In the end, most stories are love stories. Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz is too. It may seem like a desi-inspired version of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, but this film is so much more than just another boxing and/or sports flick. There is a measured resolve about the story. There’s the inimitable Anurag Kashyap edge to the narrative. There’s a great wealth of insight into North Indian culture and its multitude of social, caste-based layers. Yes, Mukkabaaz is about an underdog hitting as hard as he can to eke out a living. But underneath all the blood and sweat façade is a genuine rhetoric of love and passion. An undying celebration of Indian sportsmen and their ill-fated but passionate dreams. This has all the deftness of an Aanand L Rai production and the spunk of Anurag Kashyap’s storytelling.
It is the story of a boxer named Shravan (Vineet Kumar Singh). He starts off on the wrong foot, when he lays a swift right hook on his mentor and coach Bhagwaan Das Mishra (Jimmy Shergill). The altercation happens because Shravan is tired of being Bhagwaan’s domestic help. He’d rather spar his head off in a ring than be a servant in Bhagwaan’s household. Incidentally, Shravan also falls for Bhagwaan’s niece Sunaina (Zoya Hussain) and that kicks off a rivalry between Shravan and Bhagwaan. Shravan is the typical hero with everything to lose while Bhagwaan is the bahubali and the boxing federation chief in Uttar Pradesh. Shravan doesn’t know when to quit and Bhagwaan spends his entire political power making sure the lad’s career doesn’t take off. There’s the love triangle too. And that’s the major part of this film. Mukkabaaz is written by Anurag Kashyap and Vineet Kumar Singh, along with a whole host of writers like Mukti Singh Srinet, KD Satyam, Ranjan Chandel and Prasoon Mishra. Usually, a barrage of writers makes a script a little too random. While Mukkabaaz does have more than a dozen ideas and tracks all working at once, the film retains a singularity that works out well. And that is the love story. The unlikely romance between a desperate athlete running out of time and a mute girl with academic aspirations. They’re like chalk and cheese and yet, they learn to respect each other and fight the world for their love.
In what can be called Anurag Kashyap’s most mature film to date, Mukkabaaz serves up a lot of familiar ideas. There’s a bit of Rocky in there, a bit of On The Waterfront too and definitely a whole lot of Romeo & Juliet too. But these homages never overshadow the story at hand. Mukkabaaz is essentially a film about a young man on the threshold of 30, desperate to realize his dream of being a boxer. But once he falls in love he has the added distraction of being a family man with a regular 9 to 5 job too. In Mukkabaaz Vineet Singh’s character lives this situation by juggling the best of both, a situation that his coach (played by Ravi Kissen) sums up in a dialogue saying he’s standing in two boats. The narrative of Mukkabaaz has an inherent intelligence. The way Kissen explains to Vineet about boxers gaining strength from their feet and body rather than their hands or even the big political game played by Jimmy Shergill to sabotage Vineet’s career is fantastic. There’s a lot of thought put into the film. All of it seems even more impressive with the Uttar Pradesh caste and social hierarchy system. The whole game of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Harijans plays out in Mukkabaaz with authentic detail. As you’d expect from an Anurag Kashyap film, the editing is absolutely top-notch. While the music by Prashant Pillai, Rachita Arora and Nucelya is pitch perfect too. But the dialogues are a level better. Exchanges between Shravan and his father as well his friends are gold. The dialogue of Mukkabaaz make it all that great.
Mukkabaaz isn’t just a well-executed film. Its major strength comes from its super performances. Jimmy Shergill as the chief antagonist and the very arrogant and corrupt Bhagwaan Das gives one of the best performances of his life. Ravi Kissen in a brief role showcases effortless genius. Newcomer Zoya Hussain plays the role of the mute girl with great spirit. But it all boils down to the performance of the leading man – Vineet Kumar Singh. The guy looks like a boxer (with chiseled body parts et al), moves like an athlete and acts like a pro. His blood and sweat performance is the kind of effort that makes average films feel great. Thankfully, Mukkabaaz is not your average sports film or love story. This one’s a funny, intense, dramatic and thrilling ride. It makes you laugh, cry and nervous in equal measure. It’s a great way to start the year. Employing an boxing jargon, this one has the precision of a TKO – it’s a technical knockout.