Shamshera: Paper tigers don’t burn bright

How much more on the backfoot can Bollywood continue to play? Even a respected studio like Yashraj opts to kick off Shamshera with a mandatory diatribe against Mughaliya sultanat

IANS Photo
IANS Photo
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Namrata Joshi

How much more on the backfoot can Bollywood continue to play? Even a respected studio like Yashraj opts to kick off Shamshera with a mandatory diatribe against Mughaliya sultanat when the film itself aims to be about something else altogether—caste politics.

So, we have the Mughals forcing the Rajputana into a corner (and disappearing from the narrative entirely after a quick mention) and the Rajputanas, in turn, further marginalising the Khameran tribe, confining its members at the outskirts of the society in an old fort of Kaza. A Shamshera (father and son Ranbir Kapoors) must rise from the ashes to get the people their due.

It’s not as though one is questioning the high aim of the film. For a change, it’s nice to see an upper caste, chotidhaari Hindu for villain with a “pure” name like Shuddh Singh (Sanjay Dutt, chewing up the scenery and everything else) but the larger tale itself is narrated in an utterly hamfisted way. It’s as though the makers saw a bunch of Tamil films like Asuran and Karnan and wanted to aim for something similarly ambitious in Bollywood. Problem is that it doesn’t come naturally to them. The organic energy and bristling authenticity of the caste politics in the handful of Tamil films one has seen makes way for a soulless spectacle of struggle in Karan Malhotra’s Shamshera. Where is the beating heart or a pulsating spirit? None of the actors—and this holds true for an otherwise likeable Ranbir Kapoor in the lead with pain-dripping eyes to boot—seem to be born, chastened and chiseled in the thick of turmoil and tragedy of any shade. Painted faces, messy tresses, ash and soot and muddied dresses are the way to create an illusion of the reality and complexity of caste politics. Utterly superficial if not downright patronizing.

And even that gets aligned in a confusing way with the Britishers and the Independence movement. Are we looking at demons within or those from outside holding us captive? The film falls in trying to balance between the two stools.


And one hasn’t even come to the tone-deaf representation of women in this all-male universe. Vaani Kapoor is an item girl in modern makeup and attire with a contemporary Westernised body language to boot (I totally forgot the film started in 1871 and then moved 25 year later to 1896) but one who will ultimately have to be a mother and hopefully deliver a male child for the future army.

I would have still forgiven all and been patient with the film had it not been so highly soporific. The mythmaking and fantasy and a Robinhood saga of an outlaw is criminally and infinitely boring. Not a tiger burning bright, nor a roaring lion, Shamshera is a clarion call for Bollywood to wake up and start making films from its heart than for the sake of hundreds of crores.

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