As I exited the theatre after watching Mukkabaaz, I wondered, will any actor this year be able to top what Vineet Kumar Singh has done in this film? There is of course the remarkable physical transformation – his granite body seems built to be punished in ring. But even greater, the internal transformation. There is no hint here of performance or trace of strain, no posturing of look at me, I trained two years to act as a boxer. Vineet has completely transformed into Shravan Singh, UP ka Mike Tyson. When an enraged Shravan tells his uncomprehending father, passion hai hamara, there is not a smidgen of doubt that he would give his life to box.
The complication is that Shravan also has another passion – Sunaina. Or as he says, hum Sunaina se anap shanap pyar karte hain. Sunaina happens to be the niece of the most powerful man in the Bareilly boxing world, Bhagwan Das Mishra. As it turns out, Bhagwan ji has a deep and abiding hatred for both Shravan and his defiant niece. From the minute Shravan and Sunaina set eyes on each other, we know that this love story won’t run smooth.
Director Anurag Kashyap who has also co-written the film, is also a scathing critique of corruption in Indian sport, of the caste system, which keeps worthy men in chains and of extremists who spread mayhem under the cloak of religion. It’s a love story and a sports underdog story, which Mukkabaaz is a greedy artist. He won’t be satisfied with constructing one layer. So in the second half transforms into a suspenseful revenge drama. It’s a lot to weave together and ultimately Mukkabaaz becomes as exhausting as it is energizing. The length, two hours and thirty-five minutes, just wears you down.
But what sparkles are the dialogue and the performances. Jimmy Sheirgill is sufficiently chilling as the malevolent Bhagwan Das, though I couldn’t figure out why his eyes were so red for much of the film. Debutante Zoya Hussain is lovely as the spirited Sunaina and I really enjoyed Ravi Kishan as the coach who tries to help Shravan realize his dream.
In a nicely written sequence, the coach explains to Shravan the difference between a Mukkabaaz – a brawler – and a Mukkebaaz – a boxer. Shravan’s struggle to go from the first to the second stayed with me.