It took me a while to figure out what is wrong with Manish Jha’s third feature film, and his first in 9 years.
The Legend Of Michael Mishra is the movie equivalent of Eddie Redmayne’s character in The Danish Girl. This is a case of role assumption, a personality masquerade. While Eddie played a girl trapped in a man’s body, The Legend Of Michael Mishra is an animation film masquerading as a feature.
There is no other explanation for the filmed ferocity of cartoonish excesses that slash across the 2-hour film in flinch-inducing flamboyance. The savagely broad satirical strokes with which the characters are painted make the people who populate Manish’s world like like puppets on a swig. These Bihari characters look so drunk they would find it hard to enter Nitish Kumar’s Bihar during these trying times of Prohibition.
Ironically Bihar is where Michael Mishra is set. Even more ironically, the director who imbues infinite bravado into his boorish clan of caricatural characters is from Bihar.
The Legend Of Michael Mishra – the ‘legend’ of the title has got to be entirely sarcastic – lamely lampoons the legendary ‘Laila-Majnu’ love tales, projecting the passion of timeless love on a small time tailor turned kidnapper. Michael Mishra is played by Arshad Warsi whose ‘Bihari’ accent keeps slipping off like loose-fitting slippers that have seen better days.
Michael’s life changes the day his eyes fall on the beauteous Varsha. This is the kind of everlasting love that poets have sighed and moaned over for an eternity, here reduced to murky mockery. And truly, the incandescent Ms. Aditi Rao is just about the only object of aestheticism in this tackily-done take on people and places so tacky, they make Anurag Kashyap’s world look relatively posh.
A major problem is financial rather than creative. The director uses six junior artistes when he requires 16. A low-income housing colony in Mumbai masquerades (that word again!) as a residential colony in Patna. A hand-driven rickshaw positioned strategically in the frame is supposed to suggest we are in Bihar, when we are not.
But that’s okay. Manish Jha needn’t feel guilty. Prakash Jha shot all his Bihar film in the outskirts of Mumbai and Bhopal.
This is a Bihar that exists only in writer-director Manish Jha’s mind. A rock band in Patna shrieks a number on stage. An aspiring singer, probably taking offence to the ‘guy’ monopoly prevalent in the film, sings a whole song in praise of the holy cow. Arshad’s sidekick, played by Boman Irani’s son Kayoze, is named ‘Half pant’ because he wears one all through.
And that’s the long and ‘shorts’ of it.
Nothing in The Legend Of Michael Mishra will make sense to you if you watch it as a feature film. Just pretend it’s an a animation film, that Warsi is a cartoon character whom narrator Boman Irani has invented at a roadside daaba to entertain an American tourist (chalo, at least someone is entertained) and then, the imbecilic proceedings begin to make sense.Though you may still wonder what made Manish Jha made a movie about Bihari Romeo called Michael Mishra.