As part of the Midnight Madness program at TIFF the Indian film directed by Vasan Bala (Peddlers) called The Man Who Feels No Pain delighted attendees with its fun B-movie style. I cannot think of a film that is more suited for that particular programming slot. The great thing about Indian cinema is that it is all genres. It is a hybrid of genres. This one is like a love letter to Bollywood. There is a fun and surprisingly (at times) touching story along with some great music.
Surya is born with a rare condition. He is not able to feel any pain. Sounds cool, but it is, if you think about it, rather dangerous. While his parents try to shelter him as much as possible, he is taken under the wing of his wild and crazy grandfather (Mahesh Manjrekar), who encourages Surya to learn martial arts to find his path in life. Surya’s attraction to martial arts becomes even more inevitable after his mother is killed during a mugging in which her chain is snatched.
What puts him over the top when it comes to martial arts is the watching of a film involving Karate Man (Gulshan Devaiah) and his 100 Man Fight. Surya is inspired and wants to undertake his own 100 Man Fight. His only weakness is dehydration. So he walks around with a backpack filled with water that he can drink from.
As a young boy, Surya’s only friend is Supri. She will fight until her last breath to defend her friend. But she does not fight against her alcoholic father. Even when her father drags her away from Surya by the arm separating the friends.
As an adult, Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani – first film) is still determined to find those responsible for his mother’s death and engage in his own 100 Man Fight. Fate brings him and Supri (Radhika Madan – Pataakha), who is engaged to marry a sexist buffoon and move to Canada, back together. The two friends along with the one legged Karate Man are going to fight together to in a battle against Karate Man’s crazy gangster brother, Jimmy (Gulshan Devaiah).
The three main fighters – Karate Man (who has one leg), Surya and Supri – all use very different styles of fighting. Which is super cool. Loads of variety. For instance, Supri uses a scarf as her signature weapon. Very intricate choreography. Despite the fact that this is quite a time commitment as the film runs a whopping 131 minutes it is worth it especially due to the final wild ride of a fight sequence. The top notch choreography is aided greatly by the fantastic camera work by cinematographer Jay I. Patel (First World Problems, The Brawler). The picture is sharp and all action happens right in front of you making you feel every blow.
A wild ride. With martial arts style fights that Hong Kong legend Stephen Chow himself would be proud of, the fact that the film is warm and emotional sort of snuck up on me. Tough and filled with joy. And funny. It never gets tired feeling.
The fact that you see the hero Surya as a lovable fool rather than an annoyance is due to the smart writing, direction and solid acting by Dassani. Dassani and Madan have great on screen chemistry which helps with the romantic subplot happening. Madan is great every time she is on the screen. She admitted herself that she is more of rom com kind of gal and never really watched action films before taking on the role of Supri, but she is a natural. Realistic in her fight sequences and in her element in the more dramatic moments, she is an actress to watch out for.
North American audiences are definitely sought after as there are plenty of references to films you will be familiar with. Even the original idea from the film came to the director from a 1985 Indian film called Mard, which in a rather sexist way referenced strength as being a “man who feels no pain”. It is a crowd pleaser of a film. Wild action from beginning to end. An uplifting central message about self empowerment. Nothing typical about this film despite the fact that it draws upon many other films that came before it.