Let me begin with a disclaimer about my personal choices and biases. I am as likely to enjoy an action movie as Gautam Gambhir is likely to pass on commentary moolah for an Indo-Pak match he once called to boycott.
But Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota is not your average action film. It is a love letter to the 90s. There are shout-outs to all parts of a 90s childhood – from Disco Dancer to Shehenshah, from Backstreet Boys to Washing Powder Nirma, from Bruce Lee to Mere Karan Arjun Aayenge, from Baba Sehgal to Ricky Martin, from Star Wars to Mr India, from Bata shoes to Chhota Chetan, and from Pacman to Mowgli – and this was just the rap that plays over the rolling credits.
So yes, Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota is only an action film at the surface. Dig deeper and it has more layers than a Game of Thrones season (before Season 8 came along, which had less depth than Chhota Chetan, of course).
Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota is the story of Surya (played by Abhimanyu Dassani) who suffers from a disorder because of which he cannot feel pain. He loses his mother early in life and is raised by his father and maternal grandfather, who are constantly at loggerheads over the way Surya is raised. He is a high energy child with an affinity for action movies – which makes managing his condition all the more challenging because he keeps breaking bones without realizing it. His father’s reaction is that of an understandably terrified single parent in such a situation, and he errs on the side of over-protectiveness. His grandfather, essayed beautifully by Mahesh Manjrekar, is the wind beneath his pain-proof wings and encourages him to pursue his passion for karate, but sumdi mein kumdi (in secrecy). Surya grows up completely home-schooled and under virtual house arrest thanks to his father’s parenting style, and also grows up with dreams of saving the world as a superhero thanks to his grandfather’s.
Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota is also the story of Supri (played by Radhika Madan), Surya’s childhood friend (and adulthood person of interest). Supri’s defining characteristic is that she is able to fight the whole world to protect someone else, but has no ability to stand up for herself in her private life. Through Supri, the film explores the life of a child growing up around domestic abuse and alcoholism, and we see how this influences affect her personality and relationships as an adult.
Mard ko Dard Nahi Hota is also the story of the twins – Mani and Jimmy (played by Gulshan Devaiah) – who grew up in the same home but had starkly different childhoods. Mani lost his leg in a childhood accident trying to protect his brother. This made him their father’s favourite. The father, a Karate teacher, focused all his love and attention on Mani and the latter grew up to be a champion in the sport. Jimmy, on the other hand, grew up neglected and in the shadows, resenting his brother. The sibling rivalry festers over the years and leads to Mani becoming, in the movie’s own words, a “Clichéd Drunk Karate Master” while Jimmy becomes a “Clichéd Psychotic Villain”.
When Surya’s house arrest is relieved after 12 years of imprisonment, his childlike innocence and lack of exposure to the real world breaks the safe patterns of adult life that the other three characters had settled themselves into. A sequence of events is unleashed among this khichdi of crazy characters which leads to a climax with not only much kicks and boxes, but much biting one liners and general hilarity. Surya’s idealism inspires Supri to break free from an abusive relationship (supported by Supri’s mother who, can I just say, is the most badass and un-clichéd boodhi-bimaar-Maa ever seen in Hindi cinema). Surya’s foolhardy courage also helps Mani stand up to Jimmy’s bullying, which, in turn, gives Jimmy reason to unleash his villainy in all its psychotic wonder.
The moments in the film that make you laugh out loud and literally applaud in your chair are just too many to count. A few of my favourites include the scene where Jimmy’s goons, when ordered to tie up the hands and legs of the heroes, tape Mani’s solo leg to itself. To me, this was too reminiscent of government servants in the completely blind-rule-following-without-application-of-brain-ness of the scene. The expectation vs reality of an action sequence where Surya imagines heroically coming to the rescue of a Supri-in-distress but instead gets bashed by our amazeballs heroine. The very fact that Surya’s mother was watching “Its a Challenge” dance sequence from the 90s legendary film, Aaj ka Gundaraj, when she went into labour, which makes it the single most pop labour scene in cinematic history.
Vasan Bala is my new favourite Writer-Director. Eric Jacobus is literally the only Action Director whose name I know because the brilliantly conceptualized and executed action sequences in the movie actually made me look him up. Radhika Madan is an absolute star and totally believable as both – the goon-bashing Wonder Woman and the abuse-tolerating Lost Girl in the same role – which is saying something. Gulshan Devaiah is a legend, of course, and Abhimanyu Dassani is a talent to watch out for. My favourite thing about Dassani is this YouTube video of Madan cribbing about nepotism in his casting in the film, which is almost as entertaining as any part of the film itself.
Every dialogue in every scene is an homage to a 90s film, and one lifetime may be too short to discover and understand all references. And so, I am sure to go back and watch it a few more times, unearthing a new reference each time re-watch. I suggest all ye Hemas, Rekhas, Jayas and Sushmas go do the same.