Batti Gul Meter Chalu Review: It Delivers Its Message Coated With Thick Layer of Melodrama

Batti Gul Meter Chalu is cut from the same cloth as director Shree Narayan Singh’s last film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. It’s a well-intentioned ‘message movie’ that works despite its simplistic, broad strokes writing becuase it isn’t hard to relate to its David v Goliath premise.

Set in a small town in Uttarakhand that’s routinely plunged into darkness on account of power shortages, the villain here is a private electricity company whose faulty meters and overpriced billing drives Sundar, a young entrepreneur played by Divyendu Sharma, to the brink. His childhood friend, a crooked lawyer, Sushil (Shahid Kapoor), develops a conscience and decides to go after the mighty corporation.

 

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The script spends way too much time on set up before it gets to the meat of the story. Because this is a masala Bollywood film, a love triangle powers much of the drama, but the film hits its stride when the action moves to the courtroom. Sushil plays to the gallery with clever clap-trap lines, and ‘cringey’ sexist jokes aimed at the defense lawyer (Yami Gautam) that got big laughs during the screening I attended. The bit that really its home though is an impassioned plea for delivering on the promise of ‘achche din’, and righteous rage over the fact that so many Indians still don’t have access to basic electricity.

Subtlety is not one of the film’s strengths, so there’s a lot of posturing and grandstanding by Shahid Kapoor, especially in the courtroom scenes. But it’s part of the film’s larger design. He’s playing the ‘hero’, complete with slow motion walking-into-camera scenes – and to be fair, he’s in good form. He makes you ‘feel’ the character’s transformation, and he’s consistent with the dialect, as is Shraddha Kapoor who deserves a word of praise for sportingly and convincingly pulling off the part of a small-town designer with questionable taste but big ambitions. The usually reliable Divyendu Sharma also gets enough screen time and scope to hold his own.

For the most part, Batti Gul Meter Chalu keeps you engaged because the story has enough to chew on. The film is crippled however by excess. Clocking in at nearly three hours, someone clearly left the meter chalu too long.

This is one of those mainstream movies that delivers its message coated with a thick layer of melodrama. And it works.

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