Having watched Yashoda just a few months ago and loving every bit of Samantha Ruth Prabhu’s performance in the film, the expectations for Shaakuntalam only increased. Releasing this Friday, director Gunasekhar narrates the story of Shakuntalam. Based on the play Abhignyana Shakuntalam by Kalidasa, the mythological drama follows the trying life of Shaakuntala (played by Samantha Ruth Prabhu).
The film follows the mythology: Shaakuntala is found in the forest, abandoned by her mother Menaka. A priest takes her under his wings, doubling up as his foster father. However, he is aware that Shaakuntala’s life is filled with misery and pain. She meets King Dushyanta (Dev Mohan) and falls in love with him. Their romance blooms in the forests of the ashram Shaakuntala lives in.
Dushyanta is forced to return to his kingdom while Shaakuntalam waits for her father’s blessings. While she gets the blessings and learns that she is pregnant, Dushyanta is nowhere to be seen. Seasons change, life goes by, and Shaakuntala patiently waits for Dushyanta to return. However, her wait turns difficult when a powerful priest by the name of Durvasa curses her that Dushyanta will not remember her when they reunite. Will Shaakuntala’s misery end? Will they reunite? For those who don’t know how the story ends, I am not going to reveal the twists and turns.
Shaakuntalam is a story about a woman and her struggles. Unfortunately, the film feels like it’s aimed at children and children only. Gunasekhar, who has experience in subjects of mythology and won the National Film Award for Best Children’s Film for Ramayanam in 1997, knows the subject and also seems to be mesmerised by Shaakuntala but it seems like he is torn between doing justice to the subject but also not making it content-heavy for the children.
The first half is shabbily written and badly edited, resulting in disjointed scenes. While it is a tale about Shaakuntala, Gunasekhar shows Shaakuntala through the eyes of everyone but herself. Although you do see the character dancing through the rich forests in waiting for his king to return, it doesn’t add much depth to the character. Fortunately, the second half makes up for the first half, giving the audience a better grip on the events unfolding. The climax, however, feels a tad bit rushed.
Two things that failed for me in Shaakuntalam were the dialogues and the VFX. Having watched the film in Hindi, I felt the dialogues were heavily bookish, leaving even people who have followed epics like Ramayana and Mahabharat on television a little confused.
As for my complaints with the VFX, the film tried to go massive with the visuals but it was underwhelming. The film was in 3D but barring two to three scenes, the film did not need a 3D approach. There is a quick battle scene inserted in the second half which appears half-baked and made me realise that despite smaller budgets, BR Chopra portrayed better battle scenes in the 1988 Mahabharat.
Staying on the subject of visuals, there were several continuity errors spotted in the film. In one scene, Samantha is seen barefoot and in the continuing scene, she’s suddenly seen wearing what seems to be a Kolhapuri chappal. Given the grand scale, it doesn’t go unnoticed. In another scene, Samantha’s outfit magically changes from orange to yellow and it is hard to ignore.
On the plus side, Gunasekhar leaves no stone unturned to make the sets grand. Be it the simplistic ashram or the massive palace of Dushyanta, the art designer in the film deserves all applause. Fashion designer Neeta Lulla does a great job of keeping the costumes on par with the theme of the film. Samantha looks gorgeous in every outfit she’s given.
Coming to the performances, there is no doubt that Samantha imbibes the idea of Shaakuntala presented to her, the lack of depth in writing prevented Samantha from pushing the envelope. Having seen her in powerful roles in Yashoda, Super Deluxe, and Majili, Shaakuntalam doesn’t do justice to Samantha’s talent. Nevertheless, she shoulders the film well. Samantha stands out in scenes in which she is dependent on her emotions and expressions to convey her point. You find yourself feeling sympathetic for her character in the second half.
However, I personally feel Samantha should have not dubbed for herself in Hindi. She sounded underconfident and it did impact her performance. Meanwhile, Dev Mohan is all looks in the first half but shines better in the second half. Much like Samantha, he too was restricted in terms of performance due to a lack of depth in writing. Special shout-out to Allu Arjun’s daughter Allu Arha. She lights up the screen the moment she entered. There should have been more scenes with her.
Despite the flaws, Shaakuntalam is a movie you could take your kids to watch this weekend. They might find it a tad bit confusing initially but they will follow the story eventually.
Bottom Line: Director-writer Gunasekhar plays it safe with Shaakuntalam’s characters, giving us a stretched film that lacked depth. He appeared to be so focused on the visuals that the story gets lost in the forest.
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