Mandola, a feudal oppressor of sorts, wants the villagers to give up their land so he can realise his dream of building factories and malls - this dream is shown in a grotesque, dark and unhinged portion where Mandola speaks poetically about the beauty of smog coming out of chimneys, and the roshniyon-mein-nahaye (bathed-in-lights) malls.
He is sharing this dream with a megalomaniac politico Chaudhary Devi (Shabana Azmi), who will approve the papers for this project. They both have a lot to gain from this.
Interestingly, and you suspect this to be a case of schizophrenia at first, Mr Mandola the oppressor turns humane when drunk, even instigating the villagers to 'do something to stop him.' In his drunken state, he leads the villagers on a morcha against himself! Naturally, Matru prefers this gent drunk, rather than sober.
Mandola's daughter Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) is all set to marry the politician's son (Arya Babbar, perfect). She's certain of being in love with this mamma's boy who has the clear, cool cruelty that usually accompanies those raised in privilege.
Things take a turn when the villagers, guided by a mysterious Mao, decide to oppose the plans of Mandola and his politician consort.
The film is indulgent in parts - the equation between Matru and Mandola is often showcased in scenes like the Opening Scene and the one where the two drunk men talk to an echoing well. The film's brilliant absurdity is to be relished - Gulabo, the pink bull, appears several times, often with the toothy grin; there is symbolism in the colour of a red cloth running in the rain-water; the characters are often reading Shakespeare's Macbeth.
The disparity between the poor and the privileged is highlighted in the rain scene, where the villagers mourn the destruction of crops, while the Mandola mansion has the rich kids flapping about in the rains. Simplistic, but effective.
Sadly, the film is not without glitches. The introduction of Bijlee's character has her emerge from a lake wearing a white ganji and shorts as the men clap and cheer. Incongruous to the character, it's interesting that this two-minute scene has been highlighted in the film's print promotions.
Not surprisingly, her character hasn't been given much layering. Dumb enough to marry an idiot and weak enough to consider taking her own life, this is the film's most unconvincing and neglected character.
As a social commentary, the film succeeds only intermittently, and is not as complex and effective as last year's Shanghai. There are other ambiguous points in the film. But here's the thing: you ought to watch the film.
You ought to watch it for Vishal Bhardwaj's storytelling wizardry, for the beauty in absurdity, for the compelling story, for the stellar performances by Shabana Azmi, Anushka Sharma and Imran Khan.
But most crucially, for the brilliance of an actor called Pankaj Kapur. Nuanced, teasing, funny, sad - this is an act that will tempt you to watch the film a second time!
Rating: 3 stars