Shankar Mudi movie review: A human story of Kolkata's middle class and their constant struggle for survival

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Mar 16, 2019 14:43:42 IST


The truth is never pleasant. Which is why, when a filmmaker decides to bring the truth to the screen, it seldom makes for a pleasure trip to the movies. However, all good art is born out of pain, grief and angst. And what better subject to portray pain, grief and angst than the common man of India? And what better filmmaker to understand the common man and his plight than Aniket Chattopadhyay – who made the criminally underrated Tuski last year? Chattopadhyay is back with another sucker punch to your gut – a film that will make you flinch in your seats – not because it makes you angry at the injustice it portrays, but because it pokes you in the eye and tells you that you – yes, you, and I and everyone else around us – are all part of that same injustice ourselves. If a work of art can do that, if it can make you think and introspect, it is, at least in my books, high art.

Shankar Mudi movie review: A human story of Kolkatas middle class and their constant struggle for survival

A still from Shankar Mudi. YouTube

Shankar Mudi tells the story of a typical Kolkata middle class neighbourhood, centred around a typical Kolkata middle-class neighbourhood tea-stall, where gossip rules the day and exhausted souls come for solace when night falls. There are a number of people who gather at the stall for a sip of piping hot tea every morning – a local tailor, a barber, a girl who stitches blouses for women, a rickshaw driver, a man who dresses up as gods and goddesses to beg for alms, a newspaper vendor, and even the neighbourhood grocer – Shankar – who has been running a tiny grocery shop for two generations. These people cannot strictly be termed enlightened people. They have their quirks, some of which can be downright irritating. Coaxing a mutton-meal out of their neighbours, passing snide remarks at educated passers-by, getting drunk and creating a ruckus in the middle of the night – these are some of their activities. But at the same time, their sense of community is uncompromising. If you are in trouble, these very people will jump into action and come for help, taking great personal risks at times. At first glance, they may seem like obnoxious hoodlums ruining the decency of the block, but spend a little time with them, and you will see that they are far more human and humane than you had ever imagined. Their joys and sorrows, their achievements and tragedies, their never-ending struggle for survival and their will to stand next to each other during bad times create the foundation of Aniket Chattopadhyay’s film.

There’s also the main story of the film – an unfair, tragic David versus Goliath tale of how foreign direct investments and corporate infusions of massive amounts of capital into shopping malls are killing neighbourhood kirana stores, mom-and-pop shops and local grocers. You will watch – helplessly – as Shankar Mudi struggles to keep up with a nearby mall, even as he finds all his regular customers upgrade from his tiny store to the comfort and convenience of the shopping complex. That the mall has been built in the name of so-called ‘development’ and that it had support from the local goon-turned-politician, and that one by one, every single storekeeper of the neighbourhood – including the women – are forced to bow before the same goon, only paints a scary picture of the businessman-criminal-politician nexus of our country. Shankar laments at the loss of his customers, but what struck me fiercely was that I myself have been guilty of the same crime. Have I not moved away from the local grocer to the air-conditioned, spic-and-span environment of the malls, where there are a hundred options of biscuits and toothpastes to choose from? Have I not felt a sense of pride in pushing my shopping cart along the aisles of a convenience store, never sparing a thought for the poor shopkeeper who had served me and my family for generations, offering us credit when we didn’t have money to pay him? Slowly, yet surely, the fate of such community members is doomed in the face of capitalisation. Chattopadhyay’s film is as much a protest film as it is a brilliant study of the everyman’s life.

The film boasts of an ensemble cast, like the much-loved cast of Kundan Shah and Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s popular Doordarshan television series Nukkad. There are so many characters, that it may not be possible for me to speak about all of them, but this much can be said – each and every single one of those characters will make you root for them with their sincerity. They are perpetually quarreling among themselves, but in the face of even the slightest of dangers to one of them, they will stand united as one, indivisible unit. There are several brilliant cameos as well, so keep your eyes peeled.

But it is impossible to write this review without talking about the protagonist of the film – Shankar, the grocer himself. Filmmaker and actor Kaushik Ganguly must have not had a chance to recover from the overwhelming response his film Nagarkirtan has received, and here he is again with a mind-boggling performance as a well-meaning, struggling grocer who fails to compete with the big boys with deep pockets. Ganguly brings forth a wide range of emotions. A strong ridicule for the shopping mall as it is being constructed, which unknown to him, was about to sound his death-knell. An admirable affection for his wife, who, through thick and thin, has always stood beside him. A great camaraderie with the other storekeepers of the area. And fear – oh, the fear – in those deeply expressive eyes of his when he realizes that he is fighting a lost battle. One can easily see that Ganguly has completely submitted himself in the hands of his director, allowing him to mould him any which way the latter deems fit.

And what a moulding director Aniket Chattopadhyay does! His deep sensitivity towards the hopes and aspirations and fears of these people is the greatest treasure of the film. Ably supported by great cinematography by Sirsha Ray (the rain scenes are particularly well lit and beautifully shot), a beautiful score by Kabir Suman (whose protest songs will remind you of a time when we used to have a semblance of care for what is right and what is wrong), but most of all, armed with a great script and fantastic performances by the entire cast, Chattopadhyay’s film Shankar Mudi is certainly a must-watch, and one of the many brilliant films that have already come out of the Bengali film industry this year.

Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 12:24:18 IST