The Man Who Feels No Pain review: I grew up on Bollywood films and have become somewhat fond of their farcical approach to action and storytelling, so tongue in cheek that it just becomes fun. And it’s exactly what director Vasan Bala brings to the table for his latest outing – premiering as a part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness strand – the martial arts-inspired Bollywood film Mard Ko Dard Nahi Kota (The Man Who Feels No Pain).
The Man Who Feels No Pain review [TIFF]
The film follows our eponymous “man who can’t feel pain” Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani) who is born with a rare condition of incognito sensitivity to pain which means that, well, he can’t feel pain; deciding to make the most of this, he sets out with a fearless warrior (Radhika Madan) who has her own intentions for the men they find themselves after. This is, in essence, what Bala’s newest endeavour offers. It is quite a simple idea and with a runtime clocking in at just shy of 140-minutes, this seemingly minimal nature of the plot is easily the weakest aspect of the film – it wears its story thin by the end and the pacing can feel a little chunky and uneven at times as a result. Tonally, Bollywood films always struggle to find their footing and Bala is sometimes unsure of what kind of film he is making – is it full-on Bollywood? A martial arts homage? Trying to be very Hollywood-ised? – and this can cause the tone and pace to feel uneven and jarring every so often too.
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Aside from these small complaints though, The Man Who Feels No Pain is an absolute blast. It’s tons of fun; when it excels, it does so as a Bollywood film and as an action film and superbly even pays homage to classic martial arts pictures from the past too. The action is terrific; Bala’s direction here is assured and the camera-work is slick and keeps all of the action in-focus and in-camera which adds a whole layer of excitement and tension to what we’re watching. There is a lot of humour within the sequences too given the absurd “no pain” situation Surya finds himself in when taking on foes. I mentioned the farcical element these Bollywood films often have and Bala maneuvers nicely into them through Surya and his abilities – it’s superbly tongue-in-cheek yet never too much. Bala also leans into conventions with a cheesy romantic subplot and magic use of music too – sprinkling just the right amount of the ingredients to keep this a fitting Bollywood endeavour too.
Yet it’s not just a happy-go-lucky Bollywood film; what makes The Man Who Feels No Pain so special is that it is yet it’s also so much more. It’s a smart film and one that is littered with references and good storytelling – the narrative can certainly feel thin after a while but it’s undeniably told well – and the freewheeling fists and slow-mo bone-crunching lend this to be quite the actioner too. There is a pulpy energy and heart to Bala’s craft here that makes Mard Ko Dard Nahi Kota a fresh and deliriously fun slice of B-rate, Bollywood action. It’s tough and fun; the two central performances are wonderful to watch and Bala is clearly relishing in the joy this story is full of. It’s violent and funny and plays too many genre tropes and conventions for that of Bollywood, action and MA alike yet it never feels too tired or repetitive because of just how fresh Bala keeps the direction. It’s a little too long perhaps and the pacing and tonal shifting can certainly take their toll on occasion but, for the most part, The Man Who Feels No Pain is an enjoyable ride that will have you clenching your fists and your tongue in your cheek as you watch all of its colourful chaos unfold before your eyes.
The Man Who Feels No Pain review by Awais Irfan, September 2018.