Shorgul review: Loud, tacky film on the not-Muzaffarnagar riots

Anna MM Vetticad

Jul,01 2016 09:58:28 IST

First, let us get this out of the way: Muzaffarnagar is not mentioned anywhere in Shorgul. The allusions are unmistakable though, which explains media reports that BJP MLA Sangeet Som has been raising a ruckus about this little-known film.

Som is a prime accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. Actor Jimmy Sheirgill in Shorgul plays a fictional Ranjeet Om, an MLA from a right-wing Hindu party who engineers communal riots in the town of Malihabad – in a state ruled by a Chief Minister Mithilesh Yadav (Sanjay Suri) – to further his goal of becoming a Member of Parliament in the next election.

Som clearly does not know when to shut up though, because the fact is, Shorgul makes allusions to other contemporary political leaders and situations that could very well place the story elsewhere too. Such as the film’s slim Muslim leader Alam Khan (played by Narendra Jha) who delivers an inflammatory speech about the likely consequences of India’s Muslims rising up against the country’s Hindus, which sounds almost like a replica of the real-life speech allegedly delivered by All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi in Adilabad in 2012 for which he was arrested in 2013.

All right then, that point has been addressed. Onward to the review. If you have been brought up in a secular, liberal environment, it is easy to dismiss some of the situations and conversations in this film as a figment of the writers’ minds. That scene, for instance, in which a Muslim student asks a fellow Muslim collegemate to hang out with her own people instead of Hindu friends. Improbable? Actually, not. If you have kept your eyes and ears open and looked beyond your own immediate family, you would know that such words have been – and are – routinely spoken in homes and public places across India, earlier in whispers and now increasingly openly.

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Jimmy Sheirgill in 'Shorgul'. Youtube screen grab.

The point is, the film’s story is believable. A Muslim girl called Zainab and a Hindu boy called Raghu grow up as friends. He falls in love with her but she is unaware of his feelings. When her fiancé Saleem discovers the truth, it leads to tension between all parties involved and ultimately, an unplanned act of violence that is used by Ranjeet Om to incite riots in the town.

Caught in the crossfire along with the youngsters is Raghu’s father, Chaudhary (Ashutosh Rana), a respected local leader who is constantly at loggerheads with Om.

Plausible plotline, as you can see. The execution is a different matter altogether.

Shorgul’s screenplay by Jitendra Tiwari is effective in not taking sides with either community involved. Unfortunately, it takes its title very seriously and ultimately loses itself in its own din.

The film – co-directed by Tiwari with P. Singh – is noisy, lacks finesse and depth, and the political machinations are diluted to irritating effect by too many loud songs and problematic production quality.

At the centre of it all is an actress so uncharismatic playing Zainab, that it is hard to understand why two men – not one, but two – are so smitten by her as to be willing to give up their lives for her. Newcomer Suha Gezen lacks a screen presence. Making things worse is the director duo’s evident fixation with what they consider her immense beauty. As a result, she is given a lingering introductory shot and the camera gazes lovingly at her throughout.

It does not help Gezen’s case that Zainab’s suitors are played by TV stars Anirudh Dave and Hiten Tejwani who are both easy on the eye and better actors. Dave does twice resort to screaming to convey a burst of temper but there is reason to forgive him that folly in the scene in which Raghu acknowledges his feelings for his lady friend. Tejwani, who is his senior, lends a quiet likeability to Saleem.

There is also some pleasure to be derived from the performances of Messrs Sheirgill, Rana and Jha. All three manage to avoid sounding bombastic for a considerable part of the film, despite the decibel levels that surround them (not counting a verbal explosion by Rana in his final scene).

There is a not-entirely-uninteresting twist in the tale. The real mystery though is why, through Sanjay Suri’s cameo, the filmmakers have tried to place a halo around the head of real-life UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav.

Be that as it may, Shorgul is a perfect example of the Central Board of Film Certification’s persistent inconsistency. Despite its communal language and intense violence, the film has got away with a UA rating and, according to co-director P. Singh, a directive to remove just three words – gau, Ganga and Godhra. This seems like an act of extreme indulgence from a Board that just last month fought hard to prevent the release of Udta Punjab and had to be forced by the judiciary to let that film come to theatres with an A certificate.

It is not this review’s case that Shorgul should be banned – of course it should not be. Question is, by what yardstick does its content not merit an A (restricted to adults) rating? And why the double standards?

The lasting memory from Shorgul though is of its overall air of tackiness. The song and dance routine accompanying the opening credits should have been a sign of things to come: it features a poorly shot Hrishitaa Bhatt stuck with some of the most awkward choreography seen in a film in recent memory. Closing the brackets on the mediocrity is a ridiculous video of a wailing, weeping Zainab/Gezen filmed underwater and running alongside the closing credits, possibly to convey some deep philosophical point. It is unwittingly funny.

Between the two ends, we get an array of junior artistes with limited talent, a scar on Eijaz Khan’s neck that proves the prosthetic make-up department lacked funds and oh yes, a couple of songs with lyrics by Congress politician Kapil Sibal that are unmemorable enough to merit this cliché: his writing is nothing to write home about.

The Muzaffarnagar riots are a blot on contemporary history and the wounds from that blaze are yet to heal. It is almost criminal to use references to this human tragedy to draw audiences into a deafening, unimaginative, ordinary film.

Updated Date: Jul 01, 2016 10:14 AM