If Murphy’s Law were to be made into a film, it’d look a lot like Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s Long Live Brij Mohan! His production, in more ways than one, is also a metaphor for the city of Delhi. This isn’t the Mumbai of big dons and elaborate mafia rackets, but the Delhi of petty crimes and pettier men who consider themselves quite slick but are never cunning enough to cover their tracks. It’s the Delhi that acts on whims and then regrets it, it’s the Delhi that appreciates a humour that is dark and twisted, a Delhi that swears and abuses out of love.
Brij Mohan, clearly caught in somewhat of a mid-life crisis, sells lingerie for a living and has reached the limits of his patience when it comes to listening to his wife whining about things she wants. Neck-deep in debt, Brij tries a few myopic tricks to earn a few fast bucks but fails miserably. He wastes more time in devising ways out of his misery and unleashes a series of unfortunate incidents that blow out of proportion and become too big for him to handle. Before Brij can even stop to catch a breath, he is involved in legal cases that keep growing more and more complex. Of course, everything that can go wrong does go wrong in this dark comedy of errors; a film that includes an accidental death, a murder, a lost tooth, shoddy cover ups and tedious court trials.
It’s a film of metaphors. Brij sells underwear, and his whole business centers around things that don’t meet the eye. He deals with something that he has absolutely no experience wearing and yet he makes it his business. In that lies the ominous foreboding of everything that happens to him, the idea that he is always caught doing the wrong thing at the wrong place at the wrong time. Long Live Brij Mohan! is a commentary on a lot of things; it’s almost as if Bhat cuts a cross section of our society and looks at it with a magnifying glass and points out every little that is wrong with us. The world is a mess; the middle class is swimming in debt with no solution in sight, it is being eaten up by a materialistic need for things it never needs but constantly wants. It’s a world where people get constantly scammed and, in turn, scam other people. Like a true filmic representation of Delhi, there is a lot of money changing hands — hundreds of thousands of rupees being treated like loose change, packed into duffel bags that are tossed around, hidden, buried and lied about.
At a basic level, the film points towards the materialistic greed that is eating away at every pillar that holds the society together. A police officer eyes the insurance claim, has sex with the convict’s wife and forgets about all due process, while the lawyers are busy fist fighting the police over who they think are more inept, and the presiding judge is too drunk on bribes and fame to even care to sit through a trial. It is this cloying sense of greed that makes a wife decide that she’d rather win a selfie contest than keep her furniture, and it is also the same greed that makes husbands cheat on their wives and then be absolutely incapable of satisfying their lovers. There is a subtle criticism of everything in sight — from the way people dress, to the way people treat older people, from the way marriages function and to the obsession with sex this repressed society constantly tries negotiating.
As a thriller, the storytelling is flawless and tight. Nothing goes right in the film — the murders are not successful, the execution of the crimes is choppy and the dishonesty of people’s intentions are blatant — but the narrative still holds up even though it doesn’t matter who Brij Mohan is pretending to be or who he is trying to fool. Things are so irrevocably screwed that nothing can make it better, and it’s just a matter of how bad things can get. The whole narrative is fitted to be doomed, but there is still that perverse satisfaction at watching things burn. That is the perversity, inherent in all of us, that Bhat’s film both serves and attacks with its taut storytelling.
Functioning within an industry obsessed with stardom, Long Live Brij Mohan! works without any big names gracing the screen. Arjun Mathur as Brij Mohan is brilliant as he bumbles and mumbles his way through crime scenes, screws up and then covers it all up with a facade of self-congratulatory panache. Nidhi Singh, as the cunning and greedy Sweetty, is the archetypal loud mouthed Delhi girl, hated and loved with the same intensity. As the whiny wife obsessed with makeup and weight loss, and the sudden widow grappling with the loss of her social standing as a married woman, Singh strikes the right balance between loud and cunning, as she manipulates men into doing exactly what she wants them to do.
It is really a refreshing time to be making and watching Hindi films, because it seems like the country is finally coming out of the ostentatious, over the top Bollywood cliches and has been somewhat successful in diffusing the lines that divide “commercial” and “intellectual” cinema. It is indeed a celebration to see interesting films emerging out of not-so-big-banners, and with not-so-big names; films that manage to engage audiences and never give them the satisfaction of predicting the plot.
Long Live Brij Mohan! is a film that doesn’t allow the viewer to take sides — it doesn’t have an easy plot that makes it clear who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. It doesn’t have a devoted wife that one can cry with or an evil home breaker to curse. It depicts the all-too-real world of people who just do whatever they can in order to satisfy their greed and one-up their social standing.
When Brij Mohan is convicted of his own murder in a legit court of law, all he wants is to be ba izzat bari — acquitted with all honor (an ironic twist of fate). It is this honor that everyone in the narrative hankers for, and it is in the pursuit of this honor that Murphy’s Law plays out it in all its glory. There is no honor in anything that anyone does in this film, and yet there is a final sense of hope, a faith in some type of justice that is served irrespective of the doings of man. It is the belief that whatever has to go wrong, will go wrong… and yet, there will be some kind of a poetic justice that is not delivered by courts or cops, but by life and the dark and twisted ways in which it plays out.
This article is the first in a series about films being shown at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York City.
Bedatri Datta Choudhury (@Bedatri) grew up in India and has studied Literature and Cinema at the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and New York University. She moonlights as a writer and likes writing on films, gender and culture. She lives in New York City and loves eating cake.