One of the first few scenes in Shree Narayan Singh’s “Batti Gul Meter Chalu” (Lights off Meter On) shows a town which is pitch dark due to a power outage. For the next 175 minutes, the movie tries very hard but struggles to see the light. A sanctimonious tale about the evils of big power corporations, erratic electricity supplies and corrupt officials, “Batti Gul Meter Chalu” is one of those films that does its cause more harm than good.
Just as he did in his earlier film “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha”, Singh tries to sell his social message through relationships - this time through the friendship between Sushil, Lalita and Sundar, who live in the holy town of Rishikesh.
Shahid Kapoor plays Sushil, an unscrupulous lawyer whose sole ambition is to make a ton of money. His friends, Lalita (Shraddha Kapoor) and Sundar (Divyendu Sharma) have bigger aspirations. Sundar starts a pharmaceutical unit, and Lalita dreams of becoming a top fashion designer. Things are hunky-dory till Lalita decides that she will marry one of her two friends. She declares that she will choose one of them after a week of “dating”. The experiment succeeds, but their friendship crumbles, and leaves a bitter taste.
Meanwhile, Sundar is dealing with another crisis at work – his unit is running astronomical electricity bills, and the power company refuses to fix the faulty billing. Driven to the edge by huge debt and unable to save his business, Sundar disappears. A few days later, his bike is fished out of the river, and Sushil is suddenly overcome by guilt. He discovers his activist side and decides to fight for justice against the big power corporation which drove his friend to suicide.
The story, by writer duo Siddharth-Garima, stretches on forever without saying much. Singh devotes too much time to the friendship between the three characters. By the time the film comes to the final courtroom battle, the audience is likely to be exhausted.
Of the leads, Shahid Kapoor hams it up no end, snarling and then smirking in equal measure. His character Sushil is not the most likeable character even at the beginning of the film, and by the time it ends, you are sure to detest his cat-got-the-cream expression. Both Shraddha Kapoor and Divyendu Sharma seem subdued in comparison, but that is the best you can say about them.
If you really want to watch a film about how an inflated electricity bill can play havoc with the life of a common man, watch Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukthankar’s delightful “Ek Cup Chya” instead. It makes the same point in a much more subtle and effective way.