Shab: Onir’s long overdue directorial venture is disappointing
Posted on 14 July, 2017 by Team Wishberry
Shab, for Onir, is his first film. It’s the film that he started writing while working as an AD on the sets of Kalpana Lajmi’s Daman (a film that won Raveena Tandon a National Award). Shab, according to Onir, is also his most mainstream film.
In Shab, you get an intoxicated-with-power socialite in Sonal Modi, a wide-eyed innocent outsider who wants to make it big in the fashion world in Mohan/ Afzar (Ashish Bisht), a waitress with a dark past in Raina/ Aafiya (Arpita Chatterjee), a gay man looking for stability and love in a toxic equation with a freeloader and a French expat Benoit who is running away from his past.
Shab is an exposition on the lives of 5 people leading disparate yet intertwining lives in New Delhi. It aims to look at the various compromises they make in order to continue to survive. And, as their paths collide, they alter each other’s destiny and their own. The film talks about love, pain and an eternal longing that all of us feel — for stability, for companionship, for power and finally, for the right to be who we truly are.
Our take - Unfortunately Shab is a weak film with a great story. In trying to make a film that doesn’t stereotype ‘stock’ mainstream Hindi film characters such as socialites, gay fashion designers, expats, aspiring models and people with tricky and mysterious pasts, Onir ends up reconfirming them and creates a world that we have all seen in Hindi films.
Shab also becomes a difficult film to process because it is trying to tell the viewer too much in a haphazard way. Every character’s tale in Shab works and can make for a gripping tale in itself. I would pay a pretty penny to watch a film that tells the tale of a French expat who leaves everything behind and comes to Delhi to ‘hide’. His past involves guilt, avoiding responsibility for someone’s death, and a troubled relationship with his mother. However, you only see him brooding at times, rolling a joint to smoke away his pains; a Facebook post tells you about his past and phone calls to France tell you that something is amiss and that is frustrating to witness. Similarly, Arpita’s character of a waitress feels incomplete. You see her as this woman who is wise, mature, is a rock for her dear friend but also someone who has some vulnerability to hide. However, her style of living does not match with her profession, so, you notice that something doesn’t sit right. She flits from one man to another without any change in her character graph. There is no moment of self-realisation. The viewer is left thinking how did she suddenly fall for the aspiring model? How does a woman, who was rude enough to make fun of a man for his choice of attire suddenly becomes his friend? When one is left fishing for clues in a narrative feature film that is leaving nothing open for interpretation, then it makes the process of viewing rather disappointing.
Here’s what works for Shab: Onir has a visual language and there are flashes of that in the film. Some of the transitions in the narrative are effortless; although the majority of the times they look forced. As far as acting chops go, the only breath of fresh air in this narrative is the French expat Benoit who is running away from his past but Raveena Tandon is in her element despite her character being flat and with barely any cinematic potential to guide her. Ashish Bisht’s character as an aspiring model was also portrayed very well. He has worked hard for the part and Onir has paid special attention to his character and that shows in his transformations. From playing the awkward young Himachali boy who wants to be Shahrukh Khan, to a grown man who realises that sometimes in life, it is better to ‘exit through the rear door before the curtain call’.
That being said, Shab also lacks in technique. The camerawork is good at times and the overall idea of dividing the film into 4 seasons must have been appealing on paper. The songs are nice, but they appear and disappear randomly. One can see the problems with the way the film has been cut. It is abrupt and in all probability has to do with the way Onir had envisioned the narrative — however, rather than being layered, Shab ends up being obtuse.