After looking at loos in Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, director Shree Narayan Singh turns his attention to power shortages, overpriced electricity bills and the criminal ways of electricity distribution companies. Batti Gul Meter Chalu is based on a story by Vipul K Rawal and has a screenplay by Siddharth-Garima. Shahid Kapoor plays Sushil, a crooked lawyer who makes a living out of blackmailing businessmen into coughing up money when the claims in their advertising do not match a product’s performance. Is a biscuit really going to make children increase their height? Does that aphrodisiac really work? Sushil extracts a price for hyperbolic advertising.

Sushil changes track when debt drives his friend Sundar (Divyendu Sharma) to the brink. Sundar has been unable to pay his astronomical electricity bills, and when his printing factory shuts down, he disappears, apparently having killed himself. Sushil searches his heart – and finds his spine.

The movie’s emotional arc is contained in the trailer itself, which clocks in at three minutes. When a trailer is this long, why should anybody be surprised that the movie lasts 175 minutes?

Batti Gul Meter Chalu (2018).

In court, Sushil faces advocate Gulnar (Yami Gautam). Outside, he must face up to the taunts of Lalita (Shraddha Kapoor), who believes that he ignored Sundar’s problems until it was too late. Sundar and Sushil had once both been in love with Lalita, and Sushil is upset because she chose Sundar over him.

The childishness moves into the courtroom, where, before the indulgent eyes of the judge (Sushmita Mukherjee), Sushil plays to the gallery and makes sexist digs at his opponent. The fairground atmosphere of the courtroom leaves no suspense about the film’s conclusion. And yet, Shree Narayan Singh, in the mistaken belief that he is directing an epic rather than a simple social drama, unforgivably stretches matters.

The light at the end of the power cut takes forever to return. The entire first half is devoted to Sushil’s shenanigans, his friendship with Sundar and Lalita, and numerous devices to prove that the film’s writers have mastered the local Uttarakhand dialect. There are flashbacks to scenes that occurred only moments ago. Shahid Kapoor is allowed to chew away at the scenery (always an unwise decision), as is nearly every other member of the cast. Only Divyendu Sharma survives somewhat.

Buried beneath the melodrama, grandstanding and quick-fix approach is the very real issue faced by millions of Indians. Sushil articulates the problem only at the very end: too many Indians still don’t have access to regular electricity despite the tall claims of governments. But the solution to this problem isn’t to be found in Batti Gul Meter Chalu, which works neither as a social issue film nor a triangular romance.

Divyendu Sharma in Batti Gul Meter Chalu (2018). Courtesy T-Series.