Saturday, July 16, 2011

4 Karats in Silver: Shor in the City

I used to be a big fan of the TV show Heroes... aaaand had a huge crush on Sendhil Ramamurthy. What? Didn't everyone? Well, until he started getting the plague or something and then I couldn't look at him anymore. But that's beside the point.

At any rate, just wanted to state how happy I was to find that he was acting in a Hindi film, and as if that were not enough to get me to watch it (trust me, it was!), a film made by the same team who gave us the awesomeness that was "99" (Krishna DK and Raj Nidimoru). Of course, it didn't actually get an international release, so I had to wait for the DVD which luckily did not take long (even if that means that it didn't do all that well in theatres). So now I am on a mission to get everyone to watch it!

Shor is divided into 3 tracks that criss-cross at different points in the film, each track inspired by stories that made the news in the past decade. On the one hand we have the small-time crooks Tilak (Tusshar Kapoor), Mandook (Pitobash) and Ramesh (Nikhil Dwivedi) who make a living by selling whatever they can steal from crowded buses. They also have a side printing business, selling books (some unreleased) at traffic lights.

The second track is Abhay (Sendhil Ramamurthy) as the NRI returning to India (after what we are lead to believe was not a rosy past in the US) to set up a business. Easier said than done because the street mafia is there to make money on his every move.

Finally I discovered with great joy that the third track belongs to Sundeep Kishan, an actor I had already loved in Prasthanam. He plays Sawan, a young man trying to make it into the junior cricket team across layers and layers of corruption.

Holding on to his girlfriend turns out to be the other major headache in his life.

By the way, just a quick pit-stop on the art direction front, how hilarious is this shot? Love it!

There are some moral issues with the story that I think are dealt with a little too lightly. I kept comparing Shor with 99 just because it's made by the same guys, but 99 never leaves its zone of goofy, harmless fun which makes its comedy perfectly adequate. In Shor on the other hand, the issues at hand are much heavier, which in my opinion required they be treated a tad more seriously. Just an example: a kid running with a bomb about to detonate in his hand - NOT funny. Sorry, but no. In any universe. As a matter of fact neither is playing with guns. Also, Abhay's solution to his problems is hardly acceptable for a hero, but then I don't think he was meant as a hero to begin with, so that one I can't object too much to.

Despite being disappointed by the general direction of the morals of the film (that direction being nowhere), I still loved it. Not because it's funny (99 is much funnier), and not because it creates some lasting characters. I loved it because it creates little pockets of magic that are absolutely unforgettable. The relationship between Tilak and his new wife is one of the major highlights for me, and all their little moments make a lasting impression, whether it's their coy attempts at consummating their marriage, or Tilak proudly showing off to his (college graduate) wife the traffic signal where his printing business comes to fruition, every single moment they spend on screen is so heavy with sweetness that it's hard to even think of them as part of the same film.

I found the references to Paulo Coelho's "Alchemist" hilarious (a book that everyone, myself included, loved in high school, but then most of us got over it). Whether this was the way I wanted to see it or the movie meant it that way, every single reference to "the philosophy" of The Alchemist suggested that this book is considered philosophy mostly by people who lack education, or by people who haven't read any better. Even the fact that the only educated character in the film had loved it in high school is a backhanded compliment. The snob in me was enjoying this way more than it would be polite. Though in the end, I must bow to its power to make people think positively about their lives and to steer them in the right direction, so credit where it's due, it was well used in the film.

Other pockets of brilliance are the glimpses of what shapes up to be the backstage of the spectacle that is Mumbai: people who get paid to organize rallies and riots, people who get paid to "make the right choice" for the cricket team, people who ask for bribes at every street corner. You could say it's a movie about corruption, except it's not, because corruption is such a fact of life that it never quite rises up to the level where it becomes its own entity in the story. It's just there, in the background of every event, you know about it, and you move on. I've seen the same type of subtlety before in Dhobi Ghat, in reference to poverty, and I always appreciate this matter-of-fact treatment of certain themes. 

 To top it all off, these little pockets of brilliance are brought to life by some wonderful performances from everyone involved, from the smallest goonda to the blink-and-you'll-miss-them secondary characters like Sejal's mother or Sawan's sister, or even Sejal herself.

I have seen Sundeep Kishan only in 2 movies so far but he's quickly becoming a favourite, so I was following his story with a lot of interest. Also notable because he's the only character whom you want to see being good, maybe because of his age, or maybe because of his predicament, but he was the only one I kept hoping would rise above the muck. His little moments with his sister and his brother in law, his fights with the stressed girlfriend, Sundeep lends this character such tenderness and vulnerability that you can't help but care for him in a way that you don't for everyone else, Sendhil's shirtless scene notwithstanding.

While we're talking about Sundeep, I'll take a few seconds to whine about garbage subtitles because they failed to translate one of the cutest lines he says:

What he's actually saying is: "Have I been speaking Telugu until now?" Get it? Telugu? *snort snort*

The first time I watched Shor I thought Sendhil didn't quite come through in terms of acting, but on the second watch I came to appreciate his understated style. Guess that's one of the dangers of mixing Western actors with Indian ones, their styles don't always match perfectly. But after adjusting my lens for the differences, I have to say he kind of rocks. Watch him try to speak Hindi and always end up blowing up in English. Watch his little smiles when he picks up on the innuendos and he learns to read between the lines. And then watch him be all badass! Enough said.

Oh come on! Don`t act like this was not done for precise purposes of screencapping!

I am convinced that the reason why the characters in Shor don't stay with you as much as the ones in 99 is precisely because they succeed so well at portraying real life people, the people you could meet every day and promptly forget, the people who only become memorable when something happens and they end up in the news or even worse, as statistics. Nobody is poorer than poor and nobody is richer than rich. Nobody stands out for extraordinary qualities or even for extreme villainy. It's not that they have no personality, because they do, it's just that in the end, they disappear in the crowd like you would expect them to with no major consequences for anyone. Every character in the film is just another building block of the maze that is the city of Mumbai, each trying to get ahead, each trying to make something of his life. The right way or the wrong way.

Don't watch Shor in the City expecting another 99. Don't watch it for a great uplifting moralizing story. Don't even watch it for a story that has its heart in the right place (the tag line of the soundtrack gives that one away: "Be Bad or Be Dead"). Watch it for the little moments of brilliance. Watch it for the rawness of the forces that run each character's life. Watch it for the fantastic direction. Watch it for the sincerity of the relationships. And for Saibo. Twice for Saibo.


Radical said...

YAYYY! sooooooooo nice to hear ALL this from u. i ALWAYS look fwd to your reviews! this film is waiting on my HDD to be watched. that moment will arrive anytime soon! i wish to watch someof the other stuff Ekta Kapoor has been experimenting with. that list of movies is slowly getting longer...

Filmi Girl said...

We picked up the exact same bullshit subtitle with the Telugu line!!!

You had a much different opinion of the film from me - I didn't approach the film as a comedy. I'm pretty sure the kid with the bomb was supposed to be horrifying, not hilarious. Same with the gun play. I was on the edge of my seat during all of that.

I thought this blew 99 out of the water. 99 was a fluffy heist movie but Shor is more ambitious... city vignettes.

Anonymous said...

Very cool analysis of a very cool movie. The best of the lot this year, hands down!

Mansi said...

I loved the setting, the characters, Saibo, Tushhar (for a change), the innocent chemistry he and his wife share... sendhil ramamurthy, mandook (the last scene left me confused though) ... in short everything about Shor... :)
Dint know it was from the makers of 99...saw that one long back...


Dolce and Namak said...

@ Vistrit: yes, do watch it, you will love it, I am fairly sure of it :) Considering I was hearing only good things about it from the moment it came out, I really hope that people have made an effort to see it since, it really is worth every penny.

@ FilmiGirl: hey girl! I went over to read your review too and it's quite funny how many of the same things we mentioned :)

I think you're right about my approach though, I was sort of programmed for it to be more of a comedy, partly because of 99 and partly because the 3 crooks are such cartoons, they're so goofy. So in my head it never quite crossed the border into serious teritory until long after the playing with guns scene. That's probably why we have such different readings of those two scenes.

But that aside, totally agree with most of what you pointed out in your review. Haha! I should have read it before I wrote mine, that way some of the overlap would have been avoided :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Dolce and Namak said...

@ Mansi - I remember reading your review a while ago and sighing that I still did not have the DVD to watch it right away. :) It's hard not to love everything about it, eh? :)
The last scene was a bit iffy, I agree, and I think I would have wanted some more serious consequences for at least some of the characters, but on an emotional level, I was pretty happy with everyone's ending. The beauty is that some of them don't actually have an ending, and that's really how it should be.

@ Anonymous - why thank you! :) This movie needs more love, I'm glad you are giving it some as well!

Thanks for stopping by and chatting guys!

Mette said...

Now it's my turn to sigh that I can't watch the film right away ;). I've been waiting for it badly since I first watched the promo... WANT to see!

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Limette, you're probably really busy this summer, but yes, certainly one to add to your list for the fall. I hope you review it too, curious how you will feel about it.

Ness said...

Ooooh, I only skimread this because I have it sitting on my shelf and I am trying to decide whether to put it on or not. Will come back and read thoroughly after I watch - the impression I get from you and FG is I need to see this, NOW. :) (also, kind of excited that I have 99 on my shelf, unwatched and it sounds like that's a goodie too!)

Ness said...

Okay I just finished watching this so ignore my previous comment. LOVED IT. LOOOOOOVED IT. But (like Filmi Girl already said) I found the kid with the bomb horrifying. My interpretation was sure, the trio were not treating the bomb really trivially, UNTIL the kid entered the picture and they realised their actions have consequences, like it wasn't all just some silly fun game with explosions.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hehehe, yes, another fan! Thank you for dropping by with your thoughts, Ness, it's certainly a movie that lends itself to different interpretations. I loved it too, even if the way I saw certain scenes was a little bit different. I'm also not entirely sure the kid changes anything for anyone other than Tilak. The other two don't seem to react to the consequences of their actions until the very end of the film. Or so I thought... I also did feel that the scene was played for some sort of dark humour, but you know, it could just be me.

But like I said, I do like that everyone who is enjoying it has their own interpretations of certain scenes, that's the mark of a good film for me. :)

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