iSmart Shankar movie review: Ram’s pulsating energy meets its match in Puri Jagannadh’s irreverence
Despite its crassness at times, iSmart Shankar strikes a chord largely due to its story, Puri Jagannadh’s conviction, and Mani Sharma’s compelling background score.
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
When was the last time filmmaker Puri Jagannadh made a film that hooked us completely? Was it the NTR starrer Temper? It released way back in 2015, which now feels like a distant past. For someone who can almost compete with ISRO to launch and finish his projects, Puri Jagannadh’s success rate has been perplexing for anyone who has followed his initial slate of films. After all, he’s the force behind films like Pokiri, Idiot, and Temper which have been among the most talked about Telugu films in the last two decades. The lull that followed post Temper kept the gap between the director Puri Jagannadh once was and what he had become with each film after that. Perhaps, this is why watching his latest film, iSmart Shankar, feels so different. It’s a throwback to an era when Puri Jagannadh’s films sprang a surprise.
In the film, the biggest surprising factor is Puri Jagannadh himself because he has a lot more than just a brash hero. This time, he had an interesting story to tell and narrate it convincingly. And his irreverence meets its match in Ram’s pulsating energy because let’s face it, it’s hard to make boorishness seem likeable. In the film, Ram plays a street-smart contract killer, Shankar, who realises that he has been trapped in a major conspiracy. The film traverses his journey as he unravels the mystery behind why he was asked to kill a prominent politician and the subsequent repercussions of his action. This might have been yet another action drama, but Puri Jagannadh inserts a sci-fi concept into the story which turns ‘street-smart Shankar’ into ‘iSmart Shankar’. It’s best to witness all this on a big screen because revealing the twist would destroy the very aspect of the film which makes it entertaining.
There’s a lot that can be said and written about Ram’s transformation in this film. He speaks the language of the street, which predominantly exists in Puri Jagannadh’s cinematic universe, behaves like only Puri’s hero would do, and looks unlike anything he has been in all these years. In this film, his energy has a sense of purpose, and the speed with which he dances matches the verve of the storytelling and his motive to unearth a conspiracy. The only time it feels odd to hear Ram speak like the way he does is in the very first scene where he stresses way too much on his pronunciation to prove that he has lived all his life in the streets of Hyderabad, where Yellamma is the most-revered Goddess and Bonalu is the biggest festival. But once you look past this scene, Ram fits into his role effortlessly and his eccentricities, which not surprisingly cross into the realm of crassness at times, take centre stage.
The dynamics of a man-woman relationship in Puri Jagannadh’s movies defy conventions. Here, when a couple trade expletives, it’s shown as an expression of love. There’s a scene where Shankar tells his friend that he wants to slap his girlfriend, at least once everyday, after getting married to her. When his friend says it’s wrong to do so, Shankar simply smirks and says that nothing is going to happen. This idea of love and why women fall for such men in Puri’s films is a thesis waiting to be written, but then, such love stories are almost always passionate and raw.
What makes the love story in iSmart Shankar a lot more palatable than Puri’s previous films is that the sincerity of Shankar and Chandini (Nabha Natesh) comes through. He yearns for her presence in his life and reasons that she’s the only one in his life who would slap him if he makes a mistake. The love story between the two characters is well-established because that’s what drives the story forward. On the other hand, when Shankar meets Sara (Nidhhi Agerwal), a neuro-scientist, the two share an unusual equation which brings him close to her. He struggles to accept Sara whole-heartedly because he finds himself in a constant battle between his brain and his heart. Puri Jagannadh does a pretty good job in handling the relationship between Shankar and Sara too, and full credit to him for using the sci-fi twist as a foundation to explore the Shankar and Sara’s relationship. Satyadev delivers another solid performance and his presence is felt till the end of the film.
iSmart Shankar walks a thin line, when it comes to its liberal usage of expletives, and its desperate attempt to localise everything feels jarring at times, but then it’s never boring. If there’s someone else who deserves credit for turning iSmart Shankar into a gripping film, apart from Ram and Puri Jagannadh, then it has to be Mani Sharma, the music composer of the film. The background score is compelling and gives a sense of urgency to Shankar’s journey. The climax, in particular, captivates you because Mani Sharma turns it into a psychedelic trance experience.
In the end, iSmart Shankar is proof enough that Puri Jagannadh is back with a bang. It might not be his best film, but it’s certainly his most watchable film in years. And Ram is a ball of energy. iSmart Shankar might have its roots in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, but Puri Jagannadh gives it his own spin and reimagines it as a quintessential Telugu mass film.
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