Skin of Marble movie review: Naseeruddin Shah's act can't rescue this throwback to worst of '90s Bollywood
Skin of Marble is one of those films that basically serve as vehicles for a nostalgic trip to a cinematic past we are better off erasing once and for all.
The central mystery surrounding this film, apart from Naseeruddin Shah consenting to appear in it, remains Large Short Films’ decision to showcase it under their banner.
Not that it lacks in other equally confounding and deeply frustrating mysteries. There is the tribute to Saadat Hasan Manto in the credits. Perhaps because the film claims to use India’s partition for a backdrop. To be fair to Manto — a giant of modern literature and a great chronicler of the horrors of those dark hours — his inclusion is profoundly unwarranted. There are the tacky sets and production design, both of which belong in the worst B-grade horror films. The actors could might as well have wandered onto these sets, babbled their lines in isolation, leaving the editor to splice these disparate sets of dialogue into a more coherent film. Now the central function of dialogue is to convey information. But the writer takes this dictum too literally and conveniently leaves out all conflict that gives rise to drama. Not to forget the deeply disturbing portrayal of women as mannequins who spout dialogue to service male desire and ambition. So far, so bad. And we are yet to talk about the story.
Vivaan Parashar, director Pankuj Parashar’s son, plays a man in love with Violet. The film is set in Delhi during the partition, in a corner of the city where death and destruction hasn’t reached yet. He soon learns that his father, played by Shah, wants to marry him off to Preeto, because he has given her father his word. Preeto, as must be obvious by now, is the good, obedient Indian woman. Violet, well, she is a foreigner, who, Vivaan’s character soon discovers, doesn’t wish to be with him. A series of highly predictable events leads to an ending so disturbing and out of sync with reality that the viewer will be advised against watching this film in the first place.
The narrative plods ahead in a series of set pieces that appear completely disconnected with each other. Tonally out of sync, the scenes are lit casually and rendered all the more lustreless by the uninspired musical score. Vivaan’s central performance is simply abhorrent. He is present in every single frame of the film. A strong turn could have salvaged some respectability for the film. But he plays a man seemingly torn apart by love without imagination and reels off dialogue — especially the poetry — in a state of utter confusion. The less said about the supporting performances, the better. For the characters come across as vessels for furthering decrepit ideas and archaic moral codes. And Naseer, well, he is just there.
Beginning with its clunky title, the film continues drowning further and further in the objectification of its female characters, gradually taking away any shards of agency they possess. Not that the male characters are etched with any more empathy. It all feels like a grave reminder of the worst of '90s Bollywood cinema, something we seemed to have left behind for good.
The arrival of digital platforms — Netflix, Prime Video, LSF and the like — kindled hope for radical storytelling that challenges and improves upon the rut that mainstream filmmaking seemed to have fallen prey to. There is no denying that baby steps, howsoever small and floundering they may be, are being taken in that direction. Good things take time. But no amount of star power can compensate for a terrible story and lazy direction. LSF, among others, has forged a new path for short filmmaking. Their valuable contribution is evident in the shorter format of storytelling being now recognised by the Filmfare Awards, no less. Therefore, it is hoped that they continue to make space for original storytelling from different parts of the country, in as many languages as possible. The burgeoning numbers of new internet subscribers being added every day from all over the country goes to show that it makes business sense as well. Else we will be stuck with misfires like Skin of Marble; films that basically serve as vehicles for a nostalgic trip to a cinematic past we are better off erasing once and for all.
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