As Mexican-American director, Guillermo del Toro’s latest project, The Shape of Water, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF, among those present at its press and industry showing was Anurag Kashyap, who was at the festival for the world premiere of Mukkabaaz or The Brawler. Kashyap may have been chuffed at a coincidence between the two films: The leading female character in both is mute. But that’s where the resemblance ceased. At just over two hours in length, The Shape of Water, never appeared overly long, as this fantasy gradually built to its coda. The Brawler is half an hour longer, but seems to stretch on and on.
A still from the film, The Brawler, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Vineet Kumar Singh stars as an aspiring boxer while Zoya Hussain plays his love interest.(Credit: Courtesy TIFF)
In effect, it’s a blow-by-blow account of an aspiring boxer from Bareilly, Shravan, sparring with adversaries in the form of caste discrimination, corruption within sports administration in India, and a coach who would rather use him to carry his provisions and for massages than as a ringside attraction. It’s a complex story, and Kashyap weaves in current events like murderous gau rakshaks into the mix of metaphors for our times.
Like all sports dramas, conflict is built into the narrative. The music, though often intrusive and too frequent, is earthy and energetic. And actor Vineet Kumar Singh, playing the protagonist for the first time, is stunning, specially given that he never laid his hands upon gloves before training for this film. He brings believable grit into the myriad struggles he endures. That’s the upside but too much else goes south. If The Shape of Water features a fish monster, The Brawler has its own inhuman character: Jimmy Shergill as coach Bhagwan Das. This is a villain in the mould of Mogambo, sans shades of grey – he’s feudal, chauvinistic, casteist, corrupt, a criminal don and a Sanghi, with all the character development of a cardboard cutout. There’s a surprising number of mediocre performances in this film, often rendering it punchless.
A still from the film, The Brawler, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars Vineet Kumar Singh as an aspiring boxer. (Credit: Courtesy TIFF)
This is a bloated venture and needs to shed some flab. Hopefully, what was screened at TIFF is still due for trimming. It still isn’t quite in the shape to be fighting fit for the final weigh-in.
That’s pity. Kashyap shows some guts in skewering saffron goons, but can’t deliver a knockout, somewhat like the other recent boxing film from India, Mary Kom, which, in pugilistic parlance, was a featherweight. The Brawler is a little heftier, but this isn’t Raging Bull, it’s just rocky.