SHAMSHERA (2022)

Ranbir Kapoor as Balli in a still
  • Release Date: 22/07/2022
  • Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Vaani Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Ronit Basu Roy
  • Director: Karan Malhotra

Shamshera tests the limits of your patience with a boring story and unnecesary Hinduphobia

— Ambar Chatterjee

Macaulay once famously said that once the implementation of his revolutionary education system for Indians was complete, the future generations educated through this system would look like Indians but would be Europeans on the inside. This system would fill them up with so much contempt and hatred for their own identity and past that it would become impossible for them to see anything good in their religion, culture, and way of life.

Karan Malhotra’s Shamshera is a product that has its genesis in this very education system. In his film, the British, who tormented and brutalized the Indian masses for centuries are kind-hearted, law-abiding, and open-minded angels who have accepted this country as their own and are at peace with its spirit, sports and people whereas, the Tripund-Tilak sporting Brahmin policeman, Shudh Singh is the abominable monster who doesn’t differentiate between men, women, and children while meting out his brutalities. 

Shamshera and his lower-caste Khameran tribesmen are the heroes while every other “Brahmin” and “Baniya” in sight is either a money-grabbing monster or is in cahoots with the British to rid themselves of the Khamerans once and for all. Their unbridled hatred for the Khamerans is only for the fact that they belong to a different cast. In an important scene in the film, one of the characters played by Saurabh Shukla, takes Ranbir Singh’s character to a temple city that is strangely called Nagina and shows him every possible wrong being committed in the name of religion and God. He tells him that there isn’t a bigger and better mask than religion to hide one’s true nature. The Brahmin phobia here is so on your face that you couldn’t escape it even if you tried to turn a blind eye.  

The more I watched the film, the more I thought of why it was so important for Karan Malhotra and his writers, Khila Bisht and Neelesh Mishra to demean Hinduism (specifically Brahmins) in every scene and dialogue and repeat every possible false stereotype that the 80s and 90s Bollywood had gifted them related to the depiction of Hindu characters? Then I realized, they did it because they knew that sensationalism centered on a community that is guaranteed not to retaliate would be a good veil to hide the gaping holes in the narrative, over-the-top performances, and a hackneyed and insufferably boring story that this film sets out to tell.     

Sanjay Dutt as Shudh Singh in a still

For an agenda like this to work, one needs to make a film that resonates with the audience. It must have inspiring characters, engrossing drama, larger-than-life villains, and an emotionally uplifting and inspiring finale. If the above points are ticked, chances are your agenda will sell and most people will not even notice but absorb the agenda nevertheless. Sadly, Shamshera is a big fat bore from start to finish. 

The story of the film is so done to death and has had so many different permutations and combinations over the years that there is practically nothing left to experiment or incite the audience’s interest with. I could practically tell every twist and turn of the screenplay and this made the proceedings extremely tedious for me to get through. If your story is weak then you need to make up for its weakness with larger-than-life action and inspiring set pieces. This was something that was wonderfully pulled off in RRR by S.S Rajamouli. That film literally moved from one grand set piece to another and the audiences were so enamored by the grandiosity and thrill on display that they forgot to look for the loopholes in the narrative. They even forgot to notice that it was a story that has been related numerous times in different contexts. Unfortunately for Shamshera, a weak and boring narrative is not compensated by a healthy dose of thrill, action, and inspiring performances.  

That brings me to the action of the film. While there isn’t anything particularly wrong with the action and the choreography of it, the action for some strange reason felt pedestrian and didn’t even for a second “wow” me. The grand action sequence involving a train that was highlighted in the trailer comes and goes without making a splash. The hand-to-hand combat sequences are done proficiently but don’t have the necessary gusto and physicality to make any impact whatsoever. The fact that there isn’t a semblance of fear for the safety of the primary characters, I never for a second felt any tension in the action sequences. Malhotra does kill off many of the supporting characters but that too has no impact as the audiences never get a chance to form any bond with these characters. As is always the case, without tension and care for the characters, the action sequences present themselves are only well-orchestrated moves devoid of any life or drama. 

The background score of the film is rousing and ever-present. It tries its best to tell us how to think and feel in a particular sequence. The background score especially urges us to look at Shamshera as a revered figure every time he is shown doing even the slightest of good and that starts getting on your nerves very soon. The antagonist Shudh Singh is given a weird signature tune that resembles some Sanskrit shlokas being read out in honor of the villain by a demoniac voice that reminded me of numerous Hollywood horror films. While this sounds creepy in some places, it gets repetitive after a while.   

Vaani Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor in a still

Coming to the performances, Ranbir Kapoor returns to the big screen after 4 years and he should have definitely chosen a better character to mark his comeback. While he does nothing wrong, he doesn’t do anything great either. He ticks all the boxes of playing a character according to instructions and does nothing special to make it his own. He is a little better as the brooding Shamshera than he is as his son Balli. The atrocious and evidently fake beard that he sports throughout doesn’t help his performance either. Every time the camera closes in on him, I couldn’t help but notice the fake beard and it immediately took me out of the experience. It must be added that he neither has the physicality nor the screen presence to play a character like Shamshera and that really bogs down his essay and the film as a whole.

Sanjay Dutt plays the same antagonist that he played in Agneepath and Panipat. He only adds an ill-placed sense of humor and some maniacal expressions on his face that destroys any seriousness that one could have associated with the character and in the process drains all the drama and any possible fear out of the sequences. He is left to play a caricaturish and one-dimensional bad guy who talks a lot and does most of his evil deeds off-screen. I felt that his rendition of Kancha Cheena and Ahmed Shah Abdali were far better outings than his performance here.       

Vaani Kapoor is in the film to up the glamour and she does so with aplomb until they decide to put her in a place where she is reduced to a “dhukhiyari maa” and left with no window to resonate with her vibrant beauty and indelible charm. The director should have known better to instruct her to carry a fake baby properly. Better still, he should have put a real dummy in her hands instead of putting some pieces of cloth. This one aspect of her performance in the climax was so revealing and funny that it destroyed the seriousness of the climax for me completely. The songs of the film are pedestrian and the choreography involving Vaani is poor and devoid of any sensuality. It is only her charm and beauty that may lead some to remain transfixed on the screen during these sequences. There is nothing more to expect from her essay throughout the film. 

Overall, Shamshera is a massive unmitigated disaster that will make things worse for Ranbir’s forthcoming magnum opus, Brahmāstra: Part One – Shiva. A lot depended on this film for Ranbir to get his foothold back in the industry after a hiatus of 4 years but the film proved to be a bigger disappointment than what the trailers were suggesting. I watched this film in a PVR on a Friday during prime time and there were not even 20 people in the theater. That should tell you all you need to know about this film. I would suggest my readers to stay away from this film if you value your time and money.

Rating: 2 out of 5.
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