Bullet-point Report: Shor in the City

Posted on May 12, 2011

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  • As a critic, you’re required to watch so many movies – new releases for reviews, old movies for columns and for research, and, very rarely, the odd movie just to have fun like normal people, popcorn in hand – that if you miss the movies on their opening weekend, it becomes very difficult to catch up. I’m yet to see Gulaal, Do Dooni Char, 99… I’m glad I caught Shor in the City.
  • I’d have been gladder had it done what I think it really wanted to do. At least the way I saw it, Shor is essentially the story of Sendhil and Tushar (or Tusshar or Tushhar or however he spells it), two men headed in diametrically opposite directions – the former moves from civilisation to savagery (even if he says there’s some things in his past he’s not proud of, he is, at least on the surface, a “civilised man”), and the latter, the one you think is a savage, claws his way towards being a civilised human being. Sendhil’s arc takes him from the backseat of a car (where he’s kissing his girlfriend) to the backseat of an autorickshaw (where he’s holding a gun), and Tushar journeys from taking part in knife-point extortions to having his mind opened by the philosophies in books (even if it’s only the pop-philosophy of Paulo Coelho). This is what the film is really about. These two threads, instead, are diluted by a third (and completely needless) story about an aspiring cricketer.
  • I’d have been gladder still had this aspiring cricketer not voiced his plans to rob the bank, had he simply chanced by the loot. That leaves a stronger sense about the random interconnectedness of this crazy universe that current-day filmmakers are so crazy about. I also wish he’d kept the money. What’s with the change of heart? Why should redemption, moral or spiritual, lie at the end of every ugly-urban-underbelly story?
  • As with all true Bombay movies, the city is an invisible presence, overseeing everything and missing nothing. When the foreign-returned Sendhil shops in the streets, he is amazed that a vendor replies in English and he wonders, “How did he know to speak English to me? I don’t look white.” But Bombay knows who its people really are.
  • The film is also about breaking expectations. When Sendhil checks a girl out at a nightclub and says, by way of introduction, that he’s moving back to India to start a small business, she retorts, “Oh, you’re one of those.” And he sighs, “Excellent! I’m already a stereotype.” Little does he realise how far away from his “stereotype” he will end up, just like Tushar will.
  • What the film is also about, in each of the three story threads, is money – the possession of it, the lack of it, the greed for it. The selector wants money that the cricketer doesn’t have. The gangsters want money that Sendhil has. Tushar and Co. lie in between – neither as privileged as Sendhil, nor as penniless as the cricketer. They end up robbing a bank, which of course is full of other people’s money.
  • The two best “money shots”? (1) Tushar leaves behind a wad of notes with the little boy. And (2), a gangster picks up the money lying by the feet of a bar dancer. You have to wonder: All this effort, all this pain to get all this money… and for this!
  • The scenes involving the little boy and the bomb and the aftermath – awesome.
  • There were a few too many yuk-yuk-this-is-India moments for my liking. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy, say, the mixie with masala in it (a used wedding gift), or the apathetic selector who taps his cigarette ash into a golden trophy (shown in a don’t-you-dare-miss-this close-up), or the arms dealer getting a call from his clingy mother about what he’d like for dinner, or the low-class goon being asked (in a high-class party) if he cares for some bubbly, to which he replies, “To Bunty kaun?” (aaargh!) – but in too many of these moments, I saw the air quotes. They didn’t feel like organic yuk-yuk-this-is-India moments from an insider looking around him, but more like moments through the eyes of outsiders looking in, like the ones in the early Nagesh Kukunoor movies.
  • Dibakar Banerjee, I feel, is the best at crafting invisible yuk-yuk-this-is-India moments, without the air quotes.
  • The stories of the men play out interestingly enough, but they are also overfamiliar, and it’s the stories of the women I kept wanting to see. The unsure wife, the confused girlfriend – they’re easily the most fascinating characters. As much as I enjoy watching stories about men in Mumbai, I wish someone would make a movie about the women. Except in the odd (and outstanding) Dhobi Ghat, why are they always supporting characters glimpsed through a half-open window and never more?
  • Why isn’t Radhika Apte a bigger star?
  • And why is Tushar so amazed that she’s been to college? Surely that level of background anyone would know, especially the man who married her? The scene is shot beautifully – ending with a hushed long shot seen through strings of lights that anticipate the Ganpati festivities, the camera receding to give the couple a private moment (to the extent that a private moment is possible in a city like Mumbai, where couples kiss and argue in the midst of several other couples kissing and arguing) – but there’s an air of inauthenticity about it.
  • One aspect that intrigued me about Tushar was his hinted-at impotence. His wife emerges from the bathroom clutching a piece of clothing (or a towel maybe) that leaves her back exposed, and he’d rather stare at the models on Fashion TV. At night, she cringes when he reaches out, anticipating what could be a sexual overture, but he merely picks up his phone and walks out. The only throbbing between his legs, you feel, comes from the motorbike he’s so often seen on.
  • It’s a lovely touch that the crime that Tushar commits at the beginning, at knife-point, has to do with a manuscript. It thus ties in beautifully to where his story arc will take him, into the wonderful world of books.
  • The lines are mostly very good. On his bike, Tushar tells his new bride that in a year’s time they’ll buy a badi gaadi (and in his world, a big car is a Nano, whose very name means “small”). They’ll still be stuck in traffic, he shrugs, “lekin AC mein.”
  • I laughed out loud when a prospective groom asks the cricketer’s girlfriend, “What are your hobbies?” and she snaps back, ““I don’t have any hobbies.” The beyond-irritation in her voice was hilarious.
  • She weeps after getting engaged and after her boyfriend expresses his displeasure, but soon their negative energies are spent and there are no more tears to be shed and no more rage to be vented, and she asks him if he’s been selected. A beautiful life-goes-on moment.
  • There needed to be more noise in the movie’s background, no? After all, a character does say, “Aadmi ko khud ka awaaz sunai deta nahin to theek se sochega kaise?” I walked away with the feeling that the Ganpati atmosphere wasn’t quite all that it could have been. There’s a reference at the beginning, when Sendhil, from his car, sees a small idol of Ganesha and smiles. And then there’s the end, the bacchanalian boisterousness at its most deafening. But through large swatches of the middle, there was nothing. It could have been any other time of the year.
  • At the close of the festival, God is dispatched into the same sea that a spent revolver is hurled into – religion and violence, clearly, will coexist till the end of time.

Copyright ©2011 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.