got nothing to do with it and his roommate Keshav handles the whole fiasco but the judiciary works based on evidence which seem to go against him currently. Because Keshav was armed, they shot him at the site of the drug capture, resulting in him being in a coma. Parag’s lover Mansi employs advocate Harish for his case, he cannot get his bail, he’s jailed. He’s unable to conform to the ways of jail at first, starts losing his mind but soon adapts and makes acquaintances. Neil Nitin Mukesh got frontal nude to depict a police procedure before entering jail. While Mansi doesn’t receive much screentime, the film primarily portrays the struggles of Parag. Nevertheless, even in her brief appearances, she shows resilience, strength, and loyalty that can only be compared to Urmila’s from Ramayan. Shows like Oz, Prison Break, and Orange is the New Black delve into prison, class, and society. Yet, India has yet to explore these themes on a similar scale. Jail tries to shed on this rare topic. It is a one-of-a-kind situation where our convict firmly denies any wrongdoing and, through immense perseverance, is ultimately declared innocent. In the jail Parag faces the question of good vs evil several times, he almost gives in to evil as it seems so lucrative but in the end he chooses good and it proves to be good in his case Nawab helps him a lot in his dilemma. This is a lot more hopeful than Chandni Bar.

Babli Bouncer

Babli drives Royal Enfield, Babli loves to eat, Babli is good looking, Babli likes to build her body but Babli can’t study, get a job or get married. Various proposals are coming her way for marriage but she’s rejecting them as she’s infatuated by Viraj Kaushik, who’s the son of her teacher who had prophesied that Babli will fail class 10th and she did. Everything changes when Kukku, who’s a bouncer in a club at Delhi, asks Babli’s hand in marriage. He tells her that there’s an opening for a female bouncer in the club he works as Babli is bent on becoming independent before marriage. She tells him she will do the job as a bouncer for a year and then will think of marriage. The film makes use of flashbacks as the story is told in it, Madhur previously used flashbacks in Jail to tell Parag’s back story. Babli, a pure Desi girl, wears her heart on her sleeves and can cleverly manipulate people for her desires. You’re not exactly rooting for her like the Geet of Jab we met but you still want nothing bad happen to her. Viraj rejects her because she burps after drinking lassi and can’t speak English. She takes the rejection positively, yes she’s devastated at first as she got drunk in Viraj’s party wherein she proposed to him and got rejected but then she takes it well and tries to improve herself. She wants to clear her 10th exam she has flunked so many times. The film ends as the classic rags to riches tale, wherein Babli gets everything she wants.

Indu Sarkar

Indu Sarkar is the name of an orphan protagonist in the movie set in the times of Emergency, the 1975-77 period in which Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India at the time, imposed 20-point economic programme, MISA and the likes. She was Indu before marriage; she became Indu Sarkar after marriage. Navin, her husband, works for the government that has implemented Emergency. Indu hears many people grieving and speaking against it, but he doesn’t want to hear anything against it. Indu stutters even though she’s a good poet, she helps Navin’s boss with poetry in his speech. He says not a word against emergency in my home. The film lacks execution and even on the concept level it is ill conceived. Indu joins the activist group Himmat India headed by Nanaji that works to expose and if possible dethrone the government while doing such a revolutionary act her stutter vanishes all of a sudden. Both the group and the film are fictional. Loose cannon Sanjay Gandhi is depicted as imposing atrocities in the name of her mother Indira Gandhi, pushing the numbers of vasectomy, restricting press, misbehaving with party members, and threatening them with resignation if they so much as disagree with him. Madhur won Oslo Film Festival Award for best director possibly because of this depiction of the statesman. Since it’s a period piece, the crew has kept a keen eye on the sets and the automobiles used. However, there have been certain errors, especially regarding Indu’s stutter and her motivations in the revolutionary group. It is timely because it depicts, in dark tones, the political prisoners who are being jailed without trial, something that is happening in current times as well.


A journalist in the film declares that Mahi Arora, with her moody, impulsive, and over-emotional demeanor, is at fault in all aspects, just like most renowned actresses, regardless of their affiliation with Hollywood or Bollywood. We are accustomed to observing celebrities on screen and reading about their lives in the newspaper, but Madhur has documented what occurs when the lights and camera are off. Heroine doesn’t begin with the struggle of an aspiring actress but delves into an already established Bollywood diva Mahi Arora. Her love life, rivalries, equation with her parent, her PR, ups and downs in her professional life, even her bipolar disorder, everything is under the microscope of Bhandarkar’slense. For all intents and purposes Mahi is a fictional character but the market for attesting it to Manisha Koirala or some other actress’s life is quite hot. What’s more sensational than Mahi’s game of manipulation with Angad or her obsession with Aryan, is her adventures of low budget but critically acclaimed cinema where she finds Promita with whom she has a lesbian affair with. She’s not a big fan of Promita but she finds herself saying take care as Promita leaves. Although she’s distraught when the film’s shelved. There's a undertone in the film that suggests movie actresses have to keep their male counterparts happy in order to remain relevant in the film and industry. Just as moviegoers blur the lines between what’s real and what’s reel, the lines between professional life and personal life become blurred. Mahi’s downfall and comeback reminds one of Bhandarkar’s Fashion in which the disillusionment of success and failure was more visceral. Helen’s cameo as a veteran actress, Shagufta, centres the film. Kareena Kapoor Khan and the ensemble cast deliver top-notch performances. While the songs are just alright, Khwahishen and Saiyaan have incredibly powerful lyrics. In contrast to his other films, the film lacks the necessary punch and ends abruptly.

Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji

Finally a film by Madhur which you can sit with your friends, relax and enjoy without thinking about serious topics like poverty, keeping your head above water in rivalry or underground mafias trying to kill honest, not so honest people. A proper entertainer rom-com starring Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi and Omi Vaidya. The film got both audience’s attention and critics praise. It had music directed by Pritam and the song ‘abhikuchdino se’ was on everyone’s lips at the time of it’s release. In matters of the heart, there is no universal formula - only the individual journey of each heart, as the saying goes, “There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.” It’s not the masala film that Aditya Chopra or Karan Johar are famous for making, it’s more in the lines of Dil Chahta Hai or Chashme Baddoor. After divorcing Madhavi, Naren moves to his deceased parents’ home and finds roommates. Naren catches the eye of his junior Joe Pinto, who is 15-20 years younger than him, leading him to mistake it for infatuation. Abhay and Milind fit their criteria. Abhay is a gym trainer come boy-toy who’s been just fired from his job and he’s looking for a new woman who’ll pay his bills. He finds Anushka. Milind is a virgin poet who works for a matrimonial company, he won a poetry contest hosted by a radio Jockey who aspires to be an actress Gungun, who Milind develops feelings for. Even in an entertainer Madhur hasn’t lost his edge, he takes a dig on Bollywood films with his jokes and gets real in a scene saying Human child is for 300 bucks while a puppy is 500 bucks or when the foreign returned social worker Nikki asks ‘Is India really rising?’


The film focuses on the corporate world’s Machiavellian nature. Sehgals and Marwahs are competing businesses engaged in a close race, leaving no opportunity unexplored, reflect the competitive corporate world. He gets cameos from Pralhad Kakkar, Javed Akhtar, Kailash Kher and Payal Rohtagi. Pralhad’s cameo in a film that’s about rivals who are making mint based soft drink can be stuff for many conspiracy theories. Payal’s cameo explores another aspect of glam life of actress which he has further explores in films like Page 3 and Heroine. The songs in the film serve both the narrative and are catchy. ‘O sikander’ and ‘zindagi k maze le le loot’ capture the headspace long after movie ends. Nishi, the vice president there, tells the story from her perspective as the movie revolves around the rivals. Sehgal’s have made a tie-up with international giant Friscon. Marwahs aren’t happy about it. Nishi’s being wooed by Marwah group’s CEO Pervez with better opportunities in lieu of some personal favors that Mr Pervez wants from her. She has other plans with Ritesh. Nishi being at top of her game calls his cards and uses Pervez to get a valuable information about the confidential project Marwah is working on. Sehgal’s announce their own mint-based soft drink called Just Chill ahead of Marwahs, but they soon encounter problems when a large amount of pesticides is found in the drink. However, they still proceed with the launch. Their secret’s leaked as Ritesh, Nishi’s lover and about to be Sehgal’s CEO. Sehgal forces Ritesh to convince Nishi to take the blame for it. He does. Bhandarkar is skilled at showcasing the human element in corporate settings, amidst all the competition and complexities, uncovering the driving forces behind their actions, which are not based on love, despite the belief that “everything’s fair in war.” The tangent of Marwah was one interesting one.

Traffic Signal

Multiple storylines converge at the Traffic Signal. A film capturing the socio-economic activities at Traffic Signal is unexpectedly impressive. The film like Chandni Bar deals with the stark subject of prostitution and child labour that goes unnoticed in our everyday life. Small players directly involved in activities, such as beggars, sellers, and thieves, answer to middlemen who ensure relative safety and livability. These middlemen, in turn, answer to politicians and gangsters. This ecosystem has numerous primary players, making it difficult to summarize, but the notable ones will be mentioned. The child actors, along with other actors, have done a commendable job. Sudhir Mishra as Haji Bhaijaan is both effective and believable. He assassinates an honest engineer, Sailesh Jha, who doesn’t want to compromise the positions of flyover in Mumbai. Builders and politicians urge him to settle, but honesty demands his life. Damar, who’s a child who’s avoiding adoption because he believes his mother can come any day, applies fairness cream every day and one day out of frustration realising the creams don’t work, throws dirt at the ads. It rings true to this day. Big names endorse such fairness cream, which never works. Then, there’s Noorie, a sex worker trying to do her business as Dominic, a schemer is trying to woo her. Dominic’s mysterious death relieves many as Mumbai’s population surges. A twist comes when Silsila, one such middleman who unknowingly helped assassinate Jha goes to the court and tells everything truthfully, helped by a social worker, as the Traffic signal is being torn down. Bottom-line is Traffic Signal stays.

India Lockdown

The Corona pandemic was a unique phenomenon that left people unsure of how to respond. Masks were a must, and everyone had to maintain social distance to avoid any physical contact. Vaccines came much later, quarantine and lockdowns were widespread. At some point, they checked everyone. Death tolls were sky rocketing, panic was everywhere, Madhur brings us stories from that time. How it affected different strata of society high society people, young adults, middle-class people, daily wages workers and the people whose daily wages depends on touching Madhur brought the red light area workers on screen. He has already brought multi narrative storylines in Traffic Signal; he does it again in India Lockdown. Many daily wage workers migrated to their village due to mismatched city living costs and job opportunities. Madhav and Phoolmati are one such couple. Madhav has a Pot-pourri stall in Mumbai and his wife Phoolmati works as a maid in various houses, one of them being Rao’s house. Rao’s daughter, who has been married for many years, is expecting a baby. Unfortunately, he cannot be with her in Hyderabad. Corona could’ve been a stop at sex workers’ work but the film shows how they became creative and branched out with other services they could give. At the heart of the film though is a love story between Dev and Palak which is briefly eclipsed by Moon. The film doesn’t go too deep in the dark alleys of Corona and the lives of film protagonists it ends on a hopeful note.

Chandani Bar

Chandani Bar got MadhurBhandarkar, the recognition every other director craves. It won him the National Award for best film on other social issues. Tabu, AtulAgnihotri and AnanyaKhare won the National Awards for their respective performances. The movie follows Mumtaz, who moves to Mumbai with her uncle after losing her parents to communal violence in Sitapur U.P. but, fate takes a different turn as she ends up becoming a beer bar dancer. She works in Chandni Bar, hence the name. Mumtaz’s uncle pushes her into the profession despite her hesitation and later rapes her. Deepa helps her to get better at her job, they become friends. While dancing at the bar she catches PotiyaSawant, a local gangster’s eye who falls for her. The next events I’ll leave for the viewers only to watch. Madhur has made the narrative more intimate with Mumtaz’s voice-over contemplating what’s happening to her. Mumtaz’s transformation from a scared, embarrassed girl who’s unwilling to dance to a woman who sees bar dancing as a kind of relief from the brutal reality of life is a revelation. The subject we discuss here is challenging, with obstacles at every turn, and our protagonist’s plight resembles a rat in a wheel and Bhandarkar does the best job of telling it how it is. The movie has an impressive background score, with the songs they dance to reflecting the passage of time.


An expose on fashion industry that takes a dig on itself with Bhandarkar’s cameo who’s attending a Fashion show as one of the model says, “Now he is going to expose the fashion world.” Fashion has so much to offer, it’s tough to understand where to begin. Should we focus on the protagonists who are different aspects of ramp walk models who themselves have different phases, or the designers who run this model or the entire fashion industry about which these designers revolve? Should we rely on our ears to guide us and listen to songs that complement the narrative? The film by Bhandarkar is so well-crafted and engaging that it holds our attention from start to finish, despite its length. The performances are outstanding Priyanka Chopra and KanganaRanaut won National awards for Best actress and best actress in supporting role for their roles. The film does a good representation of gay men showcasing their various sides which his other films like Page 3, Traffic Signal and Chandni Bar, paint them in darker shades. Fashion carries on his legacy of both critically acclaimed and box office hit. It like his most female centred film begins with a woman with a urge to do something big, certain obstacles comes her way, she either succeeds or she doesn’t. With three protagonists, both events happen. Meghna succeeds, Shonali falls down the downward spiral and Janet finds moderate success in her life. The thing is: Are they able to find themselves after succeeding or failing? Some of Shonali sequences seem to be derived from real life events that just shows the dark side of fashion world. With over 100 costume changes, Meghna portrays the different stages of her journey, starting as a small town girl and transforming into a showstopper. She then becomes a model who supports Shonali while advancing her own modeling career. These changes highlight the dedication of Madhur to perfecting the portrayal. Also kudos to the dress stylists Rita Dhody and Narendra Kumar. Karan Johar does a cameo as well.

Page 3

Page 3 culture is the name given to the tabloids/news/magazines that cover the high society partying, gatherings attended by celebrities and socialites in big cities especially Metros, as they feature it in Page 3 of the newspapers. The film takes a deep dive in that culture. Best film, best screenplay, and best editing were the three National awards won by the film. It makes many pop culture references, as based on celebrity culture. The film’s keenly observant anecdotes on rich people, socialites and partygoers is noteworthy and is one of the reason it won the award for screenplay. It centres around Madhavi Sharma, who’s a journalist assigned on page 3 by the newspaper editor Deepak Suri. She lives in a flat with her flatmate Pearl who’s an air-hostess. During a party, she becomes friends with Gayatri, a struggling actress, and invites her to stay as their flatmate since Gayatri is searching for accommodation. Gayatri falls for an established actor who’s helping her get roles and gets pregnant. Rohit asks her to abort. She tries to kill herself. Following that, she exits the film industry. Madhavi then releases an article presenting her perspective, which ends up having negative consequences. She subsequently apologizes to Rohit, who considers her a friend and forgives her. Meanwhile, Pearl ties the knot with a wealthy entrepreneur and relocates to the United States. Vinayak who works for crime pieces in the same newspaper doesn’t consider page 3 news as a real journalism. She takes it upon herself to do real journalism. Deepak assigns Madhavi with Vinayak, spoiler alert: What she unravels involves heinous crime like pedophilia. Instead of getting promotion or raise she gets fired. She learns an invaluable lesson of journalism: always look out for yourself from Vinayak but she's back to where she started: Page 3. The songs of the film are highly memorable one can find oneself humming 'kitneajeebrishte' ever so often.

About Pallavi Tripathi

Pallavi Tripathi likes to describe herself as poet at heart who loves to see the world through cinematic lense. She loves auteurs from around the world, goes on movie dates with Kurusawa, Ray, Lynch, Bunuel and tries to find meaning of life through those conversation. She is a civil engineer and has done post graduation in English. She is self employed as a Autocad/SketchUp designer. 

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