Friday Classics: Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, a Story of Characters Forcing Their Lives to Fit a Filmi Fantasy

No one noticed this is a week late, right? Nah, you are forgiving people who don’t obsess over whether Margaret is keeping her schedule.

This isn’t an Indian film, in that it doesn’t follow the standard technical aspects of Indian film. But it is an Indian film in that it is telling a story that is set in India, for the appreciation of people who live in India. That’s a funny little niche, but this film isn’t all alone in there. There’s also Delhi Belly, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, The Householder, all kinds of films that are Indian in content and audience but not structure. What I love about these moves is that it is Indian talent throwing themselves fully into telling a new kind of story, and then happily going back to the usual way they tell a story. It’s just so open to new experiences in the nicest way. Good for you, Bhagyashree’s son! And good for you, rising talent in the mainstream industry Radhika Madan! And good for the Indian audience and critics which gave it a decent shot at success.

Image result for mard ko dard nahi hota poster"

I get angry when a director tries to be fancy and does stuff Hollywood style that could just as well be done Indian style, especially when they go on to get accolades for it. But this film is telling a story that demands the style in which it is told. The key to the film is in the central character trait, our hero who feels no pain. And yet, that pain still exists. We need to tell this story in a way that allows for both the magic of a world without pain, and the reality of a world with it. And this is something that traditional Hindi film styles simply cannot do.

In my review of Zero, Reflects on Life pointed out something brilliant. Zero was made using magical realism, the story works if the audience is in that place of magic-that-is-real-but-magical. That’s not how Hindi film works. Magic isn’t magic because it is every day. Hindi film narrative is in a world that accepts what in other industries might be considered “magical” as average, and that effects how the stories are told. So, for instance, if a couple who separated years earlier randomly end up on the same train car in a Hindi film, that isn’t magical fate which means they will be together. That’s just another moment of the plot, it always happens. In Hindi film, a hero who is not bothered by pain is just “a hero”, there is no plot with that at the center. So this film has to take a different film language to tell a story where that DOES matter. Along with all the other things that are supposed to be real, but unusual, that happen in this narrative.

Image result for bhagyashree"
Bhagyashree, heroine of Maine Pyar Kiya, so immediately memorable as an actress/character that, despite never having another famous role, she is still a familiar name and face.

Vasan Bala, the director/writer, took his time to decide the perfect way to tell his story. He’s been working with Anurag Kashyap for a decade, and wrote two movies before this one. Along with Anurag, he also helped write dialogue for The Lunchbox, and Trishna (Michael Winterbottom directed, one of those movies set in India but not made by or for Indians). And then, finally, he made this movie when it was all perfectly planned in his head.

It’s really the director’s movie. The fact that I didn’t bother to learn the name of Bhagyashree’s son, beyond calling him “Bhagyashree’s son”, is a good indication of the impact his performance made on me. And that’s fine, this movie is carefully crafted around the visuals so that it only need a decent performance at the center. Radhika Mohan put in a more than decent performance, but then her character required a more than decent performance which is why Vasan Bala cast an actress he knew could do it, an actress Anurag had just picked as his lead for Pataakha with two more films lined up after that.

The most important character is the one played by the most important actor. Mahesh Manjrekar is not only a character actor with decades of experience, he is also an award winning director in his own right. And so he plays the grandfather of our hero, and the one character who is both completely average and normal, and yet who still believes in magic. The character who is the key to the whole film, the one who takes a realistic tragedy and chooses to see it as a magical opportunity, and somehow makes the whole world just a little bit magical, and still real.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

A friend said to me once about Indian films “they like a lot of story in their stories”. A big way this film is NOT Indian, is that there is so little story in the story. Our hero is born with a medical condition that does not allow him to feel pain. His mother dies when she is attacked by chain snatchers on the way home from the hospital. His maternal grandfather raises him by showing him action movies so he will understand pain. He is separated from his female best friend as a child and grows up, only to find her again when he tries to track down the hero of his favorite karate video and learns she has been trained by him. They join together to take on the evil twin brother of the karate master and defeat him.

Image result for the one armed swordsman"
The evil twin brother and vengeance for your master kind of plot are very much from the old Kung Fu movies like this one. Which the film acknowledges, and adds another layer, this is a realistic film telling the story of characters raised on a combination of Indian and Hong Kong fantasy

The story isn’t really a “plot” because this film doesn’t believe in plot, but the characters do. Life just moves forward, day by day, it doesn’t have a beginning or end. But sometimes you need to believe in a beginning and end in order to see your way forward. That’s what his grandfather was trying to teach the hero. Most people don’t survive with his condition, because they see it as a “condition”. His grandfather spun him a fantasy, to see it as a special power and not give up on life. And then our hero grows up and gives that same gift to Radhika Mohan, his childhood friend grown up. She never believed in fantasy, she was just trying to survive. Her father was an abusive drunk, she survived that and then fell into a marriage with a guy who would keep her sheltered and fed and buy her parents medicine, but she never really lived. If she looks at her life as a never-ending future, and a never starting past, then this is the only choice. Small logical safe steps. But if she looks at the world as a story, then she is escaping her life, starting fresh, defeating the villain, finding love, and then getting a happy ending. Our hero FORCES the world to have a plot. He tracks down the Karate hero and learns he has a lifelong feud with his twin brother, and that Radhika is his student. There is no reason to confront the twin brother just now, no reason Radhika couldn’t have walked away from her husband at any point earlier, not even a reason the hero and Radhika couldn’t have been reunited sooner (he knew her name, she still lived with her parents). But he declares now is the time to confront the brother, which means now is the time Radhika has to leave her husband, and finally all of this means that now is the time for Radhika to finally make her move on the hero.

This movie has a sex scene which is the opposite of the usual Indian sex scene. Usually we see the way it feels for the couple having sex, mountain tops and beautiful music and perfect beautiful bodies. But this time we see the way it is in reality while understanding that for them it feels different, that they are seeking the fantasy. Radhika takes him up to the roof, puts down a blanket, talks to him about the joys of the body, and then kisses him. The next morning in the cold light of dawn, he talks about feeling an orgasm while he cannot feel pain (this is the one line that I wish a better actor had said, I’m not quite sure what he is supposed to be feeling here). And she smiles and goes off to buy a morning after pill. They didn’t have sex because they are overwhelmed by magical attraction, or because music started playing and stuff. They had sex because Radhika decided she wanted to have sex and made preparations for it, and he wanted it too. And then they had messy awkward conversation in the morning. But the characters will rewrite it into the magical version they want, we even see the start of that with Radhika smiling as she takes her morning after pill and then starting to smile and dance a little on the way back home.

This is the fantasy version of the song, with our hero’s mother in her “she will be forever famous just for this” role

Over and over again we see the reality, and then the fantasy that characters choose to live with in. Mahesh Manjrekar starts it, but then (shockingly) Radhika’s mother bursts out at the last minute with a crazy plan to distract the family while Radhika “escapes”. But, she isn’t escaping! Like, she doesn’t need a distraction or to hide from the guards or anything. She is a grown woman, she could just walk out of the building because she hates her husband. That is the reality, but the reality wouldn’t get her to walk away. So her mother creates this bit of crazy fantasy and adventure to drive her away.

That’s what this movie is about. Taking messy unpleasant reality and turning it into a fantasy in order to survive it all. That’s the title, “Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota” (Man to whom pain never comes). It doesn’t refer to our heroes medical condition, it refers to a choice to reject the pain of the world, to live in the fantasy instead.

10 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, a Story of Characters Forcing Their Lives to Fit a Filmi Fantasy

  1. Surprisingly I enjoyed Mahesh Manjrekar’s performance in the movie a lot, specially.. having only seen him in Dabang franchise earlier.. I’ve heard that he has directed some wonderful marathi movies though..

    Btw, literal translation of Mard ko dard nahi hota would be Real Men (or Macho men) don’t feel any pain..

    Like

  2. The movie a lot of references to movies of past, which is interesting. Like Karate Mani was an actual stunt master in the Tamil film industry and name of the twins’ father I think is Michael Kamaraj a throwback to Kamal Hassan’s Michael Madana Kamaraj. What did you think of Gulshan Devaiah? I thought he was brilliant as the evil twin.

    Like

  3. This was one of my favorite films of 2019. It’s so very odd and yet it’s poignant at the same time. Re: the orgasm, I think the point is something I think applies to the whole film which is that pain is something you need to experience in order to fully engage in the rest of your life. The hero’s behavior is childlike throughout the film and it’s because his lack of pain doesn’t allow him to experience and engage with life in such a way that forces him to mature emotionally. The orgasm is part of that. What is it like to experience that peak of pleasure when you don’t have the concurrent experience of pain?

    It’s also interesting that he’s drawn to people in a lot of pain, people having the experience he can’t have. And they are drawn to him partly because he is giving them a hero arc that gives their lives meaning but also because he can handle their pain. He doesn’t flinch from it, even involuntarily, because he’s not capable of feeling it so he isn’t scared or repulsed by it.

    I thought Gulshan Deviah and Radhika Madan were terrific in this and I want to see a lot more from both of them. Bhagyashree’s son was fine and I give him a lot of credit for making this his star kid debut.

    Like

    • Oh what an interesting thought about being drawn to people in pain and vice versa! The other part of that is people who are constantly in pain are ones who might be extra empathetic. Thus the Karate Man picking up and training Radhika when she was a little girl, because he is used to enduring abuse from his brother just as she endures abuse from her father. And Radhika being drawn to our hero because she has spent her life being defined by pain and it is meaningless to him.

      On Fri, Jan 31, 2020 at 10:43 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  4. My favorite film of 2019 (though not the best film of 2019). I got so excited when I saw it on your review list, and yes I noticed that you skipped over it :P, but I figured you’d circle back around. 😀

    Your review reminds me of the Italian film Life is Beautiful, in which the father creates stories and a fantasy world to help his son cope with the war torn situation they are both in.

    The fusion of genres here is a delight. This was clearly a passion project for the director. And yes to Indian people wanting to see Indian actors and Indian stories sometimes told in formats they have seen from international industries. It’s also a film that an international audience can enjoy and relate to.

    Your comparison/contrast with Zero is apt. Thank you for recalling my point re Zero btw :D. Mkdnh by contrast is tonally consistent, and one is never confused about the director’s POV or mission behind the movie.

    Some other random thoughts –

    The child actors are wonderful in this. Emotive, expressive, whimsical yet relatable, you can’t take your eyes off of them.

    My favorite line of 2019, said by the hero about radhika: I never feel pain, but I always say Ouch; she always feels pain, but she never says Ouch.
    Profound! Commentary about abuse victims, and maybe also a coded feminist statement from the director, about how men move through life vs how women do.

    Radhika has a star making turn in this. I’m so glad that she got so much camera time in the fight scenes, as well as solo fighting scenes that were quite physical and technical. It’s highly unusual to see this much emphasis on the female without the female being the lead. Another feminist stance by the director.

    I remember you had a post about white women characters in Indian film. The white woman here is interesting. At first she’s presented as the more-Indian-than-Indians hippie-boho type with handicrafts and elephant paintings on every wall. So you think she’ll be the spacey free spirit stereotype that we often see in western film. But then, no. Turns out she lives a regular life in India, has her own apartment, self supporting with a successful online store (that sells such handicrafts and elephant paintings), looking for love online just like everyone else and not worried about herself being white nor about the pool of prospects being primarily Indian. She doesn’t get a ton of lines, but the lines she does have, along with her demeanor when saying the lines, is so calm, rational, understated, kind and warm. She actually turns out to be the most “normal” or “regular” or sane character in the entire cast.

    I always tell people to watch this film. Thanks for spreading the love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yaaaaay, someone was waiting for it!

      Yes, this movie worked for me where Zero failed because I felt like the director had a clear vision of what was supposed to be “magic” and what was supposed to be “real” in his film. He didn’t have song sequences, he didn’t have big speeches about love, none of that “normal” magic stuff from Hind cinema, just his version of real versus magical for this one unique film.

      Yes with the white woman! And it was another interesting version of a male-female relationship. We start by seeing that our hero’s father was always the coward while his mother was the fearless aggressive one, and her father encouraged it and her husband liked it. Then we see little girl Radhika save our hero. And then we see this white woman unexpectedly as the new partner of the father. She wasn’t an exotic fantasy, she was loving and accepting and the perfect match for their whole little family. None of the men went after the “traditional” type of woman, or wanted the “traditional” type of woman. In fact, from Radhika’s conversations with her mother, that whole idea of the perfect adoring wife was rejected as false and unhealthy. Good men want real women with their own personalities.

      On Sat, Feb 1, 2020 at 1:24 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

  5. I finally watched this movie and I am glad I did. My thoughts are a bit of an amalgamation of Alisa’s and Reflects on Life. Pain and pleasure are yin and yang. Yes, Abhimanyu gravitates toward people with pain because he doesn’t feel any. But to me what was more interesting is that people in pain gravitate toward him because he isn’t going to absorb their pain and therefore is not paralyzed by their pain. He can give them the magical fantasy that his grandfather gave him.

    Also, I love that the movie shows why everyone needs that little bit of magic and escapism in their lives. Abhimanyu needs to accept the magical fantasy as truth to survive. A fact he acknowledges when he tells his grandfather that he knows the grandfather never met Nehru or traveled the worked at the age of 4 but the story is still real to him. Radhika and Gulshan are so paralyzed by their trauma (their own condition) that they need the fantasy to see beyond it. They see right through Abhimanyu’s fantasy and even call him out on it, but it also helps them see through their trauma and take action.

    Also, I kept wondering why Radhika looked familiar and when I read your review, I realized it is because I saw her in Pataakha. However, I thought Pataakha was written, directed, and coproduced by Vishal Bhardwaj. Did Anurag recommend Radhika for it? Or did Vishal consult with Anurag for the film? I wouldn’t be surprised if they collaborated, but I just hadn’t heard anything about it.

    Finally, on a separate note, is it just me or does Gulshan Devaiah look like a poor man’s version of Sid?
    https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3761132/
    I kept looking at Karate Mani and thinking of Sid from Marjaavan.

    Like

    • First, you are totally right about Vishal versus Anurag for Pataakha, I just got confused. Anyway, I think my main point stands, the director of this has worked with both of them in the past, he would be aware this was an up and coming actress. Also, I am touched that you cared about Bhagyashree’s son enough to learn his name. Unless that is his character’s name which I have completely forgotten, which is also a bad sign for his career.

      the hero’s father Jitin also works for the “fantasy” idea, right? We just don’t see his journey. He refused to accept fantasy and ended up paralyzed with fear for himself and his son. Once he fell in love again and opened up his life to that dream, suddenly he became less fearful everywhere in his life, including his relationship with his son. Just like Radhike, refusing to consider “fantasy” and being trapped in a terrible marriage and so on and so forth.

      And yes he totally looks like a less handsome Sid! Oh man, they should have gotten Sid to play the evil brother. Alternatively, is casting him and making them twins a subtle homage to A Gentleman because this director, like all thinking people, realizes it is the Greatest Action Comedy in Indian History?

      On Mon, Feb 3, 2020 at 2:43 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.