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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shabd (2005) – the power of words

Shabd poster Having declared publicly, on the internet, that I NEVER follow new songs into movies, it was perhaps inevitable that I'd break my own rule! The culprit songs in question were the dreamy Khoya khoya sa, and the dance number Sholon si sholon si – songs that I’ve loved ever since I saw them appear on TV promos 4-5 years ago. I am not sure why I suddenly felt the need to watch the film for these songs, but I did, and I certainly dont regret it. Parts of the film left me a bit dissatisfied, but its a very well made film and was an engrossing watch.
The story opens with critical acclaim for Booker Prize Winning author Shaukat Vashisht (Sanjay Dutt). Unfortunately for Shaukat, the acclaim soon turns sour, with reviewers trashing his next book and calling his characters and plots 'unreal'. Instead of using his talents to write for Bollywood, as any sensible writer of 'unreal' stories would, Shaukat goes into hibernation.

After a hiatus of 2 years, Shaukat suddenly has an idea. He wants to write about forbidden desires, what makes the forbidden more attractive, and how do real people deal with such desires and the ensuing developments. The critics’ panning of his earlier work bit deep and Shaukat wants his characters to be as real as possible. A chance remark by his wife Antara (Aishwarya Rai) shows him the way.
Antara is a fashion teacher at a college (and from her sarees, dresses and general stylishness, thats very easy to believe!) where a new photography teacher, Yash (Zayed Khan) has just arrived. Yash takes one look at Antara and is bowled over. Though Antara is clearly older than him, he sets out to flirt with her, cracking jokes and teasing her. Antara is a bit indignant at his attentions, though its clearly her own enjoyment of it that troubles her more than his aspiration to woo a happily married woman. Its only when Shaukat points out that Yash probably doesnt realise she’s married that she calms down, and decides to enlighten the intrepid youth.
Shaukat, though, has no intention of passing up this opportunity to study a forbidden desire – his wife’s for a charming younger man – at close quarters. He encourages Antara to deepen her friendship with Yash and hold off telling him about her happy marriage. When she is unwilling, he suggests that it might be a good test for her love for him. She should spend time with a charming young man and see if he can make her forget her husband! Shaukat’s reasoning goes something along the lines of - if you truly love your hubby, you're unlikely to fall for anyone else. I’d say that is very flawed reasoning, but then, one musnt expect scientific logic in a film!
Antara goes along with the idea, relying on her husband’s advice and her own steadfast love for him. The poor innocent! It isnt long before Yash’s cheerful company has her laughing and behaving like a young woman, herself. In his company, she learns to laugh and play like she hasnt, in a long time. He brings back her carefree youth (though she hardly looks old enough for her youth to be a thing of the past) and she is happy in a way that she’s forgotten to be, in her daily hum-drum existence. Too late, she realises the dangers of flirting with love. Shaukat himself is torn between jealousy and a desire to see his story play out to the end.
The movie is mainly about Shaukat’s obsession with realistic writing and how it clouds his perceptions. For him, ultimately, the boundary between reality and writing is completely blurred. And that part is very well executed. But would a Booker Prize winning author really write about an adulterous affair and its consequences to the trio involved? Surely that subject was considered avant garde only in a bygone era? Even if we allow suspension-of-disbelief to operate in this department, how can Shaukat be certain that Antara will satisfy his voyeuristic curiosity with all the truth? Besides, Antara’s husband is a famous writer. Surely that makes it more likely that Yash will discover her happily married state, sooner rather than later? But these are just minor quibbles. The main source of my dissatisfaction was with how the triangle resolves. I wish the film hadnt fought shy of being as daring and unconventional as it set out to be.
On the plus side is the taut, well-told story, the good performances and the lovely music. Sanjay Dutt is awesome as the driven, tormented and manipulative Shaukat. Inspite of all his great performances, to me, he is always the loud gangster that he usually plays. So, its always a nice surprise to see him turning in a more subtle performance! Aishwarya’s part mostly consists of being beautiful and biddable, and she’s honed that part to perfection over the years. Zayed Khan has a charming role and does pretty well, too.
My favorite parts of the film were the songs – my raisons d'etre for watching it. Vishal-Shekhar’s haunting music, Vishal Dadlani’s lyrics (is it the same 'Vishal' in both cases?), the lovely vocals (Sonu Nigam was my favorite) and the pretty visuals – all added to up to some very good songs. For once, in a new film, I not only noticed the songs, I didnt even fast forward them!


  1. Thought it was totally, pretentious, unrealistic piece of one of the most boring films ever.
    The collective 5 of us decided to call it a day half-way through with that totally stupid plot move about encouraging the wife to have an affair...btw, how many college lecturers wear those sarees with those blouses?
    And those that totally pointless repetitive scenes with words snowing all over.

    You don't get a clever or interesting film simply by making the hero a Booker Prize winner: that seems to have been the limit of the director's brain.

    The hero was a character no woman with half a pea-brain would give a damn about.

    In short, you can see what I thought of the film!

  2. "how many college lecturers wear those sarees with those blouses? " You mean you didnt realise that its the college uniform for every former Miss India? Dont believe me? Check out Sushmita Sen in Main Hoon Na. ;-)

    For the rest, the film doesnt seem to be aiming for a lot of intelligence, and yes, there is a lot of stylised cinematography (it was so pretty - I loved it). But any film that actively encourages its heroine to step out of the Bhartiya Naari mould is a guaranteed winner on OiG! There is one scene where the college lecturer is telling her hubby that she thinks its wrong for her to even accept a rose from anyone other than him, and he tells her that she sounds like his Mom - that moment I KNEW I was going to forgive the film all its flaws! :-)

  3. Hahah crazy timing - I just watched this last night (and eerily, ordered the movie in the first place because of spookily similar reasons to you...).

    I actually really liked it. It's obviously not your typical mainstream movie, and I can totally see why some people would absolutely hate it, but I found the characters interesting (ugh except Zayed Khan, he was ANNOYING), especially trying to figure out exactly what Shaukat's motivation was. It was like an art film that went a bit cracked and cliched at the end :)

  4. So we did a virtual watchalong? I re-watched it yesterday, too, for this post!

    It certainly went cracked at the end, but it still scores brownie points for being "diffrent" from the usual post-modern masala fare in Bollywood these days.

  5. Okay you're scaring me now...I kept thinking pretty much EXACTLY that as I was watching it - every time it went a bit over the top or too try hard artsy, I was totally fine with it because I was like "Wait, this is actually cool because they're at least trying to do something different".

    And I thought Sanju Baba did a really good job, acting-wise. Ooooh I have to do a write up of this one...

  6. haha We are obviously long-lost masala twins finally getting our long overdue reunion!

    Please do write this up - I'd love to see what else we get in common.

  7. Yes Bollyviewer Vishal Dadlani & Vishal of Vishal-Shekhar are the smae people,he also sings. This comes on always on my local Tv and of all the films they show its the only one that's subtitled, i always walk in at the end, i'll be sure to set my recorder next time. I'm well familiar with the 'Sholon si' song i love the salsa elememts to it

  8. This sounds somewhat off the beaten path - or at least in part? I bet Antara 'comes to her senses' and goes back to being a pativrata at the end of the film!
    Frankly, Ash isn't one of my favourite actresses. Very pretty, but that's about it; I probably wouldn't see this simply because it has her in it.

  9. bollywooddeewana, sounds like Vishal Dadlani should be the one playing Kishore Kumar, not Ranbir!

    dustedoff, the end goes a bit off rails, but Antara isnt quite as pativrata as you'd expect, though I wish she'd been allowed to be a lot bolder. For me the best part was seeing a mainstream film acknowledge that a woman can be attracted to another man, inspite of being happily married, and do this without smearing her character or having her self-flagellate.

  10. Here is an interesting review of Shabd from Qalander -

  11. shall i stand up as a fan of this movie??
    Yes, I too am in the minority. Also I have pretty small collection of DVDs that I own, and I 'own' disc of this movie !!

    Just because of the fabulous songs, and oh my god so pretty visuals which includes Aish loooks like never before. I rarely like her in any movie, this is one of the exemption. Loved each character in the movie. Sanju baba too was good. All the background dialogues he recites. nice.

    Khoya khoya saa... Drool over Sonu's smooth vocals !

  12. Gotta ask: where does the desi Princess Leia in that last pic. figure in all this?
    Love the review!

  13. Anonymous, thank you so much for that link. Its always great to know that an expert agrees with me!

    Darshit, please do! I am so glad that I am not alone in liking this film. :-) For all its flaws, it was a very engaging film. It drew my attention and kept it onscreen, throughout.

    "Drool over Sonu's smooth vocals!" I DID! :-D

    Niranjana, thank you!

    desi Princess Leia? lol Sadiya Siddiqui plays the Vashisht's talkative domestic help (the famous writer asks her why her name isnt 'Basanti'!) who actually takes on the famous man and tells him that she wouldnt hesitate to correct her hubby either, if he went wrong!

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  15. theBollywoodFan, great to see you back in blogland again! Are you back from your long hiatus?

    As far as logic goes, childhood conditioning is a very powerful thing indeed. One cant grow up watching 60s and 70s masala flicks and expect logic in films! :-)

    Meenaxi and Gaja Gamini have been moving up on my to-watch list, though more for their heroines and the beautiful cinematography, than anything else! But a strong, non-traditional heroine is an even stronger motivation.

  16. Like bollywooddeewana, I happen to miss it everytime it's aired on tv. Have just seen it in bits and pieces. I have only seen the part where Shaukat encourages his wife to deepen her friendship with Yash.
    I second everything that dustedoff has said :
    Frankly, Ash isn't one of my favourite actresses. Very pretty, but that's about it and the main reason I didn't see this movie when it released was because it had her in it.
    But when I saw that part of the movie on tv, I thought I should give it a try, more for sanju's obsessed yet subtle performance than her.
    And the songs are nice.

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  18. sunheriyaadein, the right director can get Aish to act (she was pretty good in Rituparno Ghosh's films) - so she isnt a complete failure acting-wise! Here, she looks absolutely gorgeous and her acting fits the role pretty well, so you neednt avoid this for her sake.

    theBollywoodFan, Avatar is only the latest in a long line of Hollywood escapism. From aliens attacking the earth on 4th of July to the American President dishooming villains in his private jet - Hollywood is as "realistic" as Hindi films! And much as I appreciate realistic films, I must admit that I prefer escapist fare with its weird movie logic and happily-ever-after.

  19. Hi viewers and lovers of Bollywood,

    PLEASE, Do NOT watch neither Shabd nor Meenaxi, they're just boring and pretentious pieces of waste junk!!!
    I completely concur with Bawa (1st comment who says Shabd "was totally, pretentious, unrealistic piece of one of the most boring films ever." And Meenaxi is almost the same.
    So sorry Bollyviewer if I sound harsh, but this movie (these movies) are SOO bad that I cannot be gentle and tolerant. You must absolutely change your opinion!
    cheers anyway!

  20. Yves, you and I will have to agree to disagree on this one! It was somewhat pretentious, yes, but I didnt find it boring at all. As to it being 'unrealistic' - most popular entertainers (whether they are books or films) are unrealistic. I never hold that against a film (or a book) unless the 'un'reality is terribly unattractive. Meenaxi I have yet to see - so I cannot comment on that.

  21. Hi Bollyviewer,
    Thanks for your answer! Yes, you're right, I know I won't share my views with everyone, but I disliked Shabd so much that even if it's two or more years since I saw it, I can still remember that sick story, which, after all, is perhaps not as unrealistic as I have said, if indeed one considers that there are writers who are so uninspired as to have their wives have an affair with another man in order to fuel their inspiration... You're right, finally, perhaps there are such men... and such women!

  22. Yes, there really is no accounting for tastes, is there?! "Boring, pretentious and unrealistic" pretty much sums up my feelings for Pakeezah and a lot of other popular 'classics'. And I never said that there are men like the writer in this film, merely that I do not expect films and their characters to be realistic. I'll take interesting and entertaining over realism any day, though realistic depictions onscreen are always welcome. Judging by the films you've written good things about, it doesnt seem like realism is absolutely necessary to your enjoyment of films, either!

  23. I was never tempted to watch this movie before because the story sounded like another one of those typical Bollywood offerings - a weak woman character who is ready to be manipulated by 'the one man in her life'- her 'pati-parmeshwar'. But after reading your review, and more so after the strong comments here against the movie I am definitely surely must be a 'hatke' movie to inspire such ire from some of the bollywood fans!

  24. Yes do watch it and tell me how you liked it. It seems to have made some people madder than Mother India makes me! :-D

  25. bollyviewer i really can't tell honestly, he just came to my head for some reason

  26. I love the songs, but I was way too young to understand it when it came out, and thought it was SUPER boring!!!

  27. hehe Bollywood Rocks, you should let the boring memories fade before you tackle the film again!