The trailer of Shab ends with, “The only love stories worth telling are the forbidden ones”, without giving much away. In the film, you discover those to be an extramarital affair, a homosexual relationship and one where you sleep with a person for money. There’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Loneliness, greed and ghosts of the past seem to be the driving forces for the self-proclaimed ‘complex characters’ in their verboten relationships.
A garishly dressed Raveena Tandon plays a stereotypical, rich Mrs. Robinson named Sonal Modi, who devours a young Pahadi boy, Mohan (Ashish Bisht). She takes him under her wings, rechristens him Afzar and grooms him for the big bad world of fashion. Raina (Arpita Pal) – who is attracted to her French neighbour Benoit (Simon Frenay) – evidently fosters a dark past. She is friends with Neil (Areesz Ganddi), who is grappling with his boyfriend’s decision to get married to a woman. The only common factor that conveniently brings them all together is the city of Delhi (a café and a hotel in particular).
The film is so adamant on projecting itself as emotionally intense that it manipulatively uses background scores to dictate your emotional reaction. All of which is accompanied by hackneyed shots that symbolise loneliness or inner conflict, like Raina curled up in front of a white wall in a dimly lit frame.
- Director: Onir
- Cast: Ashish Bisht, Raveena Tandon, Simon Frenay, Areesz Ganddi, Arpita Pal, Sanjay Suri, Raj Suri
- Storyline: Several lonely characters in Delhi, with dark pasts, look for happiness and meaningful relationships
As anticipated, all characters have their moments of breakdown. Tandon’s outburst in front of a mirror – like her efforts at seducing a diaphanous underwear wearing Bisht – is simply awkward. (Tip: you could stare at your popcorn tub till these scenes are over because the background score will ensure you know it’s done). Bisht – who is seen more bare chested than clothed – has his meltdown in the rain, but it’s comically (and thankfully) interrupted by a homeless man who yells, “Yeh drama apne ghar par kar, mere ghar pe nahi (throw this tantrum in your own house)”, and goes back to sleep under his makeshift tent.
Onir, who has made films like My Brother…Nikhil (2005) and I Am (2010) – which explore homosexual characters with utmost sensitivity – paints the isolation of queer lives in Shab with equal expertise (despite the queer narrative being conspicuously absent from the trailer or the film’s promotions). The movie consciously goes against the largely accepted stereotype of gay men being effeminate to build characters that are “regular”, thereby elevating the discourse from identity struggle to issues of sustainable relationship and possibly gay marriage. The two actors playing queer characters – Simon Frenay and Areesz Ganddi – perform well in tandem with the filmmaker’ vision.
The filmmaker embellishes Shab with generous dollops of mainstream Bollywood grammar, while you keep wishing he breaks free and implements a restrained approach, like with his earlier works. But what you end up with instead is a farrago of unrealised ideas, where no particular story shines through. Like Tandon – who gleefully waltzes out of the movie midway, only to return later – you could take an extended walk during the interval and not have missed much.