With Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota (The Man Who Feels No Pain), writer-director Vasan Bala doffs his hat to the worn-out VHS martial movie tapes the 80s teen generation grew up on. Unable to afford a personal video cassette recorder (VCR) for the longest time, most summer holidays involved that very elaborate procedure of booking a VCR and a color TV for a night. Our gang that watched the fare (in a house that was available sans parents, or on the terrace) ranged in age groups from the smoothly confident on the cusp-of-adulthood booming voicers to the gawking on-the-cusp-of-teenage-rebellion introverts. If one from the raucous Lemon Popsicle series was a must, so was a butt-kicking fare from Bruce Lee or one from the innumerable titles list that were named based on a matrix of permutations and combinations of an animal or mammal, a reptile, one of the genus’s level of inebriation, and the lengths of their umbra, penumbra and antumbra cast on the other.
Bala captures the very essence of the madness of the martial arts movies that drove all of us to stick Bruce Lee’s posters on our walls, join the local gym, and then not revisit it ever again after being intimidated by the sweaty hunks whose every grunt was an impossible challenge to our scrawny frames. But he does more than that. In a stroke of genius, he also adds a rare medical condition that the main protagonist, Surya Sampat (the young ‘un played superbly by Sartaaj Kakkar, the present by Abhimanyu Dassani), ails from: Congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP). Simply put, he can’t feel any pain, even if he’s fractured every bone in his body. The movie’s title conveys just that, but it’s also the director’s impish reference to Manmohan Desai’s insufferable Mard (Man), where a father (Dara Singh) carves the movie title on his newborn’s chest, and the baby gurgles and smiles, as if tickled red by papa’s tattooing skills; to which Dara Singh’s character turns to his ever-hapless and suffering wife (Nirupa Roy, who else?) and proudly proclaims, ‘Mard ko dard nahin hota’ (“A true man feels no pain”)—a line that the grown up baby (Amitabh Bachchan) is destined to repeat—and you’re made to suffer—all through his macho performance.
Here, Bala turns the painless line into one that makes you think: what if the man truly feels no pain? Will he be as god-awful as Desai’s? As it turns out, not feeling pain is Surya’s Achille’s Heel, making him the pointed butt of jokes and bullying at school. While you wince as a compass is stuck in the young boy’s knee, he looks down as if it were a visual in a parallel universe. But help for Surya is at close quarters—at home, his fun-loving grandfather (Ajjoba—Marathi for grandfather—played with verve and warm affection by Mahesh Manjrekar) provides him survival techniques to vocalize his unsensoried pain, plus gifts him action movies to defend himself. Father Jatin (Jimit Trivedi, very good) disapproves of this maverick upbringing, and there’s some fun verbal joustings between the two. But Surya’s heart beats for childhood friend—Riva Arora is marvelous as the younger Supri, while Radhika Madan kicks in for the grown-up version—and that’s because she’s the only one who’s there to help him; Supri in turn has her own demons that Surya feels compelled to step in and solve, fueled by the tape he watches of a one-legged expert called Karate Mani (Gulshan Devaiah). Things go horribly awry here, and the two are separated.
Adults now, Surya, because of his cloistered bringing up by a paranoid Jatin, is as quirky and socially inept as they come; even if he’s been secretly training, urged and nudged by Ajjoba. From here on, Surya’s meeting Supri, Karate Mani, and Mani’s evil twin Jimmy is all solid fun, thrumming all the while on Surya’s condition and life-saving hydration technique. Propelled by Karan Kulkarni and Dipanjan Guha‘s swaggering score, the action is bamboozling good, one of the best I’ve ever seen in Indian cinema. The bone-cracking sequences are unforgivingly superb, every move and swish real-life like and knuckle-whiteningly terrific. As all martial art movies worth their salt, the climax is a face-off of fighters and non-stop, breathtaking action. (The actors trained for eight months in grueling sessions, injured themselves during the shoot, and in its own gratifyingly, vicariously snapping madness, it shows.) If the pace slackens, it’s because of Jatin’s romantic angle and his pursuing his beau, even while fidgeting about his son’s reaction. That sub-plot takes away the tensile stress and pace that Bala’s set you up for earlier. As is Supri’s familial drama that, even if it importantly extrapolates her childhood fears and tameness—no matter how strong the girl, her societal obligations are her life’s headwinds— takes up a little more space than it ought to have.
Of the cast, Abhimanyu Dassani is a superb find, beautifully layering his action act with a touching kiss of vulnerability. I’d love to see more of him; less typecast as an action hulk and in more gritty roles—hopefully, his dorky act isn’t something director Bala cleverly chose to mask his effort in emotional scenes. Gulshan Devaiah turns in an unfettered, mad act in both roles. As the karate man, he’s superb, drunk and unsure first, then finding his life’s redemption in….kicking butt, of course. As the evil Jimmy, Devaiah channels all the hee-hawing of villains in a controlled over-the-top paradoxical act. He’s pure fun. And Radhika Madan is a mix of raw oomph, emotions, and slaying action. She’s simply outstanding, her sassy outing a highlight of the movie. Abhimanyu’s man may not feel any pain, but Radhika’s woman experiences it inside her heart. That’s pain that takes even greater strength to bear.Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.
Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota is rated U/A (Parental Guidance for children below the age of 12 years) There’s violence and some mildly intense sequences.
Mard Ko Dard Nahin Hota
Director Vasan Bala Running Time 2h 14 min
Writer Vasan Bala
Stars Abhimanyu Dassani, Radhika Madan, Gulshan Devaiah
Genres Action, Comedy