Alright, we'll level with you, Vasan Bala; when your movie makes dialogue, visual, music, title, character name and plot references to movies of the yesteryears from Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, English, French, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and other cinema we may not even know about, all we can do is tip our hat to you with awe in our eyes and a smile on our lips. We mean, no other film has dared to amalgamate Gymkata and Shanti Kranti, and for that alone, your movie deserves an extra point.
While we weren't playing spot the reference, this is what we understood about Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota's plot. Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) is a young man with a very specific set of non-superpowers. He has congenital insensitivity to pain which has him feel nothing including dehydration or his eyes drying out due to a lack of blinking. His friendly grandfather (Ajoba played by Mahesh Manjrekar) helps Surya cope with his condition by teaching him the ways of the normie. Ajoba acquaints Surya to every muscle and bone in his body, and also to action movies of the past and present. Surya grows up influenced by these stories and fashions himself to be a crime fighter on the hunt for chain-snatchers everywhere. Why chain-snatchers, you ask? Well, all superheroes need to have dead parents, the film answers.
Aiding Ajoba in plugging the void of missing parental love is Surya's childhood friend Supri (Radhika Madan). A feisty young woman with a mean streak that is on par with Surya's naivete. Both Surya and Supri adore Karate Mani (Gulshan Devaiah), the only one-legged man who wins every ass-kicking contest he is a part of. But after the death of his father and a falling out with his twin brother (Jimmy played again by a near-unrecognisable Gulshan Devaiah), Karate Mani spirals into depression.
When a trinket close to Mani's heart is stolen by Jimmy, Surya is afforded an opportunity to come out of his sheltered existence and interact with this colourful band of characters. Surya vows to recover the McGuffin and restore peace to his mentor. And this extensive plot description is what makes Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota a good movie and not a great one.
Unlike most superhero origin stories that dwell on character backstories and motivations, Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota glides from one character to the next in an effort to engage its audience. The film's energy level spikes when a new character is added to the fold, but once the audience is acquainted with said character, the momentum is brought to a screeching halt. Unlike most movie that ebb and flow, Vasan Bala's latest offering flows, then ebbs and then stagnates for a while.
With every stagnation, the movie understands the limitations of its characters and their journeys, and hence has to keep piling the crazy on until it lands on the clichéd supervillain Jimmy who is a million flavours of fun. Jimmy is seemingly the only character with motivation enough to propel the plot forward without the need for numerous plot conveniences, and hence the other primary characters join him for the ride.
However, in their isolated worlds, Surya, Supri and Karate Mani are all compelling in their own right. Surya's Oldboy-esque upbringing, Supri's Jekyll & Hyde nature and Karate Mani's fall from grace are all engaging micro-narratives. While part of the spike in energy every character brings to the film can be attributed to the writing and directing, most of the credit goes to the actors.
Dassani, Madan and Devaiah are all cast perfectly in their roles. Dassani's child-like innocence, Madan's internal conflict and Devaiah's darker take on Charlie and Guddu from Kaminey
, and the interplay between all these characters are what elevate the movie's patchy script that is stuck between paying homage to Bala's cinematic heroes and telling a cohesive story.
For every beat Bala skips in the writing department, his directing and presentation take over in more ways than one. Uneventful scenes such as carrying a drunk old man back to his home are spruced up with an overlay of clichéd conversations that happen all in the character's minds, and simple touches like that paint this filmmaker as one who doesn't take his audience's time and patience for granted. The smoothly choreographed action sequences that aren't cut to death, a soundtrack that doesn't overstay its welcome, a steady sprinkling of slow-motion shots and background narration to aid the movie's narrative in staying consistent throughout its runtime, and a colour palette that is both as vibrant as the film's tone and as dark the film's characters are all indicators of good craftsmanship.
And that is what makes Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota so hard to dislike. It is the end product of a group of people coming together and making a movie that ensures their audience have a good time at the cinema. There is something in it for the film nerds, there is something in it for the casual audience, there is something in it for the feminists, there is something in it for the uber-masculine action buffs, there is something in it for the kids, there is something in it for the adults, and there is something in it for everyone else in between. Bala and Co want to sit with their audience and enjoy the film they have worked so hard on, and we are quietly confident that they'd point out and discuss the ebbs, flows and stagnations with us because they are students of cinema just like us.