And the award for Most Gratuitous Item Number goes to… Shorgul. So this is what happens. It’s night. A door opens. A man slips out, clutching a bag. He travels to another part of town. He stops in front of a house. Another door opens. This time, a woman. She takes the bag. And we cut to Hrishitaa Bhatt continuing to resurrect her career after last week’s Junooniyat, shaking booty and going Mast mast hawa mast mast hawa re. (The lyrics are by… Kapil Sibal!) We wait for a connection to be established between the two scenes, the two locations – but we cut back to the woman with the bag, which has now yielded a gun. And we’re off and running with a flashback that sets up the story. There are many other places the directors Pranav Kumar Singh and Jitendra Tiwari could have had the item number, which is graced by a slimy politician named Ranjit Om (Jimmy Shergill). So why here, in the middle of a bag being given, a bag being opened? If an answer existed, they’d be better filmmakers, Shorgul a better movie.
The film is reportedly based on the 2013 Muzzafarnagar riots, and it posits that the spark was a love triangle whose vertices are Zainab (Suha Gezen, who looks amazingly like Parineeti Chopra), her childhood friend and neighbour Raghu (Anirudh Dave), and her fiancé Saleem (Hiten Tejwani). We could have used more of this love triangle, which harks back to Old Bollywood. There’s even the heroine-introduction shot that has her standing with her back to the camera and turning and smiling when her name is called. The Hindu-Muslim families being friendly neighbours, of course, goes all the way back to Shantaram’s Padosi – only then, it was the British doing the divide-and-rule, and now it’s people like Ranjit Om, whose surname alludes to his affiliations. The film’s funniest joke? The name of the party Ranjit Om belongs to: it acronyms to BJP and its symbol is a flower. No, not that party. This one’s called Bhartiya Janatantrik Party. It’s symbol is a rose, though the smell that emanates every time it appears is a tad acrid. That’s the members of the Censor Board looking around nervously while soiling their seats. Did I mention the story is set in Uttar Pradesh, and the Chief Minister (Sanjay Suri) is named Mithilesh Yadav?
The directors are blissfully unaware that a new century has dawned, and I don’t mean this as a bad thing. They split a romantic duet into two, staging one half with Zainab and Raghu, the other with Zainab and Saleem. I liked Saleem. He’s right out of a Muslim social, well-behaved to the point that you want to shake his shoulders and say, “Dude, it’s okay to hate the guy who has feelings for your fiancée.” After he finds out Raghu likes Zainab, he calls him and pleads with him to give Zainab up. “Aap to phir bhi uske dosti ke saath jee lenge… hamare paas woh bhi nahin.” Somewhere, Rajendra Kumar is kicking himself that he didn’t get this script in 1965. Slowly, this personal story becomes more political. In an early scene, Ranjit Om tells a Muslim farmer that he has to give up his land because a mandir is to be built on it. Later, the farmer asks Chaudhary (an unusually subdued Ashutosh Rana) if they’ll keep quiet if a counter demand is raised, to build a masjid on a Hindu farmer’s land.
This is a valid, even necessary issue to explore, but the filmmakers aren’t up to it. The events are predictable, and the screenplay has apparently been written by Lady Justice, her eyes closed, ensuring utmost balance between extremists and moderates in both Hindu and Muslim camps. And the filmmaking is crude. Shorgul feels like a generic TV serial so ineptly staged that the high body count begins to feel like an invitation for a drinking game: one shot for every death that makes you giggle. The most disastrous sequence is one in which Zainab wails as mobs erupt in a fury around her, in slow motion, as an angsty rock song plays on. Suha Gezen is thoroughly underwhelming, and after a point you feel she is a character in a video game. She’s always running, and there’s always a helping hand plucking her out of harm’s way at the last minute. Had the Censor Board people had any sense, they wouldn’t have drawn attention to this undeserving film. Now, thanks to them, it’s become a little footnote in the ongoing case of India vs Freedom of Expression.
- shorgul = noise
- Junooniyat = see here
- Mast mast hawa mast mast hawa re = fab fab breeze fab fab breeze dude
- Padosi = see here
- “Aap to phir bhi uske dosti ke saath jee lenge… hamare paas woh bhi nahin.” = You can live with just her friendship. I don’t even have that.
- mandir = temple
- masjid = mosque
Copyright ©2016 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.