From early on in Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota you can spot the nods to films and genres that director Vasan Bala evidently loves. When we’re introduced to our hero Surya, he’s ready to karate chop a bunch of bad guys. “Why do they always run at you yelling?” he wonders aloud in a voiceover. Surya is wearing a maroon tracksuit and blue sneakers, in what is clearly a hat-tip to Uma Thurman’s unforgettable yolk-yellow ensemble as The Bride from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill…itself a tribute to Bruce Lee’s iconic 1972 film The Game of Death.
There are so many references here – and so varied – that it’s hard to keep count. From chopsocky Hong Kong martial arts movies to campy Bollywood of the 70s and 80s, Bala pours his adoration for the cinema he grew up on into this irreverent tribute. In spirit though, Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota most closely borrows the tone of martial arts star and director Stephen Chow’s films, especially Kung-Fu Hustle whose unique cocktail of action, fantasy, and laugh-out loud, silly humour Bala wants to evoke.
Surya (played with winning earnestness by newcomer Abhimanyu Dassani) is an ordinary guy from Matunga, but one who has an extraordinary affliction: a “congenital insensitivity to pain”, which means he doesn’t feel pain. Brought up by his eccentric grandfather (Mahesh Manjrekar), Surya learns martial arts from scratchy VHS tapes, but also how to fake pain to hide his ‘gift’. The only catch is that he must never be dehydrated, so he’s always sipping water to stay in the game.
Surya finds a karate guru in Master Mani, and finds his nemesis in Mani’s evil twin Jimmy. Yes I was thinking Austin Powers, and the superbly funny Gulshan Devaiah plays both characters here with a manic energy and flair reminiscent of Mike Myers.
Surya, meanwhile, has an affable, nerdy personality except when he’s gliding in slow motion and landing kicks. The real firecracker here is his one true love Supri (a spirited Radhika Madan). The screen crackles with energy as she beats baddies to a pulp, her long hair and limbs flying about, as if in dance. Both leads surrender to the unusual material, moulding themselves to their roles and performing with heart.
The film, which some might describe as a revenge saga with kung-fu sequences, while others view as a stylised, adrenaline-filled roller-coaster ride, is really an irreverent comic-book style action-comedy not unlike, say, Deadpool. It’s goofy, camp, stylish and funny; the sort of head-rush that’s caused by taking a giant sip of an iced slushie. The problem, however, is that once the novelty wears off you realise the film doesn’t quite have a robust plot, or anything of much significance to say. It’s also exhaustingly repetitive.
Bala delivers amazingly on the action and the spoofy humour, but the drama is flat. Some sequences pop, but the script doesn’t deliver in an entirely satisfying way. The film is overlong and overwritten, with several backstories and tracks that go nowhere. Surya’s childhood portions are especially indulgent.
What stays with you are some terrific moments and a bunch of inventive set pieces – like a long fight sequence interrupted by a senior citizen enquiring about cancelled cheques. This blend of action and humour yields mostly winning results. What the film needed was more of it, and consistently.
I’m going with three out of five for Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota. Vasan Bala hits the high notes frequently, even if the film doesn’t quite fall into a seamless symphony.
Rating: 3 / 5