Batti Gul Meter Chalu is an extraordinarily muddled story. The director, Shree Narayan Singh made a success of a social cause in his previous film, Toilet-Ek Prem Katha. This time however he misses the mark. It’s almost as if the writers did not bother to research the subject matter at all.
Sushil Kumar aka SK (Shahid Kapoor) is a street smart lawyer who makes quick money by extorting from people who have wronged the law – apparently there are many such people in Tehri in Uttarakhand. He is thick with his two childhood friends Lalita Nautiyal aka Nauti (Shraddha Kapoor), and Sundar Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma). Temperamentally, Nauti is blunt and Sundar is simple to a fault. Sundar starts a factory which is doing well till the corruption in the electricity department kills his dream and finances forcing him to choose suicide as an option to get out of the mess. Shaken by his suicide, SK decides to pick up the fight for justice.
Shree Narayan Singh has got the look and feel of the film spot on, even though the language is hard to catch on initially for people who are unfamiliar with the region. Shot on location, there is an authentic vibe that transports you to the hills immediately. Alas, things stop there. Nothing really happens almost till the interval. Both SK and Sundar are romantically interested in Nauti and yet there is no rivalry or jealousy between the two till Nauti does not explicitly prefer one over the other. It is hard for two men to vie for the affections of the same girl and yet have no rivalry whatsoever. It sure allows the lead pair an item number or two, while the viewer is left wondering if this is all there is to the film.
Thankfully, the real story starts shaping up post interval. There was an excellent opportunity here for the film to go deep into the issue and redeem itself. Multiple threads could have been used – an investigation into the politics of electricity distribution, corruption in the corporate set up that allows it to inflate bills, why administration turns a blind eye, etc. But none of them are looked into with any seriousness. Instead the only solution the film offers is to start a social media campaign and file hundreds of cases. The court scenes, by themselves, are farcical. The court proceedings are bereft of any serious argument; I have yet to see a court where a lawyer uses teasing over sensible arguments.
Shahid Kapoor is good as a street smart lawyer but fails miserably in the court scenes. Shraddha Kapoor is a treat to watch. She is forceful without going over the top. Divyendu Sharma is a performer and we should see more of him in the future. A shout out to the two actors who play Sundar’s dad and SK’s assistant, Atul Srivastava and Mukesh Bhatt respectively. Seasoned performers both of them.
Three people credited with writing the story. Ironically writing is the weakest link in the film. If this is what we get after having three people work on a film, I guess we are better off with one writer, albeit smart one.