Shame review: A feisty Swara Bhaskar is the best thing about this patchy revenge drama

Anupam Kant Verma

Jan 18, 2019 13:03:17 IST


Few genres in film possess the potential to inspire anticipation, untrammelled reactions and sympathy with the protagonist as viscerally as the revenge drama. Revenge is a dish best served cold, popular cinema will want us to believe. The increasing numbers of titles in this genre, perhaps reflecting its perennial popularity, suggest that a large portion of the audience might agree.

On account of its basic design, this type of film features a character—in some cases a group, in others a nation (in which case jingoism threatens encroachment)—that suffers a wrong. The character, following a period of piecing itself back together, proceeds to avenge itself, seeking to right the wrongs and achieve a variant of natural justice. The more egregious the wrong, the colder the revenge.

Clearly, the set-up is quite simple. I’m certain that dozens of film titles are buzzing through your head already. But what’s key here is the notion of character and the period spent piecing itself back together. The absence of the latter not only brings the film’s laziness into sharp relief, it fails to elicit true empathy for the character from the audience, thereby derailing the production.

 Shame review: A feisty Swara Bhaskar is the best thing about this patchy revenge drama

Swara Bhaskar and Ranvir Shorey in Shame.

The notion of character, which I’ve purposely referred to as ‘it' to this point, is subtler and more significant. Let’s take a wildly popular example. Tarantino’s Kill Bill duology features Uma Thurman in the lead role of the wronged woman. By its design and its outlandish visual palette, the director never stops reminding us that we are watching a character, not a real person, suffer and avenge herself within the make-believe world of film. If that isn’t convincing enough, well, he doesn’t even give Thurman’s character a name. What you’re watching isn’t real. The emotions he wishes to draw from the audience may border on the visceral and the true, but the world conjured is not. The garish, loud tone of the film supplements Tarantino’s ambition of serving us with amazing entertainment, in addition to being a sly self-critique of his violent film.

Anusha Bose’s otherwise earnest short film, Shame, fails miserably on these two accounts. Now, it does boast a splendid cast of actors. The presence of Swara Bhaskar, Ranvir Shorey and Sayani Gupta together in a film would suffice to make it eminently watchable, which it definitely is. Shame starts out well enough. Bose is quite at home giving us a sneak peek into Bhaskar’s character of a housekeeping staff member at a prestigious hotel. She shyly eavesdrops on the lives of the guests. But she is good at her job: a stickler for detail with a potent imagination. Even though the dialogue is turgid throughout, Bhaskar’s portrayal of her character’s wild fancy keeps us interested. The director segues between imagination and reality with creditable aplomb.

But the moment Shorey — a big, bad corporate honcho type — catches Bhaskar trying on a dress belonging to Gupta, things take a turn for the worse.

The writing nosedives and the film abruptly turns into a revenge drama, momentarily throwing in comic tonal shifts totally out of sync with the rest of the film. Mind you, the acting remains solid at all times. But in failing to provide Bhaskar breathing space to transform into an avenging angel, Bose quite literally loses the plot.

Plot holes and flaws aside, Bhaskar’s transformation into the badass avenger bursting through the class ceiling is so rapid that it nullifies the impact of the film. This despite an outstanding last scene which, had Bhaskar’s character been written with more care, would have made for a magnificent coda to Shame. The domino effect her tiny action has on the privileged guests at the hotel is in essence a marvelous ending completely unbecoming of a film with a mediocre, obese middle segment. Clearly, all’s not well that ends well.

But there’s a lot of good that Bose can take away from Shame. There are many moments displaying competent craftsmanship. She is good with actors and her camera navigates space with reassuring ease. The editing has its crests and troughs. Some scenes linger far longer than they should on an unnecessary detail. Evidently, emotional heft threatens to let the film get carried away beyond what’s required.

It is really in failing to live up to the true destiny of its character that the house of Shame comes crashing down. Unfortunately, its lows sound louder than the highs. There was a germ of a minutely observed class-conflict based film in here. But Shame let shock-value overwhelm the meticulous arrangement of character and thought that it demanded.

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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 13:03:17 IST