Crime doesn’t pay—unless it’s in a movie‘Machha Machha’ follows the same old ‘money in the bag’ formula, and there’s nothing to salvage it.
Back in 2012, Loot, a film with relatively new faces, and a new director did something no other film had. It made money, lots of it. This made the makers greedy, they wanted to make more money and since then, they’ve been attempting to emulate the success, but have been continuously failing. In their attempt to recreate Loot’s success, they’ve made so many films that are so similar to it that its become a genre in itself.
I had previously categorised these films as ‘money in the bag’ films, where almost all of the characters are running after a bag full of money, but the filmmakers of Machha Machha have their own definition, they call their film a ‘crime-comedy’. The film’s poster boldly claims itself to be ‘the best crime comedy of the year’. Spoiler alert: it’s not!
This film is full of the generic tropes, developed by the Loot wannabes. The story revolves around men in their 30s. They are down on their luck and are played out by Nepali theatre actors. These characters are loud, badmouthing bullies who’re always insulting each other. They have financial problems and live in a poor neighbourhood within Kathmandu. One of them, usually the most popular actor, is assigned a female love interest, who keeps reminding us that she is his reward if everything goes well.
A big opportunity comes knocking, but with a caveat—they’ll have to commit a crime. They tussle around the idea for a while and eventually agree. Somewhere, there is a random song sequence set in a dance bar, or a pub, where a popular female actor is objectified. The scene can be deleted from the final film, and the outcome wouldn’t differ, but the producers like to promote the film with said song. I’m sure they also put forth the argument that it’ll help to titillate the audience. And the makers really think about the audience in this genre. To engage their audience, there’ll be a few sexist remarks, racist jokes, and a dose of homophobic content.
Machha Machha fulfils all of the above preconditions. Like all other Loot wannabes, the lead characters run into trouble with a bigger goon, and a series of unfortunate events later, stumble upon a bag full of money. By the end, the bad guy gets the money. The characters learn that crime actually pays. The film is over, with a hint of a sequel.
In 2019 alone, films like Jai Shree Daam and Changa Chet followed the same exact formula. Financially, the latter hardly managed to recover its costs, but the former was a huge flop. These should have warned the makers that the audience is losing interest in the film’s redundancy, but it’s a farfetched cry to expect them to learn from others’ mistakes.
Machha Machha doesn’t just follow the aforementioned trope beat-by-beat, it also follows everything wrong with the Nepali crime comedy genre. Pradip (Saugat Malla), Baburam (Bijay Baral), and Kishor (Anoj Pandey) are economically challenged men who live in the same room in a poor neighbourhood in Kathmandu. Mama (Praveen Khatiwada) eventually gives them an opportunity to become rich, but they will have to do something criminal. They agree, and receive some advance payment, and celebrate in a nightclub—cue for the mandatory item song. In the song “Madam Madam”, the men ogle at the behind of the item girl, played by a woman who once proudly represented Nepal at a global event. But she is not a primary character in the film.
The film features two prominent female characters. And the misogyny is inherent here as both the characters are not just bad, but selfish. Rashmi (Namrata Shrestha) is introduced as Pradip’s girlfriend. Pradip keeps asking her to tell her parents (who is also Pradip’s landlord) about their affair, but she keeps pestering him to get a job first. Later, she is betrothed to a new character Gaurav (Gaurav Pahari). And, in the third act, without any motivation or buildup, she’s seen falling in love with Gaurav, leaving Pradip heartbroken.
Another woman, played by Sarita Giri (character unnamed) is bizarrely promiscuous. First, she is introduced as having an affair with Ghanashyam (Bhola Sapkota). Then, she’s introduced as the Baula’s (Kamal Mani Nepal) girlfriend. But she is with him only for his money and she’s actually Mama’s partner.
This film isn’t just misogynist, it’s also racist. A character, a local goon played by Maotse Gurung, is shown to be from the northern part of the country, who stereotypically cannot speak in clear Nepali. He talks with a heavy accent. But this instance is made worse when Baburam, a Pahadi character, mimics his accent and makes fun of him.
The film comes with its dose of homophobia too. When Gaurav comes to see Rashmi for the first time, Pradip barges into the room and begins cleaning the carpet. Then, from Gaurav’s point of view, we see Pradip’s bare chest from under his shirt and Pradip attempts to hide his chest from Gaurav’s view. All of this again is played out as a joke.
The film is written by Sijan Dahal and Suraj Gurung, who is also the director. The writing is inconsistent—we are introduced to too many characters, given detailed background, but their existence is never justified. We never know what happens to them, or if they even exist in the hemisphere of the story. Dayahang Rai (also a producer) and Basanta Thapa appear in one scene each as law enforcement officers. Thapa even asks the three main characters for bribes and that’s about it for them. This never gets mentioned again.
We’ve already seen Malla, Baral, Khatiwada, Pahari, and Sapkota give similar performances in most of their films in the last decade. It’s always the same acting style, same dialogue delivery, even the same facial expressions. And in this film, when they’re placed in similar situations and locations, you’re confused about the film you’re watching. It’s amazing how these actors are able to do the same thing over and over again—scream out dialogues and overreact to literally everything. Anoj Pandey, a beginner, stands out from the veterans but that’s only because his character is quiet and demure.
Visually, the film stands apart. Cinematographer Shivaram Shrestha’s lighting team should be commended for maintaining a low key lighting, and consistently working with shadows throughout the sequences. Also, Rajan Shrestha’s background score deserves a special mention. He uses a plethora of musical instruments to provide creative twists into classic Nepali songs. In one scene, a character gets hit with an iron, at that moment, an intense background score shifts its form to sound like a tape stuck inside a cassette player. Shrestha seems to be the only one having some fun in this awful film.
And the film is especially awful because of its intended purpose. This film was made for one reason and one reason only, and that is to make money. The producers, Dayahang Rai, and Rambabu Gurung didn’t want to make anything else of the film. They’re claiming the film to be the ‘best crime comedy of the year’, but what they’ve ended up doing is recycling the same story, reusing the same actors, and even using locations from other films. The alleyways and houses are identical to another film of this genre, Changa Chet. And while recycling ideas from the Loot genre, they ended up reusing all of the regressive attitudes too.
In one of the scenes, a character says, ‘Film bhaneko samaj ko aina ho…’ (Cinema is a mirror of society), but sadly even with this understanding they don’t think twice before writing and producing films like these. I’d like to claim back my society because these men, or this film, is no mirror of our people. Women here are not just objects of sexual desire, or property of men, neither the greedy, evil seductress, they are actual people and stand as equals to men. Men aren’t just lusty, loud bullies; they’re complex human beings with real emotions.
If only the filmmakers took their own craft a little more seriously, and worked with a little more honesty—we have hundreds of potential stories hiding in the same alleyways these money chasers use as sets.
1.5 out of 5
Starring: Saugat Malla, Bijay Baral, Namrata Shrestha, Sarita Giri
Producers: Dayahang Rai, Rambabu Gurung
Director: Suraj Gurung