A couple of months before, a cousin of mine had to leave the family WhatsApp group because of his inability to understand the dialect in which the other members of the group spoke. Some typical words from the Hindi heartland flew above his head, and he was often teased for his convent school-upbringing in a posh Delhi colony.
A scene in Anurag Kashyap’s recent outing, Mukkabaaz, took me back. The protagonist Shravan Singh (Vineet Singh), in a moment of frustration, shouts at his friend. Why is his vocabulary liberally sprinkled with words from the English language? Was he convent-educated? Didn't he study in the same elementary school as him? In a country like India, which is highly segmented on the basis of caste, region and religion, even the school you go to or the location you are brought up in becomes a reason for divide. But it is seldom addressed in films. Kashyap is one of the few voices in the industry to buck that trend.
Mukkabaaz is primarily a love story, which brings the existing caste divide to light. The film opens in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, with the spectre of cow vigilantism. It quickly moves to a Brahmin household of Bhagwan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill)—a former boxer turned local don who coaches younger boxers. His disciples are made to do household chores more than boxing. Mishra is the embodiment of a highly orthodox Brahmin. Stuck in the game is Shravan, who belongs to the Bhumihar caste.
The main reasons for Mishra’s ire towards Shravan are his refusal to do household chores, and the latter's feelings of attraction for Mishra's niece Sunaina. He wouldn’t let Shravan participate in a district level match as a boxer, leave aside letting him succeed. Shravan moves to Varanasi. Here, he is introduced to Sanjay Kumar (Ravi Kishan), again a local coach who couldn’t fulfil his dreams of becoming a boxer.
Kishan, in one of the most nuanced performances in the film, plays a character that perfectly portrays the life of bahujan in today’s time. His dreams were killed mostly because the upper-caste wouldn’t let him succeed. There are more such references. Shravan, who has procured a sports quota job in the Railways, is tormented by his boss, a Yadav, who takes pleasure in making a Bhumihar work for him. His father used to work for a Bhumihar once. “How times have changed?” he sarcastically remarks while Shravan cleans his desk.
The film raises many important questions while maintaining a lighter, humourous tone with folksy jokes. It even has a feminist angle—mute Sunaina refuses to succumb to the demands of the male family members and stands her own. But then, it seems a bit stretched and packed too much for a singular focus.
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Starring: Vineet Singh, Jimmy Shergill, Zoya Hussain, Ravi Kishan