O panjo, panjo, first things first. It is such a pleasure to see actors like Pankaj Kapur and Shabana Azmi back in the driver’s seat. With just their bearing, stance and such ease, the pair brings so much maturity and depth to their characters. It is a pity though that they have to be a part of such a half-baked plot.
Matru’s plot is a wisp floating in the breeze over the ripe wheat fields of the Mandola village in Haryana, unable to decide whether to be a mad slapstick, a social satire, a colonial farce or a modern comedy. And so it ends up just drifting - sometimes veering toward a sober Hariya Mandola, greedy industrialist in cahoots with grasping local minister-cum-longstanding ‘girlfriend’ (Shabana Azmi) wanting to sell off the farmers’ lands to transform his village into an industrial hub. And at times toward his drunk-as-a-skunk alter ego who understands the villagers’ plight and wants to give them their due.
At times, the plot drifts to his driver-cum-sobriety guardian Matru (Imran Khan) and his leftist leanings. Or then it moves toward Mandola’s over-smart daughter Bijli (Anushka), whose heart bleeds so much for a Zulu group of musicians her boyfriend has ‘bought’ for her entertainment all the way from South Africa, that she doesn’t mind slave-driving her local servants to get the Zulus settled comfortably. Politician mamma wants baron’s beti as bahu with a hefty land settlement as dowry. Mao-sympathiser driver wants to bust this deal. Baron’s beti doesn’t know what she wants.
Phew! To add to all the chaos is a pink buffalo with a ready grin. The film does have some genuinely funny moments but really, does Bhardwaj expect us to crack up at a chat between a drunk Mandola and a well? Or Mandola pulling the said well out of the way with a rope? Or say, villagers throwing cowdung at miscreants wanting to destroy their wheatfields or launching honeybees at the politician’s son? Those jokes went out of fashion with Johnny Walker.
Casting Anushka and Imran for this rustic political farce has been a daring move. Both of them look totally out of place. Anushka does her usual over-smart alpha-girl routine but falls a bit short in her emotional scenes with Kapur. Imran’s bushy beard manages to mask most of whatever acting he may have tried. As for Arya Babbar, who for once has a meaty fun role, completely botches it up with his enthusiastic hamming.
If only good intentions made a good film, Matru is a masterpiece. The story has warm, real characters, it arms the honest against the dishonest and although simplistic, it has much social relevance, especially in today’s corrupt times. But even though the film has panjo, it seriously lacks punch.