Ahead of Gulabo Sitabo, ranking all Shoojit Sircar films, from Vicky Donor to Piku and October
While Shoojit Sircar has perfected his signature eccentric lighthearted slice-of-life films, he has also ventured into hard-hitting political dramas.
For the past 15 years, Shoojit Sircar has been making films self-admittedly for himself. But whether it is his lighthearted entertainers or relative more grim narratives set against political backdrops, the filmmaker has been consistently hitting the right notes.
Ahead of his first direct-to-digital release Gulabo Sitabo, we revisit his past films and rank them in order of this writer's preference.
With his 2015 quirky dramedy, Sircar showed the way to a
man human's heart is through their stomach. Bhashkor Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan) plays a cantankerous 70-year-old man battling chronic constipation among other illnesses. He is looked after by Piku (Deepika Padukone), his 30-year-old daughter, who gets Rana (Irrfan Khan), a taxi hiring business owner, to drive them to their ancestral haveli in Kolkata from Delhi.
A road movie for the most part, Piku challenged the expectation of the viewer in every scene by not diluting the inherent madness of its characters with an extraordinary plot. These were colourful people in a black-and-white world, who could not help but splash some of their quirks onto the surroundings. From the soothingly unconventional romantic track between Piku and Rana to the silent sermons on dependence, gratitude, sacrifice, coming to terms with loss, staying connected to roots, and not making a misery of one's own life, Sircar and writer Juhi Chaturvedi made everything about the film as therapeutic as a good ol' morning dump.
Sircar's 2012 romantic comedy may not be as therapeutic as Piku but it surely is his funniest yet. Years before Ayushmann Khurrana became a genre unto himself, he was introduced by Sircar, who employed the same elements that would eventually define the actor's niche. Vicky (Khurrana) is a young Delhi man propositioned by Baldev Chaddha (Annu Kapoor), a fertility specialist, to donate his sperms at the latter's clinic. Much to his embarrassment, Vicky gives in only to realise how good he is at the lucrative job, till his newly-wedded wife Ashmia (Yami Gautam) discovers his hidden identity as a sperm donor.
Vicky Donor grabbed one's attention instantly with its world of buoyant Punjabis and meditative Bengalis. It was a match made in a fool's paradise. Additionally, the track of Chaddha 'discovering' Vicky as a fertile source of sperm is akin to a producer finding an acting talent in a coffee shop (read: "Sadak se utha ke star bana dunga"). The banter between Chaddha and Vicky, and between Vicky's mother and grandmother, made for the most hilarious conversations I've seen on screen so far. After all the films he has churned out from the same genre, Vicky Donor remains Khurrana's best 'taboo film' till date, thanks to Chaturvedi's sharp writing and Sircar's fully-realised direction.
I have not processed Sircar's 2018 film completely yet. It is his most spiritual offering so far. When his colleague Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) meets an accident and enters deep coma, Dan (Varun Dhawan) is curiously gravitated towards her after he learns his whereabouts was the last thing she enquired about. He looks after her for months in the hospital, waiting.
Notwithstanding Dhawan's sincere efforts, he failed to elevate a film written intuitively by Chaturvedi and directed with measured restraint by Sircar. October nudged us gently towards taking a pause ("Theher ja, tu kisi bahane se"), reflect, and divert our energies towards loved ones, without any expectation of returns. Avik Mukhopadhyay's cinematography deserves a special mention here as he turned Delhi, otherwise infamous for the air pollution, into a canvas rich in growth and regeneration. The close-up shots of the Shiuli flowers fail to leave me.
A year after producing Vicky Donor, John Abraham resumed his role as an actor in Sircar's political action thriller Madras Cafe. It is one of the few films of Sircar not written by Chatruvedi. She has penned only the dialogues, and Shubhendu Bhattacharya has written the story and screenplay. Unfortunately, the lack of grip on the writing reflects in the movie, just like the limited capabilities of its lead actors, Abraham and Nargis Fakhri.
A period drama set in the late 1980s and early '90s, Madras Cafe revolved around Vikram (Abraham), a RAW agent who finds himself in the centre of the Indian interference in the Sri Lankan Civil War and a conspiracy to assassinate the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. While Sircar's keen direction and Bhattacharya's extensive research got the 'political' bit right, the 'action thriller' part proved to be a weak link of the film. Despite the razor-sharp editing by Chandrashekhar Prajapati in key portions, the narrative could not engage as a whole.
Sircar's directorial debut in 2005 felt like a Vishal Bhardwaj film on paper. With romance blooming against the harsh backdrop of Kashmir, the film chronicled the romance of Aman (Jimmy Sheirgill), an Indian Army captain, and Adaa (Minissha Lamba), a Kashmiri local. The tender moments are skillfully directed and are still evocative 15 years later when you watch the popular song from the film, 'Naam Adaa Likhna'.
But the pacing had neither the maturity nor the poise of October. It cannot be termed a slow burn either, since the conclusion had dissatisfaction written all over it. It took four writers to put together the script but none of them could notice how the film was shaped as an excruciatingly slow affair.
Pink: Though Aniruddha Roy Choudhary was the director of this 2016 National Award-winning courtroom drama, Sircar also had his hands full as the creative producer. He has produced several other features in Hindi and Bengali but is said to have had special interest in the Amitabh Bachchan and Taapsee Pannu-starrer.
Shoebite: This is the first film Sircar directed Bachchan in, but it remains unreleased for years following a production dispute. Ayushmann Khurrana brought it back into the public discourse recently when he referred to Shoebite as Sircar's "best film" yet. Since the rights are with Disney now, we are sure no one would mind even a direct-to-digital release on Disney+ Hotstar.
Sardar Udham Singh: Sircar will return to political dramas eight years after Madras Cafe. A biopic of the Sikh revolutionary who assassinated General Dyer (British soldier responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre) last century, the historical stars Vicky Kaushal in the titular role. It is slated to release on 15 January, 2021.
Gulabo Sitabo will premiere on Amazon Prime Video India this Friday on 12 June.
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