The opening scenes—the origin story, if you will—of Vasan Bala’s The Man Who Feels No Pain (in the original Hindi: Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota) are as ridiculous as they are whimsical. This is fitting, as the entire exploitation-action-movie-Bollywood-redux-comedic-superhero-narrative, is chock full of whimsy and incredible moments.
After a brief narration regarding a Bruce Lee-inspired standoff, Surya (Abhimanyu Dassani), regales the viewer with a meta moment: his family watching a kooky film at the theater. When one of them is harassed by a miscreant two rows behind them, his very pregnant mother front kicks the man into oblivion. Or at least, that’s how Surya wished it had happened. In The Man Who Feels No Pain, Surya is not exactly an unreliable narrator—he’s a beautifully illustrative and hopeful one. When convenient, he shows us retellings of mundane moments so that we may see just how colorful his view of the world is. In a way, it’s as if you’re watching the editor’s commentary in real-time: “no, this didn’t happen. We cut it. But it could’ve happened!”
“…discover that he has congenital insensitivity to pain…“
Yet, I digress. The conceit of this origin story is that what really does happen is classic superhero canon: Surya’s mother is killed by chain-snatchers and a then-baby Surya is violently thrown from a motorcycle cab as a result of said robbery. However, in the process, his surviving family—his father and grandfather (Mahesh Manjrekar)—discover that he has congenital insensitivity to pain. In Surya’s words, don’t worry “you can Google it.”
Whereas his father seeks to shelter him due to this unique disability, his grandfather emboldens him. From watching action movies and Kumite tournament tapes to teaching him how to understand the social implications of and responses to pain, grandpa trains him to be a socially-functional person and rising superhero. One tape, in particular, helps a young Surya understand his disability in relation to another disabled “Karate Man,” engendering a deep sense of self and worth that pushes him ever forward into kickassery.
“…here to entertain you and throw you into Surya’s wacky world of kicks, chicks, and flicks.“
This spark leads to a defining and violent moment in his childhood that accelerates this rise to heroism and sets up his lifelong pursuit of romance with Supri (Radhika Madan). This later triggers a chain of events that—in typical Bollywood fashion—diverge from the central plot with their own narrative pit stops as much as they converge into the final act of the film.
To that end, The Man Who Feels No Pain is a lush, engrossing and patient movie that is interested in telling every story it comes across. Bala has no concern for your schedules or appointments or conventional Western way of watching films. Rather, he is here to entertain you and throw you into Surya’s wacky world of kicks, chicks, and flicks. And he does an amazing job of it: the film is every bit as sappy, hokey, comedic and thrilling as the films it honors. Moreover—losses in translation aside—The Man Who Feels No Pain has enough timely, culturally relevant one-liners to fill an Easter egg basket.
While I didn’t catch TIFF’s initial Midnight Madness screening of the film, I’m happy I jumped into Surya’s world. For all its color, comedy and incredible musical selections, it’s a smorgasbord of genres that are as respectful as it isn’t overly self-serious. In a world where everything is becoming a bit too serious and crisis-driven, it’s nice to escape into Bala’s narrative, where true love wins and you can even fulfill your dreams without letting your parents down.
The Man Who Feels No Pain, directed by Vasan Bala. Starring, Abhimanyu Dassani, Radhika Madan, Gulshan Devaiah, Mahesh Manjrekar and Jimit Trivedi.
9 out of 10 Hydration Breaks