Batti Gul Meter Chalu Review: Well intentioned but poorly executed
A film that gets its basics spot on. Had it not been for the dreadful execution, it may well have left a lasting impact.
Of late, commercial Hindi cinema has been drawn to the exploration of socially relevant stories. Subjects as wide-ranging as sexual harassment/assault/sexism, open defecation, and menstrual health in villages, have been tackled. And, it goes without saying that these are steps in the right direction. After Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, Shree Narayan Singh (sans poster child, Akshay Kumar) shifts his lens to the problem of electricity in India, and how a seemingly basic need is not as basic as you think it is for millions of our people. Set in the hills of Uttarakhand, the principal narrative revolves around common citizens and their perpetual brush with mandatory load-shedding, power fluctuations, and undue charges, at the hands of apathetic authorities. The central message of the film is quite clear: people matter, and those who are tasked with civic responsibility must be held accountable for their decisions. Batti Gul Meter Chalu gets its basics right. These basics being, if citizens are denied their daily rights (no matter where they come from, small town or otherwise), keeping quiet and taking it on the chin is not the answer; the authorities that exert power over us must be made to answer when they go wrong. But message alone does not make a good film. There’s also the small matter of execution, which Batti gets quite wrong.
The three primary characters in the tale are best friends - SK (Shahid Kapoor), Nauti (Shraddha Kapoor), and Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma). A lawyer by profession, SK is more interested in being the cocky centre of attention wherever he goes. A pahari hipster of sorts, he makes a quick buck by pushing companies to settle cases out of court. Nauti is a self-proclaimed fashionista who runs a small tailoring business. Full of herself and attention-hungry as ever, she matches SK’s rude and brash behaviour frame for frame. Then there’s Tripathi, who is the level-headed person in the trio. As they joke and laugh their way through the days, Tripathi has a brainwave to start a business. After applying for a loan and receiving the required support, his business label becomes a reality. The operations begin, and things go smoothly for a while, but the frequent power cuts and untoward electricity tariffs threaten to put a spoke in the wheel. Tripathi takes up the case with a Govt redressal forum, and they advise him to install a check-meter for better service. The check-meter, notwithstanding, the dues are exorbitant. He raises the matter again, but the authorities advise him to pay the inordinate amount, refusing to take appropriate action. Meanwhile, Nauti decides to date both SK and Tripathi every alternate week so as to see who the better fit is.
The first thing to discuss about the leads is their authenticity. Neither Kapoor, despite each other’s desperate attempts to sound and act pahari, comes off even remotely real/natural. Their terribly annoying attitudes and less-than-stellar humour make you want to press you ears and shut your eyes as tightly as you can. If Shahid and Shraddha have one thing in common here, it is their penchant for overacting. The first forty-five minutes of the film unfold in this manner, and one must fight the urge to give up completely and run. In this trying period, it is perhaps Divyendu Sharma’s slightly more measured tone and demeanour that is the sole saving grace. It is only when the distasteful moments of comedy give way to scenes of the dramatic variety, does the story start picking up a bit. Shahid emotes powerfully in one particular sequence (when he accidentally sees Shraddha and Divyendu share a kiss). The former’s acting ability comes to the fore in not just that one scene, but in the following bouts of jealousy witnessed thereafter. SK’s pain and betrayal are masked in a smattering of brilliantly cutting dialogue. Even the citizen movement with the fused bulbs is ingeniously conceived. The rest of Batti Gul is a disappointment. Shraddha Kapoor’s character is not given the required depth as is required. She decides to put aside her problems with SK to help fight for Tripathi, but when the case is being prepared all we can see her doing is looking wistfully at the mountains. The courtroom sequences are also terribly stylised and over-the-top, not to mention ridiculously sexist. In many such instances between Shahid’s character and Gautam’s, one stands out in memory. In an argument, the former refers to the latter in such base terms: “facts ka toh pata nahi, lekin figure,” gazing at her lasciviously in the bargain. This sends the whole court into raptures of laughter.
All in all, though Batti Gul Meter Chalu has a final message that is well intentioned, it is the poor execution (writing, acting, and directing) that lets it down.