Ms Representation: A takedown of toxic masculinity
This weekly column is a rumination on how women are portrayed in cinema and this week the author writes about Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, written and directed by Vasan Bala, is the kind of film I want to see more of. The kind I saw with a wide grin and a heart full of joy. It wears its cinematic sensibilities lightly but packs a heavy punch. It is equal parts charming and nostalgic. It does pastiche right, and evokes memories of a certain childhood – one where karate was cool. It pays homage to a large number of films without becoming over-the-top gimmicky, that’s why it’s so clever. But my most favourite thing about this film is how it shuns toxic masculinity in its entirety (especially with a title like that) and chooses playful equanimity, keeping everything real and light. And this is not a fluke, it has been done mindfully. I know this because the makers released a teaser featuring the female lead Radhika Madan with a self-aware dig at nepotism and an anonymous ‘quote’ that said, “Finally a film where the heroine is not a prop.”
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota is about Surya (tributes to Tamil cinema abound in this film, the hero is named after Rajinikanth’s Surya in Thalapathy), who cannot feel pain because of a medical condition and his desire to find and serve cold justice to a ‘chain thief’. Abhimanyu Dassani is endearing as Surya. His childhood friend Supri (Radhika Madan) rejoins him as he enters adulthood to help him fulfil another dream – to fight in the 100-man karate kumite with his inspiration Karate Mani. Gulshan Devaiah as twins Karate Mani and Jimmy is fabulous, but especially more fabulous as the villain who wears a thali that’s right, he’s wearing a thali around his neck. Mani, Supri and Surya try to wrest it from him for Mani. The cast is small but tight, and everyone has something memorable to offer. They work together so well.
Supri is Mani’s student and is neither a prop nor a damsel in distress. But that doesn’t mean she is just a strong woman who does not get an arc of her own. This is good writing. Supri has a controlling fiancé with whom she’s supposed to go settle in Canada, and then her mother can undergo treatment there. Supri must choose between her life here in India and the way of life she wants--fighting crime mostly (hurrah)--and the life of a desi wife (to a rather surly man) in videsh.
The big deal about the film is that it does not make a big deal of things others would stand on top of rooftops and shout out loud about. Supri and Surya do make out on a rooftop. The next day, she simply, literally waltzes down to the nearest pharmacy, asks for the morning after pill and some water, gulps it down and goes back to kicking *ss. There’s a lot to love and cherish about Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota that goes beyond the nostalgia, the kitsch and the pastiche of 90s and 80s, and that’s what makes it special.