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There have been a lot of comparisons online between the Pakistani film Actor in Law and the 2018 Shahid Kapoor film, Batti Gul Meter Chalu. Both highlighted the issue of power outages and skyrocketing electricity bills in their respective countries. But while the Pakistani movie was a socio-comedy that was impeccably crafted, Batti Gul Meter Chalu is a shell of that, with neither the charm nor the luster. That’s not to say that Batti Gul Meter Chalu is a rip-off of the Pakistani film.
While the two films focus on the same issues, they do so with vastly different approaches. It’s just that while Actor in Law handles its themes with the right gravitas, Batti Gul Meter Chalu’s fails spectacularly. Batti Gul Meter Chalu (Lights off, meter on) is centered on three friends S.K (Shahid Kapoor) a corrupt lawyer, Nauti (Shraddha Kapoor), a fashion designer, and Sunder (Divyendu Sharma), a Printing press owner, who have been friends since childhood.
The trio is still close even though Nauti’s decision to marry one of them has put a slight strain in the relationship of S.K and Sunder. Things, however, take a shocking turn when Sunder commits suicide, after being unable to pay his abnormally high electricity bills. S.K thus decides to get his act together and become the kind of lawyer who can fight the corrupt system and bring to justice the company responsible for the inflated bill.
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It’s necessary to mention exactly what the plot is here because so much of why this movie doesn’t work is explained just by looking at the story. While director Shree Narayan Singh’s work on last year’s surprise hit (another social issue film – Toilet: Ek Prem Katha) was pretty hard to fault, his approach in handling Batti Gul Meter Chalu leaves a lot to be desired. For example, a movie that sets up a love triangle with so much work and then does a complete 180 degrees to focus on an important social issue was bound to be a bit convoluted to follow.
To its credit, at least the film is self-aware enough to not package itself as a dark comedy but rather as a gritty drama. That said, had the suicide storyline been removed and instead some humor had been injected into Singh’s film, Batti Gul Meter Chalu could perhaps have been saved from being the banal, lifeless movie it is. Singh’s past work has been much hit and miss but when the director has excelled he has done so with grace. Special 26, Wednesday and Toilet are all examples of just how incredibly Shree Narayan Singh can deliver.
Unfortunately, Batti Gul Meter Chalu doesn’t have a lot going for it. The script needs a lot of work and the jump from a corny love triangle to a suicide driven quest for justice, is pretty clunky. After the intermission, when believe it or not, the story starts; the movie doesn’t become any more engrossing. While the activism portion of the film is a huge improvement over the insipid first half, it’s also not good enough for one to wish that the entire movie had been like the second half.
Filled with monotonous, long courtroom speeches that only underline the obvious; the heavy-handedness of this film is often staggering. What’s worse is that the film often dampens the mood when, in trying to bring levity, it demeans women. The sexist chides at the expense of the female defense lawyer don’t exactly serve to make Shahid Kapoor’s character any more likable. The local accent used by the characters in the film requires subtitles but that’s not only due to the dialect being very different but also because their accent doesn’t sound similar to how Kumaunis actually speak.
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The movie is fine for those looking to watch something that mirrors reality in many parts of the subcontinent. There are some scenes that hit hard and places where you wholeheartedly root for the protagonist. The actors deliver the goods and do their (badly written) parts justice. Shraddha Kapoor gives a spirited performance as an obnoxious, overconfident fashion designer. Divyendu Sharma is the quintessential boy next door.
Yami Gautam also gives a standout performance and manages to stay head to head with Shahid Kapoor. Kapoor, is as expected, the best thing about the movie. His performance has just enough jaded cynicism to him to really make his character seem more than your standard hero. His transformation from careless, corrupt blackguard to a vengeful lawyer of the people isn’t crafted well so it’s his performance alone that makes us care about him despite his toxic masculinity.
There’s a lot to be said about Batti Gul Meter Chalu, not a lot of which is good. The film falls in all the standard pitfalls of socio-problem films in Bollywood but the film is neither shockingly bad nor particularly clever, however certainly among Shree Narayan Singh’s worst films to date.