To emit: Richa Chadha, Pankaj Tripathi
director: Indrajit Lankesh
Classification: 2 stars (out of 5)
The inexplicable decision to send the titular female lead into “a dream state” to open up about her life and work and Richa Chadha’s rather odd choice to play the role of a 1990s Malayali adult actress are just two of them. the many things that Shakeela, written and directed by Indrajit Lankesh, is terribly wrong. But these are bad enough. They hopelessly undermine the movie.
Not that Richa Chadha is ruled out. In the scenes that matter, she is quite strong. She conveys the plight of the eponymous protagonist, a woman caught between an exploitative industry and a manipulative mother, with considerable force.
The writing, however, is so vulgar and predictable that the central character, a sex symbol who becomes the goat of the reigning male superstar by asserting his right to do his thing, as well as provoking a strident, hypocritical, and hindering reaction. the career of a morally ambivalent society that enjoys its exciting films but does not have the courage to admit its obsession with it, does not acquire the layers that could have given the representation genuine weight.
Shakeela, which opened in theaters this Christmas Day, is soulless and deaf, though parts of it touch on the still relevant issue of male dominance over the entertainment industry. Shakeela she is constantly judged and ridiculed because she is not part of movies that families can see together. Worse yet, she earns the ire of an industry A-lister by daring to reject his advances.
The relationship between Shakeela and her body double, Suhana, played by Ester Noronha, constitutes a significant side track that would have been infinitely better served if the writer-director had seen a percentage by diving a little deeper into it. But because it’s still just an incidental plot detail, it doesn’t take on a logic of its own and doesn’t help pull the film out of its quagmire of mediocrity. Shakeela-Suhana subplot loses her way on a trite do-jism-ek-jaan (two bodies, one soul) spiel about the female bond, professional interdependence and betrayal.
the Shakeela The cast also has Pankaj Tripathi. She plays an arrogant but insecure superstar who doesn’t take Shakeela’s meteoric rise as a box office star very seriously after the suicide of the super successful Silk Smitha. Emerge as the villain of his life.
As always, Tripathi does a lot with his face, eyes and body postures, that in itself is a pleasure to watch. In a better movie, it would have worked wonderfully. In Shakeela, there is a total disconnect between what the actor is capable of delivering and what the film is capable of extracting from him.
Shakeela has a scene where the main character, who is still a nobody, gets a role in a Silk Smitha movie. The nervous girl spills fruit juice on the senior actress and is quickly slapped. Shakeela swallows her pride and carries on regardless. You cannot afford to be offended. Ironically, Silk Smitha’s untimely death creates a void in the sexually exploitation film space and she moves in and makes hay over a period of an entire decade.
After a shoddy dance number that accompanies the opening credits, Chadha’s suggestive moves are meant to tell audiences what kind of movies Shakeela made at the height of her acting career, not to indicate what this movie will be like. We jump to 1999 and street protests against his films. “Shakeela hatao, bachao cinema, Kerala bachao“read the posters. Angry slogans are raised and his detractors mobilize to attack.
Cut to Shakeel’s conversation with a condescending writer who’s committed to writing the story of her checkered career. She wants to break out of the B-movie routine and act in a movie that allows her to show that there is more to her than just squalor and skin show. The man talks to Shakeela. She takes it easy. She is a woman who has been successful, but respect has escaped her. When he agrees to share his life story on the writer’s terms, he undergoes a drug test while telling his story and, with the assistance of a doctor, the writer takes notes.
Most of the movie is made up of flashbacks. The character’s voice links one segment of the story to the other, but the tone of the narrative is clouded by inconsistencies. Sometimes Shakeela’s voice sounds like a whisper because she is in a semi-conscious state. In others, it becomes a full-throated comment. The background score is also too intrusive.
Flashbacks reveal Shakeela’s childhood in a green seaside town. She is happy as long as her destitute fisher-father is close to her. The man, afflicted with tuberculosis, has to take care of a large family, which includes his wife, a former junior artist who regrets the opportunities he has lost, and six daughters. Shakeela is the oldest.
His acting talent is revealed early in life. At school, he plays Draupadi in a play and wins a trophy. When he comes home to share his joy, his life has changed and the family is forced to move to Cochin. Once there, her ambitious mother pushes her into the murky world of grade C movies. The girl has to move on because she is the only source of income for the family.
Things come to a head when an outbreak of rape cases in the state is blamed on films that Shakeela make. The moral police sharpen their knives and the media go after their hammer and tongs. Left to fend for herself, she begins to feel the heat.
Instead of being what it promises to be, an exploration of the wages of stardom in an exploitative industry, Shakeela it becomes a ragged melodrama involving a childhood sweetheart (Rajeev Pillai) who encourages the woman to reinvent herself and fight.
Finally, the climactic clash is between a Shakeela biopic and the male superstar’s latest police drama. But even in success, Shakeela, at the peak of her career, generates a genre of her own, repeatedly reminded that there is a price to pay.
Shakeela is a woman in a man’s world – that’s the point the movie wants to make. But it gets tangled in knots trying to get the message across. Neither Richa Chadha nor Pankaj Tripathi can clean up the grim mess. The two stars are for the two actors. There are none for the movie.