Thursday, October 22, 2015


Release date:
October 22, 2015
Vikas Bahl

Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor, Pankaj Kapur, Sushma Seth, Sanah Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, Vikas Verma

The road to cinematic boredom is paved with grand intentions.

There are  moments in Shaandaar when you can almost imagine what writer-director Vikas Bahl was hoping to achieve during the conceptualisation of this project. Like those scenes in which Jagjinder Joginder (Shahid Kapoor) and Alia Arora (Alia Bhatt) read each other’s dreams. Or when Shahid, Alia, Pankaj Kapur, Vikas Verma and debutant Sanah Kapoor join forces for an argument via the song Senti wali mental – the sets are delicious, the choreography is imaginative, the music is fun and the lyrics sparkle with each character’s convictions.

This then is what the film could have been: an unusual blend of Wes Anderson’s whimsy, Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top, luxurious fantasia and Manmohan Desai’s emotion, zest and verve.

Sadly, Shaandaar works only in bits and pieces. It has its heart in the right place as is evident from the messages it tries to convey – about stereotypical definitions of beauty, adoption (some well-intentioned misfiring there), children making their own life choices, the superficiality of the happiness money can buy, and the pursuit of both happiness and wealth. It is also sporadically funny. The rest seems lost somewhere in the recesses of Vikas and his co-writers Anvita Dutt and Chaitally Parmar’s minds, like an inside joke floating around perhaps among those clouds that inhabit Alia’s and Jagjinder’s dreams in the story.

It breaks the heart to say this since Vikas directed last year’s best Bollywood film, Queen, which he co-wrote with Anvita, Chaitally, Parveez Shaikh and actress Kangna Ranaut herself. Queen was brilliant. Shaandaar, on the other hand, struggles from the word go.

The story is set in a castle in the English countryside where two wealthy Indian families gather for a destination wedding. The Punjabi Aroras’ overweight daughter Isha (Sanah) is set to marry the Sindhi body-flaunting gym enthusiast Robin Fandwani (Vikas). She is a nice girl who loves her dad (Pankaj), her adopted sister Alia and good food. He is an egotistical, protein-shake-swilling twit who loves himself. Their union is being pushed primarily by the Arora family’s matriarch, Isha’s grandmother (Sushma Seth), to save her clan from bankruptcy. In the run-up to D-day, Alia gets romantically involved with Jagjinder who is their wedding planner.

Going by standard practice in mainstream Bollywood, you might assume that the film revolves mainly around Alia and Shahid’s characters. It does not. There are many sub-stories within this story, and that’s the first step at which Shaandaar falters. Ensemble scripts require a great deal of directorial and writing skill to keep us equally involved with all the characters even as the spotlight continuously shifts from one to the other. Shaandaar cannot  pull that off. Each time it focuses on Alia and Jagjinder, Isha recedes into the background; each time it moves to Isha and Robin, the other two seem to fade away; and so on. The result is an erratic, bumpy narrative.

The occasional, genuinely comedic portions are pulled down by laboured efforts to be cool and humourous elsewhere. The Sindhis in the film for instance – gold-swathed, money-obsessed loud mouths – are caricatures, yet not unabashedly over-done enough to be funny. Karan Johar’s cameo is contrived (KJo leering at a male star is a tired joke that really really needs to be retired). And what were those panties doing on Alia’s plate? No one tells us so it’s fair to assume that that lingerie’s only purpose was to contribute an intriguing element to the film’s trailer.

In such a scenario, it’s hard to analyse the acting. The cast is talented, but there are no stand-out performances. Since Shahid delivered a career best in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider just last year, this is proof – if any was needed – that no actor is better than the written material at hand. At a couple of places, it even seems as though Alia – usually a sparkler – loses interest in the film.

Still, let it be placed on the record that Sushma Seth looks regal, and Vikas Verma and Sanah are promising. I enjoyed Vikas’ dancing in Senti wali mental and his willingness to make a fool of himself on screen because that was a requirement of the role. Sanah – Shahid’s half sister – has a warm, likeable personality and she holds her own in the presence of established stars.

Let it also be placed on the record that everything and everyone in Shaandaar looks pretty.

That’s it. Team Shaandaar is clearly aiming at a certain quirkiness that it fails to achieve for the most part. In fact, the animated sequences grow tiresome once it becomes clear that the film has more style than substance. The basic plot and other-worldly look suggest a nod to old European fairytales, but Shaandaar doesn’t go all out in that direction either. And the strand about the plus-sized Isha’s self-esteem, well meaning though it is, is put in the shade by Sharat Katariya’s consistently heart-warming film Dum Laga Ke Haisha that was released early this year.

There was a smoothness to Queen that indicated great teamwork. Shaandaar, on the other hand, feels like patchwork. Take that scene in which a gay man comes out of the closet before his relatives. It leads to a sweetly amusing response from the family that is promptly followed by a moment of stereotyping in which he aims a gun at someone with the limpest wrist ever seen in Bollywood. It’s as though two separate mindsets were operating within that idea.

Well, never mind. I loved Queen so much that I plan to pretend to myself that Shaandaar never happened. Until your next film then, Vikas…

Rating (out of five): *1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
144 minutes 

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