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Shab Movie Review: Onir’s The Beauty & The Bisht!




Starring: Raveena Tandon, Introducing Ashish Bisht, Arpita Chatterjee, Areesz Gandii, Simon Frenay

Directed by: Onir

Rating: ****(4 Stars)

Delhi….soaked in the wispy wetness of monsoon, the shivery tensions of  winter,the sweltering sweaty seductiveness of summer…Onir’s latest film, his first since the game-changing envelope pusher I Am,absorbs the changing climate  of Delhi during a year of incredible emotional upheavals in the lives of four main characters, who are as memorable as they are persuasive in their sexual and emotional impulses.

While we soak in the sheer infinity  of Onir’s gasping sighing human relationships as they unfold in a passionate quartet we notice  how tranquil the surface remains while what lies beneath threatens  to erupt any moment.

Shab (which means ,Night)  is  the quintessential calm-before-the-storm drama. The raging winds  of the four protagonists’ emotions are harnessed tightly  but nimbly. While Onir’s people are  allowed the space to create their own emotional pace, they are barely given a chance to vent their anger and resentment at injustices that life has heaped on them.

Each one of Onir’s protagonists is a silent sufferer. There is the aspiring model from a small town Azfar(newcomer Ashish Bisht) who becomes a toy boy for a rich bored socialite wife Sonam Modi(RaveenaTandon, in her career’s best performance).

[beautifulquote align=”full” cite=””]Onir sets up the dynamics between the eager-to-please small-towner and the imperious sexual predator with an erotic fluency that reminded me  of the seductive game played in the French rape drama Elle. Of course no one rapes anyone in Shab. There are other deeper ravages and wounds to worry about.[/beautifulquote]

Raina(Arpita Chatterjee, emotive and strong) leads a duel life as   awarm caring elder sister who has a murky irresolvable secret life.

Secrets burst at the seams in Onir’s simmering narrative. His understanding of human relationships is deep and thoughtful . As Raina gets close to Azfar—or wait, is  it Azfar who gets close to her?—she fights back a pain that threatens to overpower her better judgment of human relationships.

Raina’s friend Neil(Areesz Gandii, so natural  he doesn’t seem to be aware of the camera prowling so confidently into bedrooms) a homosexual trying to break out of brutal relationship finding love , all of a sudden(as we often find it) in a tender caring French tourist Benoit(Simon Frenay) moonlighting as waiter.

There is  a scene that’s at once  funny and savagely ironic  where Azfar, wildly heterosexual, advises the gay Neil to settle down with a ‘badni’(woman).

Of the four characters I found Benoit to be the most fascinating. He  is warm and giving, and discernibly in love with the heaving heat and lust of Delhi’s upper crust. There is a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek scene where a suave gay designer Rohan Sud(Raj Suri) reminds Benoit that he has been hitting on him for 6 weeks.

“8 weeks, Sir,” Benoit smiles back,implacably.

Defences do crumble in this saga of unfinished yearnings and unfurnished desires  set in  an explored part of Delhi where the small cosy warm cafes and eateries exist in a neon-lit row. It’s a revealing hotbead of sexual politics shot by cinematographer Sachin Krishn with an easygoing intensity, never over-the-top but never letting go a chance to shoot a character and a moment in all its chic splendor.

[beautifulquote align=”full” cite=””]Shab is a gorgeous-looking film with a starcast that’s easy on the eyes. Raveena Tandon has never looked better. She brings  a bewitching bitchiness to her lonely character’s part.Newcomer Ashish Bisht is not afraid to share his character’s ambition-prone humiliation.His natural rawness works well for his character.And Arpita Chatterjee …often her eyes express all of Raina’s pain. She is  quite a discovery.[/beautifulquote]

But it is the French actor Simon Frenay whose pain and hurt stayed with me after the film.

Pain,in fact , is projected with a refreshing absence of artifice in the film. You wish our cinematic conventions allowed Onir to explore the underbelly of Delhi’s social circles with more penetrating glances. Onirgoes far enough. But then he stops short before his characters’ meltdown begins to seep into the fabric of the culture that he vulturizes.

Doing away with the shallowness of Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 characters, Onir gives us a film that’s powerful and delectable.A smouldering  simmering sensuous tale of betrayal and redemption, Onir  stages a  fragile, brutal and beguiling exploration of relationships in the overheated metropolitanism of Delhi.

But be warned. This is not every one’s cup of tea…Or glass of cognac, if you will.

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