Director: Karan Malhotra
Writers: Neelesh Misra, Khila Bisht (Story), Ekta Pathak Malhotra, Karan Malhotra (Screenplay), Piyush Mishra (Dialogue)
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Vaani Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Ronit Bose Roy, Iravati Harshe
Released in theatres
“First half kadak hai. Second half dhila hai.” (First half is solid. Second half is sloppy.) How often have you heard this about Hindi films? Isn’t it a major letdown? Unfortunately, Karan Malhotra’s much-awaited Shamshera falls into this category of films. I was looking forward to watching Shamshera because the trailer looked promising. And Shamshera doesn’t disappoint till the interval. The world building is ambitious. The story does not have novelty but that’s fine with me as long as the screenplay holds my attention. Shamshera is a dacoit revenge drama where a son is seeking revenge for his father’s murder and free his imprisoned tribe.
Shamshera (Ranbir Kapoor) falls prey to a cunning Shuddh Singh’s (Sanjay Dutt) treaty with the British Empire. That results in his tribe’s imprisonment at Fort Kazagarh. The setting is a fictional region named Kaza. The tribe of a lower caste, I assume, is also a fictional one named Khameran. Shamshera is termed a fugitive and is murdered by his own tribe by pelting stones at him. The action cuts to 25 years later. Shamshera’s son Balli (Ranbir Kapoor) is being trained by Shamshera’s peer named Peer Baba (Ronit Bose Roy). Pardon the pun. Balli wants to join the British Empire’s police force and become an officer. Peer is training him for a secret mission without Balli knowing it i.e. to complete his father’s mission to free the tribe from imprisonment. This is the premise.
The first half which runs close to one-and-a-half hours is captivating because you’re soaking in the atmosphere. Watching Ranbir on the big screen after a long time helps. The other characters are also quirky. Sanjay Dutt as Daroga Shuddh Singh is having fun in another villainous outing. I marveled at world-building. Had the second half not been so sloppy, I would have not noticed the loopholes in that world-building. At once, there are mountains (Ladakh) and then there’s desert and a dense forest too. All within the same region. The geography of the film is confusing.
The writers use forced twists to give Balli more reasons to fight for and hurdles to overcome. Karan Malhotra handled the melodramatic bits in his debut Agneepath very well. His craft of reimagining already famous characters and extracting performances from equally famous stars (Sanjay Dutt as Kancha Cheena, and Rishi Kapoor as Rauf Lala) were every bit visionary. Sadly, he doesn’t succeed with Ranbir as both Shamshera and Balli. The temptations of the actor and the makers are quite evident the way this picture is designed. This could have been Ranbir’s vehicle to enter into the territory of a massy-action-flick. But he is an actor who internalizes the character he plays and succeeds superbly if you look at his filmography so far. In a role and film like Shamshera, where he has to roar at the top of his voice and personality, he simply cannot do it convincingly. His performance relies on borrowed enthusiasm.
On the other hand, Dutt plays a one-dimensional Shuddh Singh with total conviction. That comes naturally to him. On a meta-level, it is an actor playing a larger-than-life character for the first time pitted against an actor who has played larger-than-life characters all his life. On another meta-level, the real-life Sanju is fighting the reel-life Sanju in a double role.
Also read: Ranbir Kapoor: “The selfish actor in me opted to play the role of Shamshera too, though I was offered only the character of Balli”
Vaani Kapoor as Sona, the dancer, and Balli’s love interest does the best of what is expected from her. She looks stunning and dances well. I genuinely believe that Vaani has a lot to offer as an actor. She was confident in her debut Shuddh Desi Romance as well as in Befikre and played a transgender in Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui quite convincingly. That again emphasizes a point that these are a new generation of actors who are at their best when the performances need to be realistic and understated.
The writers use forced tropes to add twists to the narrative which only adds to confusion and delay in the final confrontation. The sequence of a running train robbery of the Queen’s Crown doesn’t serve much. The action choreography is one of the film’s best aspects. But they do come across as a trope used to justify the film’s scale. Karan Malhotra is a visionary filmmaker and having an even bigger visionary in Aditya Chopra as the film’s producer should have assured a rewarding cinematic experience. The more I think about the film I would say that Shamshera had the potential of becoming a non-stop 2-hour action-adventure flick like Mad Max Fury Road. Sadly, Shamshera pre and post-interval seem like two different films. A waste of an opportunity.