Nostalgia and a love of movies shine through in every scene of Vasan Bala’s “Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota” (The Man Who Feels No Pain), a wonderfully whimsical, Wes Anderson-style homage to superhero films.
Bala combines a love for campy Bollywood films and the Mumbai of his childhood with a motley cast of characters to create the year’s funniest film - with acerbic dialogue, sharp in-jokes and memorable characters. Especially Surya, the protagonist, whose story we hear in flashback.
Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) is born with a congenital disorder that prevents him from feeling any pain. His grandfather instills in him a love for action films and encourages him to live his life the way he wants to. Surya grows up imagining himself to be a crime-fighting superhero.
To say that Surya grows up would be a misnomer. Even as a hulking 20-something man, he has the mind of an eight-year-old, prompting his childhood sweetheart Supri (Radhika Madan), who meets him after a long gap, to ask why he still talks that way.
But it is the child in every adult that filmmaker Bala is hoping to tap here, and for the most part, he succeeds. Surya’s childhood idol is a karate master named Mani, who can fight 100 men singlehandedly in spite of an amputated leg. As an adult, Surya realises that Mani is in fact a tormented man harassed by his twin brother Jimmy, introduced to us in the film as a ‘crackpot psychotic villain’.
Worried that his childhood hero may not be as invincible as he thought, Surya teams up with Supri to fight Jimmy and his henchmen. But Bala’s film is less about the story and more about the people in it. The plot is thin but the quirky characters and their interactions keep this film going even when the screenplay seems to give way. The dialogue, by Bala himself, is replete with film references, Mumbai slang and in-jokes about Kamal Hassan and the 27 club.
Mahesh Manjrekar owns the film’s first half as the loving yet gruff grandfather who advises Surya, looks out for him and teaches him to say “ouch” when anyone hurts him - since Surya has no idea how to react when he sees blood spurting out of his body.
Dassani is excellent as Surya, infusing in him a vulnerability as well as an impishness that makes it hard not to warm up to him. Radhika Madan is equally efficient as Supri, but the track with her fiancé stretches the film while adding nothing to it. In the twin roles of Jimmy and Mani, Gulshan Devaiah’s appearance in the film’s second half is its surprise package, and he plays both melancholic Mani and manic Jimmy with aplomb.
“Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota”, much like the film it takes its title from (Amitabh Bachchan’s “Mard”), is campy, cheesy and hilarious - a truly funny Hindi film after a long time.
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