Batti Gul Meter Chalu movie cast: Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor, Yami Gautam, Divyendu Sharma, Sushmita Murkherjee
Batti Gul Meter Chalu movie director: Shree Narayan Singh
Batti Gul Meter Chalu movie rating: Two and a half stars
To make a message go down easy, you have to pad up the movie nice and proper. This is something that Hindi cinema used to understand and implement, as the default mainstream story-telling style. Batti Gul Meter Chalu is a hark-back to a forgotten tradition, which, at its best, gave us story and substance. Batti Gul gives us both, for most part.
In Uttarakhand, ‘batti is gul’, but the meter keeps ticking. The fact of people living with no electricity, or with power that is so scant as to be laughable is let gently into a plot which starts as your familiar triangle: one girl, two boys. Lalita Nautiyal, dubbed Naughty by her childhood buddies Sushil Kumar Pant aka SK (Shahid) and Sundar Mohan Tripathi (Sharma) has to choose between the two: will it be SK the two-bit lawyer who believes in making a fast buck, the client be damned, or Sundar, the ‘susheel’ sweet fellow who does everything by the book, and is on the brink of bankruptcy because of a hugely inflated electricity bill?
The setting is fresh, and Uttarakhand’s hills and valleys are presented without a touristy patina, even if it can’t resist a shiny Hardwar Ganga ‘aarti’. The names come from the area, and the cast is teeming with Negis, Bahugunas and Khanduris. The accents though are another matter, with the two Kapoors especially chewing on their phrases so much that you want to tell them to go easy, because who speaks like that?
To make a private electricity corporation the enemy is easier than to take a stick to a non-functioning government department. But the film makes up by displaying well-judged anger against the systemic apathy and negligence which makes common people victims. It gives Shahid a chance to mouth crowd-pleasing dialogues which he does with elan, especially when he is jousting with rival lawyer (Gautam) in a female judge’s (Mukherjee) court, said judge’s sense of fairness trumping her love for cricket. And it gives us, the viewers, a chance to share in the righteous outrage of those we are watching, and cheer when things start getting better.
Batti Gul Meter Chalu sticks to the old-fashioned route and leaves us on a note of optimism, but it does it with a sting that takes note of today’s India and how promises can be belied: ‘bade badhiya din aaye thehre’, says a character with biting sarcasm, and the reference to ‘achche din’ was not lost on a single soul in the theatre.
Singh, whose previous outing Toilet Ek Prem Katha was with Akshay Kumar, has an easier job this time around. Shahid’s character is more cad than hero, even though Kapoor can’t resist doing some amount of grand-standing and hero-giri. Shraddha bravely dons the most hideous ‘ordinary small-town girl’ outfits to her advantage, and Sharma gets almost as big a role as the other two. We believe that these are people like us, and we want them to win.
Two things mar the movie. Some of the humour made me distinctly uncomfortable: sexist lines inserted for cheap laughs, and a judge made too comic, is not something we expect in a film with good intentions. The other is its inordinate length. It’s run-time is almost three hours: the meter should have stopped at two and a half.
This kind of film can turn too preachy for its own good, but Batti Gul Meter Chalu is careful not to get too much in lecture-mode. The rest of it made me smile, and gave me pause: how do you expect people to live without ‘bijli’ in today’s world? It is, as SK says thunderously, a fundamental right.