Movie Review: Shakeela

Vidya Balan’s much loved 2011 film THE DIRTY PICTURE told the story of a Southern siren Silk Smitha. Audiences loved the depiction of the Southern industry of the 80s and the hypocrisy of society which was exposed in the Milan Luthria-directorial. 9 years later, now Richa Chadha takes up the part of another popular Southern heroine, Shakeela, in the film, titled SHAKEELA. So does SHAKEELA manage to give an entertaining and thought-provoking time to the audiences? Or does it fail to impress? Let’s analyse.

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SHAKEELA is the biopic of the adult star Shakeela. The year is 1990. Shakeela (Kajol Chugh) is a young school girl living in the small town of Vallamkulam, Kerala with her parents and a couple of siblings. She belongs to a poor family and his mother is constantly upset over their condition. Shakeela is always interested in acting and when she gets a chance to play Draupaudi in the school play, she readily accepts it. She even wins a trophy and a cash prize of Rs. 1000. The same day, however, her father passes away. Her mother takes Shakeela and her siblings to the city of Cochin. Her mother was a junior artist in the film industry at one point and she decided to try her luck in cinema again. Soon, however, her mother has a change of plan. She takes Shakeela to filmmaker Rajan Pillai (Vivek Madan) and asks her to cast Shakeela in one of his adult films. Rajan agrees. Shakeela, however, runs away from the first day of shoot and blasts her mother for making her act in such movies. Her mother, however, tells her to not back out as it would help their family have a decent standard of living. Shakeela has no choice but to go with the flow. Soon, she starts getting a lot of film offers. 9 years later, Shakeela (Richa Chadha) has grown up and has achieved popularity but is not yet a star. She is a huge fan of superstar Salim (Pankaj Tripathi) and one day, she gets a chance to be the junior artist in his film. Salim has a roving eye and he gets attracted to her, despite having a family. He tells Shakeela that she’ll play the lead in his next film and that she should meet him at his farm house at night for a ‘narration’. Shakeela gets the hint and refuses to go. She climbs the ladder of success, without sleeping around with anyone. A day comes when she becomes as popular as Salim. Salim gets insecure. He tells his friends in the media to spread the word that it is Shakeela’s soft porn films which are responsible for the rising sex crimes in Kerala. This ignites a debate and people come out on the streets, demanding a ban on her films. The producers of her upcoming films panic and she has no choice but to return the fees that were given to her for those movies. What happens next forms the rest of the film.

Indrajit Lankesh’s story is alright but could have made for a shocking fare. Sunil Kumar Agarwal’s screenplay (additional screenplay by Janardhan Maharshi, Rohan Bajaj and Naireeta Dasgupta) is the biggest culprit. The writing is weak and moreover, with so many writers scripting, it becomes a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. The film’s tone changes every 15-20 minutes. Only a few scenes here and there are well scripted. Rohit G Banawlikar, Rohan Bajaj and Ashish Waghmare’s dialogues are very poor. There were some crucial scenes where the impact could have been great but the dialogues play spoilsport. A few dialogues were sharp and acidic but the makers compel the characters to repeat them and hence, the effect gets diluted.

Indrajit Lankesh’s direction is lacklustre. To give credit where it’s due, the director ensures that one is not reminded of THE DIRTY PICTURE, despite that both films are on the same lines. And moreover, Silk Smitha, the protagonist of that film, also has a part in SHAKEELA. However, THE DIRTY PICTURE had class even though it was about a sexy siren. SHAKEELA, on the other hand, seems like just another soft porn film which Shakeela did in the prime of her career. Funnily, the film exposes the double standards of the society but the focus on body shots and titillation goes against the very message of the film. Till the first half, the film was still bearable. In the second half, it becomes bizarre. Audiences are suddenly told that all this while Shakeela has a best friend, Suhana (Ester Noronha), who is her body double. However, the makers chose not to show their friendship for one full hour. Shakeela’s bond with her mother was a great track but it’s treated in a superficial manner. Her family, in fact, is forgotten for most part of the film. Shakeela’s epic dialogue in the climax comes too late in the day. The text in the end which informs viewers about Shakeela’s present state is a shocker. Instead of lauding the makers, one feels angry at them as viewers would realize that this was such a great story but has now gone down the drain due to bad handling.

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SHAKEELA’s opening scenes give an indication that it’s going to be a substandard product. The childhood portion of Shakeela seems cute. The scene where school kids are made to enact the scene of Draupadi’s <em>cheer haran</em> in a school play is difficult to digest. The film gets a bit better as Shakeela achieves the pinnacle of success. However, the film never really goes on a high. Post-interval, the film goes downhill as random and bewildering sequences pop up. Shakeela’s struggle to make a ‘clean’ film should have been a gripping plot point but the attention wavers considerably. The ending, though shocking, fails to create an impact.

Richa Chadha is decent but her performance leaves a lot to be desired. She does try her best but the end result is not satisfactory. Kajol Chugh, who plays the young Shakeela, is way better and leaves a mark. Pankaj Tripathi is fine as an egoistic superstar. Some of the best scenes of the film are when a fight master helps him in cheat shots while shooting for action scenes. These scenes had no connection with the main plot but made the film slightly more engaging. Ester Noronha has a fine presence but is letdown by poor dialogues. Rajeev Pillai (Arjun) is alright. Vivek Madan and Sundeep Malani (Director Swamy Sir) are okay. Sheeva Rana (Silk) and the actors playing Shakeela’s mother, actress Bhavana Menon, writer Ahmed Ali, Danny Fight Master and Thomas Financier are nothing great.

Music has no scope, although a film should have had a nice, retro soundtrack. <em>’Tera Ishq Satave'</em>, played in opening credits, is forgettable. The random placing of intimate scenes look forced. Even <em>’Taaza'</em> is not memorable and the same goes for the romantic track. Veer Samarth’s background score is slightly better.

Santosh Rai’s cinematography is passable. The focus on body shots for titillation could have been avoided. Production design gives no reason for complaint. Ballu Saluja’s editing is random in the second half.

On the whole, SHAKEELA rests on a very good and a shocking story but is executed horribly. It has released in cinemas without any buzz and hence, it would sink without a trace.

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