Director Sree Narayan Singh’s root canal of a film, Batti Gul Meter Chalu is plagued by three major issues. First, it attempts to be a social commentary when all it truly wants to be is a love story. Then, it tries to give the aforementioned love story the ‘dramatics’ of a triangle, leaving one aching for the return of the banned Disprin. And lastly, (because when are just two issues enough?) the dialogues are laced by the kind of crass humour that belongs to the 90s, making you visibly cringe. It’s 2018, guys. Gleefully saying ‘bust frundz’ while chest-bumping should NOT be a thing.
The film is about three childhood friends — Shahid Kapoor, Shraddha Kapoor and Divyendu Sharma — who live in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. Shahid plays SK, a ‘choona-lagane-wala‘ lawyer who makes money off threatening companies and businessmen fond of false advertising. Divyendu (Sundar Mohan Tripathi), a slow-starter, begins his printing press factory after much ado. Shraddha (Nauti) runs a boutique that makes painfully-weird clothes. Because how else would you tell us she belongs to a small town if not for her less-than-perfect sartorial taste?
Things fall apart when Nauti picks Tripathi over SK. In a film where he’s otherwise louder than the clothes Shraddha has been forced to wear, these are the only scenes where Shahid Kapoor is even remotely realistic. As a rejected passive aggressive lover, he raves and rants and generally spews venom, reminding us that men are taught a lot of things, but taking rejection well is not one of them.
As their personal lives come to a boiling point, so does Tripathi’s professional one. After receiving an obscenely big electricity bill followed by several dead-end conversations later, he seemingly kills himself. Divyendu Sharma, who has had a firm grasp on the nuances of playing struck-by-tragedy-pls-save-me roles since Pyar Ka Punchnama, does a credible job of portraying the vulnerable Tripathi. Shraddha Kapoor plays Nauti with an enthusiasm that’s not matched by her ability to emote.
Yami Gautam makes a guest appearance as a lawyer fighting on behalf of the corrupt electricity company Shahid’s filed a case against. And because this film’s dialogues are stuck in a time machine, everything from Yami’s clothes, to her figure, to pointing out to an entire courtroom that she reads erotic fiction, is treated as fodder for Shahid’s particular brand of misogynistic humour.
On paper, how consumers are cheated systematically by electricity-providing companies, makes for a great script to be honest. But in the hands of the Toilet: Ek Prem Katha director, it quickly leaves the realm of satire and descends head-first into an excruciatingly slow plot that pays more attention to the cast’s diction, than it does to the story.
Batti Gul Meter Chalu does a lot of things, but shedding light on how many still do not have the luxury of electricity in our country, isn’t one of them.