MADHOLAL DUBEY lives with his family in a chawl in Mumbai. His life is one of clockwork routine: morning visits to the toilet, cocky exchanges with neighbours and sweet-mundane conversation with his wife about television serials, picnics and the unfailing regularity of aloo in his tiffin. He takes a local train to town every day, where he works as a security guard in a fancy office. His commute is animated by a motley group of fellow travellers — working-class men who dissect their daily fortunes in sharp-witted banter. Madho frets about how to raise money to get his elder daughter Sudha married on his modest salary. Sudha secretly dotes on Anwar, their trustworthy and altruistic neighbour who quietly reciprocates her affections. One day, a bomb explodes in Madholal’s train compartment. He survives but loses his right arm. The police arrest Anwar on suspicion of his involvement in the blast.
Jai Tank sets his film up as a modern fable with the appellation ‘a song of the common man’ appearing beneath the film title. The problem with Madholal Keep Walking is the earnestness of that ‘song’. The parable rests on the assumption that the life and prospects of the common man may be represented simplistically. The Madholal of the first half is without edges. There is little in his character, or in Subrat Dutta’s performance, to make him memorable. His band of train companions seem to wear more distinction.
The circumstances dictate a pronounced shift in tone post intermission. There is suddenly texture in the chawl. Shadowy, brooding close-ups replace the clichéd ‘Mumbai-thru-montage’ sequences. Even the soundtrack begins to take itself more seriously and you almost feel like you are watching a different film. By this point there is nothing to do but wallow with Madho through his nervous anxiety and crisis of faith. Despite its best intentions the dialogue is suddenly stilted in its meditations, and there is one too many a tear-stained song in the background.
The problem with Madholal keep walking is the earnestness of the ‘song of the common man’
The one compelling thread in the film remains the coming of age (in more ways than one) of Sudha. She is played with grace and candour by Swara Bhaskar, distinguishing the character from her stoic parents and the stammering and pan-chewing stock supporting cast. There is a narrative and emotional graph with her, from her feisty independence to her fragile link with Anwar, a sub-plot that is sadly nipped in the bud.