Noblemen movie review: Kunal Kapoor's film is well-directed despite a convoluted script
Vandana Kataria’s direction outperforms the script of Noblemen, which feeds on The Merchant of Venice’s concept of revenge.
castKunal Kapoor, Ali Haji, Shaan Grover, Mohammed Ali Mir, Hardik Thakkar
An upscale boarding school in the hills is the setting for this English language film that takes William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as the subtext for this dark rites-of-passage tale.
The students of Noble Valley, the predominantly residential boys school (with a handful of girls), are grandly referred to as ‘Noblemen’. Like their teachers and housemasters, the students too speak English. This is one of the stumbles in Sonia Behl, Sunil Drego and Vandana Kataria’s (the latter also directs) script – dialogues resonant of school elocution competitions. Fortunately, Kataria creates a relatable boarding school environ sucks you into the drama within those dormitories.
The conflict gets accentuated when Shay (Ali Haji), a timid 10th standard student, gets cast as Bassanio in the Founders Day enactment of The Merchant of Venice. Senior student Baaadal (Shaan Grover) wants the part because he wants to get close to Pia, the student cast as Portia. To achieve this, he enlists Arjun’s (Mohammed Ali Mir) help. Together they mercilessly and cruelly bully Shay into quitting the play. By association, Shay’s best-friend Ganzu (Hardik Thakkar) also comes into the line of harassment.
A young, compassionate, new faculty member Murali (Kunal Kapoor) is directing the play. The teacher tries to persuade Shay to speak up against the grave and violent bullying inflicted on him by Arjun, Baadal and their gang. “Fear empowers the bully,” he tries to explain, but Shay is painfully aware of the unwritten code that paints a virtual target on the back of a snitch, and the administration that turns a blind eye to it.
Arjun, the school jock, is haunted by his own demons. Kataria shows how the emotional rollercoaster of family lives impact the behaviour and reactions of these children, often with horrifying outcomes. There is also the overworked metaphor of an injured bird and a parallel story of parental abuse – physical and emotional. Both leave their marks, but sometimes the scars you cannot see are the ones that get most deeply infected.
Ali Haji and Mohammed Ali Mir are well cast as the feuding students on opposite ends of the battle-lines. While the former internalises his situation the latter amps up the attitude as he targets a boy conflicted by his own identity crisis.
Kataria’s direction outperforms the script, which feeds on The Merchant of Venice’s concept of revenge while adding in comments on sexuality, homophobia and, of course, bullying. The director maintains ambivalence around Arjun’s sexuality in the way she captures his physical closeness to Shay, teasing the homoerotic, while simultaneously building on Shay’s absolute fear and helplessness.
As Noblemen shows, the outcome of repeated abuse and tolerance can be dark and shocking. Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strained…” speech is one the most famous quotes from Shakespeare’s celebrated play. However this film builds on Bassanio’s words: “To do a great right, do a little wrong; And curb the cruel devil of his will.”
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