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Shakeela review: Earnest Richa Chadha, Pankaj Tripathi fail to salvage this film

Release Date: 25 Dec 2020 / Rated: A / 02hr 06min

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Suyog Zore

Indrajit Lankesh's biopic of 1990s South star Shakeela does not do justice to her inspiring life journey.

Biopic has become the hottest genre in Indian cinema now. From sports personalities and film stars to revolutionaries and industrialists, we are being bombarded with biopics on personalities from almost every major profession. One thing common in all these biopics is how the protagonists are always the most upright persons in their respective professions and how they are always the victims as others try to pull them down.

The Richa Chadda-starrer Shakeela follows this formula to the T. The movie based on India's first soft-porn star is a good example of how not to make a biopic. A uni-dimensional character with no character arc, a terrible screenplay (by director Indrajit Lankesh himself), uneven editing, bad performances by the supporting cast, the film ticks all the wrong boxes. Unfortunate, because Chadha, Pankaj Tripathi and Indrajit have put in honest efforts.

You can see the cracks in this poorly constructed drama from the beginning. Shakeela's father dies of tuberculosis after which she starts acting in 'adult' films on her mother's insistence. She gets only small roles, but after the tragic death of Silk Smitha, Shakeela steps up to fill the void.

The film skips many important parts from her initial days when she joined the Malayalam film industry. The transformation from shy girl to bindaas (bold) woman is too quick for the audience to be able to appreciate it. The writer-director repeats the mistake when he captures in just one song her journey from a struggling actress doing small roles in adult films to the most successful soft-porn actress in India in the 1990s.

Shakeela also skips over other important topics, such as how and why her films were becoming hits and what was the state of mainstream Malayalam cinema at that point. Apart from the politically motivated mob, what was the opinion of the general public about her films?

The director, however, is more interested in Shakeela's struggle after her films were banned and spends little time developing the character. Who is Shakeela as a person? What does she stand for? What does she want from life? You don't get convincing answers to any of those questions, so you just don't connect with her journey on an emotional level, something every biopic (and film) needs to be successful.

Even an accomplished actress like Richa Chadha fails to infuse any soul into Shakeela's one-dimensional character. On occasion, you get the feeling that she herself was not convinced by her performance and was merely going through the motions.

Tripathi, who is seen nowadays in every other project, plays an arrogant South star. The popular actor, who seems to be immune to poor writing, lifts this one-dimensional, cartoonish character with his fine performance and makes him more human.

Kajol Chugh, who plays the young Shakeela, has limited screen time but leaves a lasting impact in those few minutes. In fact, hers is the best performance in the film after Tripathi's.

Ballu Saluja's editing is wayward and you just never get a sense of time or period. It is shocking because Saluja has edited way more complex narratives before and excelled. Apart from those initial establishing shots in the scenic setting of Kerala, the cinematography is also quite average. In short, this biopic does not have too many redeeming features.

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