For many who mindfully watched his first directorial Toilet-Ek Prem Katha, a sense of preaching was repeatedly taking over storytelling. Moving on, Shree Narayan Singh this time concentrates on a small town man’s misery over a fraud electricity bill, in his new offering Batti Gul Meter Chalu. Having been brought up in a small town himself, Singh has gone on record asserting that every film of his will somehow claim a connection with the smaller cities and the daily hassles. The question is whether it presents itself up as effective enough, so as to look relatable to the broader audience.
Sushil Kumar Pant (Shahid Kapoor), Lalita Nautiyal (Shraddha Kapoor) and Sundar Tripathi (Divyendu Sharma). Best friends from childhood to adulthood, through thick and thin. There’s a slight glitch, though. Sushil, a sly lawyer who goes the easy (and not always right) way for money and Sundar, the polite, hardworking guy, both have a soft spot for Lalita. This eventually brings in a taste of bitterness among themselves, with Sushil alienating himself from them. Meanwhile, Sundar has received a bombastic electricity bill for his factory. He seeks rescue in his lawyer friend, only to be turned down. Sushil does come forward for help, but by then, an irreplaceable tragedy has already happened.
Now, through the first half, the film only feels like a love triangle, with an unnecessarily loud and plastic Shraddha Kapoor and a decent Shahid Kapoor who tries too hard. True, the personal conflicts later form a context for the film, but Singh could do better. The second half is what Batti Gul Meter Chalu claimed to be about. The director has walked the familiar path of incorporating mass movements and popular agitation to strengthen his message. And this time, this specific part is done better than Toilet-Ek Prem Katha. But then, in the later part, he allows Shahid’s character to take plenty of cinematic liberty inside the courtroom, making it look unreal. It also looks like he was skeptical of including true grief. Because the twist towards the ending weakens the entire story.
Divyendu Sharma pulls off a nice performance and is in fact far better than his two A-lister co-stars who despite including plenty of local lingo, sound as odd as the glass breaking. Shraddha rather regains grip on her performance in the second half. Yami Gautam, in a brief appearance, is subtle and effective.
Batti Gul Meter Chalu does convey what it wants to, but not sans hiccups. It is not a film that will last in your mind. We are partly touched but never moved. Singh has also gone slightly overboard with the ‘small town’ touch at times.
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