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Marudhar Express, Review: Chain reaction

Marudhar Express, Review: Chain reaction

You might need to look-up the meaning of Marudhar, even if you are a native Hindi speaker. It refers to the Marwar area of Rajasthan, and the Express is a train that runs between Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, and Jodhpur (Rajasthan), touching Lucknow and Kanpur, the two biggest cities in UP, with Allahabad (now renamed PrayaagRaaj) being the third. Now, lest you begin to think that this film is a travelogue or that events take place on the said train, let me tell you it is not. What Marudhar Express is remains difficult to define, but I think the train journey would have been more interesting than the film.

Marudhar is the name of the son of a cranky, tyrannical father, Ashok Pandey, a widower who has retired. An only child, Marudhar was so named because he was born on the Marudhar Express, when his pregnant mother was travelling by train, and some idiot pulled the emergency stop chain. Although she was to deliver the baby some time later, the severe jolt with which the train stopped led to premature birth on the train itself.

Pandey Jr. works as a clerk in the electricity department of the government, on a lower middle class salary, and refuses to take bribes to approve tenders, a fact his father is highly upset about. He is also hopelessly boring and trudges along in his life, on his scooter, one uneventful day after the other. Apparently in his late 30s, he is still single. As one who never fell in love and has only two louts as friends, love marriage was hardly likely. And an arranged marriage was hardly probable because of his dull as a dodo personality and low income.

But Ashok, who is in the habit of talking to his dead wife’s picture and even arguing with her, for we hear her replying, now has concrete marriage plans for his son, and he won't take no for an answer. Actually, Ashok is desperate to see a grand-child before he dies. Kanpur-based Ashok manages to fix a liaison with Lucknow-girl Chitra, a beautician. First, the girl’s mother and maternal uncle visit Kanpur and then Marudhar goes to Lucknow, to see her. Amazingly, after a face-to-face meeting and some frank talking, the bubbly Chitra agrees to the proposal, as does Marudhar. The two get married.

Then comes the ultimatum from the father: “You have three months to get your wife pregnant. I must see the face of my child within the next one year. Since she will take nine months and cannot expedite, you will have to guarantee that you will be up to the task in a maximum of three months.” Ignoramus Marudhar, who has never been in female company, is not sexually educated, and his father’s demand gives him the jitters, leading to a high level of what is clinically called ‘performance pressure’ or ‘performance anxiety’. Believing that a herbal concoction, sold by a quack and recommended by his friends duo, to be his panacea, he takes a dose before heading towards the bedroom, but has to head for the toilet instead, for all it gives him are loose motions. Sensing his predicament, Ashok sends the couple on a honeymoon, where the owner of the hotel turns out to be an old friend of Chitra and behaves rather freely with her. This shocks conservative Marudhar, who presumes that the hotelier was Chitra’s boy-friend, and his wife having had a boy-friend would be sacrilege to the Kanpur boy.

It’s a shaky third outing for writer-director Vishal Mishra, who has co-written the film, along with his Coffee with D (2016/17) and Hotel Milan (2018) writing partner, Aabhar Dadhich. Himanshu Katiyar is the associate director, who should share both the accomplishments and the failings. A self-confessed fan of late Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Mishra has failed to imbibe the nuances of the maestro’s métier. A potent premise, like a father’s demand that his son to produce a child within a time limit, would have most likely turned into a memorable, enjoyable farce, under the baton of someone like Mukherjee, which is not the case with Marudhar Express.

Looking a little deeper at the screenplay, one can identify some of the flaws: the half-hearted character sketching of the two friends, the unnecessary and inane comparing and contrasting of Kanpur and Lucknow, the amateurish handling of the track involving the new maid and the father, the office peon, who doubles up as a manservant at the Pandey household, for unexplained reasons, and the man who is perennially standing outside Marudhar’s office, with a packet containing a Rs. 25 lakh (2.5 mn) bribe, to get a contract awarded in his favour. When Chitra arrives at her parental home from the honeymoon, and announces her pregnancy to her family, you can predict where the story will go from there. Dialogue, which needed to be razor sharp in this kind of theme, is choppy and often goes nowhere.

Kunaal Roy Kapur (39; Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Delhi Belly, Hotel Milan) is chosen to play Marudhar possibly due to his starring in Mishra’s last film, Hotel Milan. He is clearly made to play a 2018 version of Amol Palekar, who was Hrishida and Basu Chatterjee’s choice for such roles. Kunaal manages the blank face and the flat dialogue delivery quite well, but physically, he never totally convinces you as Marudhar. One doesn’t mind the extra kilos, but there is no visible make-up, and no get-up is given to him to help get in the character. All through, he remains a big city boy, passing off as a Kanpuria. But obviously, it is not for want of trying. Perhaps some get-up, some gestures, his gait, some local flavour in his dialogue, would have helped shape a more believable Marudhar.

Tara Alisha Berry (31, Love Games, YOU and I; daughter of Nandini Sen and late Gautam Berry, related to Sikander Kher and step-daughter of actor late Mazhar Khan) has a much better time as Chitra. Her face might remind you of Alia Bhatt, only it is a little broader and more chiselled. At 30, though she does not look it, she is a good selection as a better half to Marudhar. The gay abandon with which she performs the wedding song, ‘Balma aesa na nikley’, is infectious. Pity she has had very few assignments till date. Rajesh Sharma is the only other actor listed anywhere, and he plays Ashok Pandey. He adds one more successful foray to his list of competent performances, the occasional hamming for comic effect notwithstanding.

Music, lyrics and singing are the handiwork of:

Manoj Muntashir, Rashmi Virag, Sameer, Vishal Mishra (lyrics)

Bapi-Tutul (Background Score)

Shamir Tandon (Guest Composer)

Aakanksha Sharma, Jeet Gannguli, Asees Kaur, Sonu Nigam and Yasser Desai

Jeet Gannguli (Music Director)

Except for the marriage song, the soundtrack has no fun number or comic song, which might have worked in the context of the subject matter. All the other songs are either about sublime love, romance, separation/pining or based on sufi poetry.

Director of Photography is A.K.N. Sebastian while the film is edited by Ballu Saluja. Saluja needed to snip at least 20 minutes from this 116 minute caper, to prevent it from dragging.

Rating: **

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEXUOwwk15Q

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


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