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Shamshera review: Exhausting period saga is overwrought and melodramatic

Release Date: 22 Jul 2022 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 38min

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Sonal Pandya

Director Karan Malhotra’s ambitious drama, starring Ranbir Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt, collapses under its own weight.

Ranbir Kapoor’s return to the big screen, Shamshera (2022), is a loud and exhausting affair. The actor, who played Sanjay Dutt in his last release Sanju (2018), faces off against the older actor, who plays a long-standing nemesis whose villainy spans two generations.

The saga of Shamshera revolves around the tribe of Khameran, which suffers a staggering defeat under the Mughals and tries to re-establish itself in the fictional city of Kaza. However, the citizens there consider the Khamerans to be part of the low caste and do their best to see that they are kept at the margins of society. The tribe, led by Ranbir’s Shamshera, resort to stealing from upper-class snobs those who thumb their nose at them time and again.

The aggrieved locals bring this up with the British, who send the destructive daroga (police official) Shuddh Singh (Dutt) to bring about a truce. However, the entire tribe and Shamshera are tricked into a lifetime of slavery and drudgery.

Shamshera, who holds Shuddh Singh responsible, is caught while trying to escape and takes the blame to save his kinsmen, including his wife (Iravati Harshe) and unborn child. An oath of emancipation lies forgotten and 25 years later, his son Balli (also Ranbir) grows up believing his father was a coward.

Shamshera, written by director Karan Malhotra and Ekta Pathak Malhotra, based on a story by Neelesh Mishra and Khila Bisht, sets up this grand saga of a son discovering his father’s legacy and continuing his fight to become the saviour of the oppressed.

The irreverent Balli matures and takes responsibility, and the film sets this up as an origin story of a hero and legend. However, the ambitious feature packs in too much over 158 minutes, as Balli revives the myth of Shamshera and begins to pave the path towards freedom.

He recruits a local dancer Sona (Vaani Kapoor), who he’s in love with, to serve as a distraction while he amasses enough gold to secure his people's liberation, and he reunites with his father’s old henchman Doodh Singh (Saurabh Shukla), who speaks in rhymes and guides him through robberies.

Malhotra overuses the narrator tool to provide exposition, and the history and backstory of the Khamerans are oft-repeated, which becomes quickly repetitive. Once Balli comes of age, he is swept into his father’s shoes too soon, and then narrative drags out his runs-in with the British and Shuddh Singh, before getting to the main event – the eventual showdown between both sides.

On top of all this, there are the musical interludes, which are visually appealing but sit heavy on the already bloated runtime of the feature. There is a lot of world-building in Shamshera. Beginning in 1871, the film sets up a barren, arid landscape where hope seems lost, but Shamshera and later, Balli, keep that dream alive. The cinematography by Anay Goswamy and the visuals of Kaza and its surroundings keep us interested in the world created onscreen.

With battles and shoot-outs between the tribe; the British, led by Freddy Young (Craig McGinlay); and Indian soldiers, led by Singh; and the action by Franz Spilhaus and Parvez Shaikh is intense and vicious. In the midst of all this chaos is Ranbir’s Balli who prevails aganst all odds.

Ranbir, who made his debut in Saawariya (2007), is acting in his first double role and action feature. While he is decent as a hero, there is a spark missing in his performance, which makes it believable. He literally rides in on a white horse as he tries to free his people.

Dutt, on the other hand, feels rather over the top as the malicious Singh, who can turn on just about anyone. There is a creepy musical theme that heralds his entry in the second half that just feels caricaturish.

Vaani Kapoor’s Sona exists only to serve as Balli's love interest; we know nothing else of her besides this. And I can’t even recall if Iravati Harshe’s character was named in the film.

Accompanying Shamshera and Balli at key moments are a murder of crows that give us a slight glimpse of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) in a Hindi period drama. Their presence each time is supposed to signify a key shift in the narrative and I all could think about was, ‘Oh, here we go again’.

As a period hero saga, Shamshera had such potential, but the long-delayed epic seems to have collapsed under its own weight.


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