Shiddat movie review: Superficial, careless writing weakens the romance

Shiddat has its heart in the right place but not nearly enough narrative depth to justify its 140-minute runtime.

Aditya Mani Jha October 01, 2021 08:15:00 IST

1/5

Most writers are fond of their own words. When we’re young, our words arrange themselves on the page in a style that feels attention-seeking years afterwards. As we grow older, we nevertheless refer to these past words through allusions, callbacks, hyperlinks. It’s self-congratulatory, whichever way you slice it. I know this, as I suspect most writers do.

But even by these standards, it was a bit much to see the writerly weight given to a brief monologue at the beginning of Kunal Deshmukh’s film Shiddat (now available on Disney+Hotstar). It’s a short speech delivered by young diplomat Gautam (Mohit Raina) during his engagement party, about how he met his fiancé Ira (Diana Penty). If I hadn’t met you in London, he says, it’d have been Paris or Amsterdam. They’d always end up meeting because “Tum meri kismet ho” (You’re my destiny) Gautam says. For some reason these lines affect party-crashing free spirit Jaggi (Sunny Kaushal) in such a profound way that he swears he will find a love “worthy” of the sentiment. “Dil ko touch kar gayi baat” he says on two different occasions, slapping his chest.

Through the course of the film, as Gautam and Jaggi’s fates remain improbably intertwined, Jaggi reminds Gautam of this same speech over and over again, as though this it were something out of a medieval poetry collection (when it’s in fact written in a treacly, Paulo-Coelho-meets-K-Pop register).

It’s curious to see the importance Shiddat assigns to this, perhaps the weakest part of an uneven screenplay. The film is about two love stories: the ‘major’ key is a DDLJ-esque (predictably, the connection is spelt out in a dialogue) romance between two national-level athletes: hockey player Jaggi (Sunny Kaushal) and swimmer Kartika (Radhika Madan). The ‘minor’ key is the broken marriage of Gautam and Ira, who now live in Paris.

Shiddat movie review Superficial careless writing weakens the romance

Mohit Raina, Diana Penty in a still from Shiddat | Twitter

The problem with both storylines is the same, really: superficial, careless writing. The Jaggi-Kartika romance is supposed to be a variation on the opposites-attract theme. He is the loud, happy-go-lucky, inappropriate — but somehow charming —heart-of-gold. She is the pragmatic, intense, competitive and level-headed half of the romance. Here’s the thing, though: while Jaggi is believably annoying to most of the characters on display (more than once, he is called “ch**ia”), it’s not clear why people end up liking him. There’s exactly one generic, feel-good pep talk he gives Kartika about “loving the game”, which lasts half a minute. But outside of that, I really did not get why Kartika falls for Jaggi or indeed, why Jaggi attracts the kind of undying loyalty he does from friends and strangers alike. He’s a manic pixie dream boy, only the charm is largely sub-textual, it seems. It’s base protagonism: the hero’s the hero because he’s the hero.

The Gautam-Ira romance presents an even more challenging prospect for the viewer in terms of improbability. Ira’s either an ‘activist’ or a ‘social worker’ depending upon the writers’ mood; either way she works with undocumented immigrants. At a High Commissioner’s Office dinner, she argues with one of Gautam’s diplomatic colleagues, something he gets really angry over, leading to a tantrum-y hissy fit. As to what Ira actually said to prompt such fury, we are in the dark because it happens off-screen — convenient, because presenting the conversation would have meant the writers of Shiddat actually saying something coherent on immigration.

Later, on their way back home, Ira feeds an undocumented immigrant boy; in an awards-worthy dick move, Gautam sneakily gets the boy to reveal where he and his also-undocumented migrant friends sleep at night. He gets them deported and she leaves him in a panicked epiphany: they’re “very different people”. For him, these people are “illegals” as he says. For her, they’re people she helps every day.

Shiddat movie review Superficial careless writing weakens the romance

Sunny Kaushal, Radhika Madan in a still from Shiddat

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s genuinely sweet, not to mention important, that Shiddat places undocumented immigration as an important plot point—and makes it clear that the migrants are the good guys being wronged (read beaten, caged, killed) by draconian policing and vengeful governments (personified by Gautam).

If you’ve been keeping up with recent headlines, you’ll know this is an important message and I applaud Deshmukh and the writers for it. It’s just that the whole thing is so very silly at the screenplay level.

Get this: the ‘ice-thawing’ moment for Gautam happens when he spies on his now-estranged wife feeding the homeless off a street corner. He pays one of these homeless people and eats said food, and it…somehow convinces him that he needs to get back together with her? The whole “food-served-by-the-wife” overtones of the scene are weird enough, but what’s even more troubling is the way that poor people are used as a step-ladder for the hero’s self-congratulation. A similar moment happened in Baahubali, when the boy-prince Mahendra eats “servant’s food” with his adoptive uncle Kattappa, the designated servant-of-the-throne. In both these scenes, we’re supposed to applaud the hero’s largesse and his epiphany because he (cue horror-gasps) eats with poor people.

Director Kunal Deshmukh has borrowed from the headlines before: like the Bombay floods with Tum Mile, or the 2000 cricket match-fixing scandal with Jannat. To an extent, the superficial writing problem exists in those films, too, but it isn’t as stark as it is with Shiddat, which has its heart in the right place but not nearly enough narrative depth to justify its 140-minute runtime.

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