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A film that gently unfolds the travails faced by a young adolescent in love, Shala is simple, sweet and sincere. Perhaps not something that will be universally appreciated, Shala is nonetheless one of those films that needs to be lauded for its writing and treatment and most importantly, for Anshuman Joshi’s performance as the young teenager in love with his classmate. For a film-watching population that is starved of genuine stories drawn from the deepest recesses of human life, Sujay Dahake’s Shala comes as a whiff of fresh air.
Imagine a 4-year-old, who has just learnt how to draw, making an anniversary card for his parents. That is Shala for you. It may not be the greatest thing to happen to the movies since Citizen Kane, but while it lasts, it makes you smile.
Set in the 1970s in a village in Maharashtra, Shala is essentially a tale of teenage love. Mukund Joshi, a smart little 9th standard kid, harbours a crush on his pretty classmate Shirodkar. Sorted as he seems on the exterior, his life revolves around her. What makes Shala an immensely watchable film is that the writers – Milind Bokil (story) and Avinash Deshpande (screenplay) – show some genuine insight into what goes on in the mind of a teenage boy falling in what he knows is love.
Mastering the art of stealing glances at her without drawing the attention of your classmates, joining the same tuition classes as she, that burning feeling you get when the teacher scolds her in front of everyone in class, the list is endless. The writers manage to capture a number of these tender moments in the script. These moments are further embellished because director Sujay Dahake (who has also edited the film) manages to eke out some endearing performances from the largely teenaged principal cast.
The political backdrop of the film, by virtue of it being set during the emergency is what takes it a notch above the ordinary. While the implications of the political backdrop stay in the background, it casts its shadow on the movie throughout, particularly for Jitendra Joshi’s character.
Cinematographer Diego Romero’s beautiful frames and the earthy colour palette make the film a visual treat. An ensemble supporting cast lends solid support and adds a measure of credibility to the film. Dilip Prabhavalkar as the school principal and Nandu Madhav as Joshi’s father stand out amongst the lot. Both fine actors, it is hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. Santosh Juvekar as the liberal-minded school teacher has mastered the art of over-acting within the limits of being endearing, and he doesn’t disappoint here as well. After Zhakaas, Amruta Khanvilkar, once again, looks pretty but is mis-cast.
Ketaki Mategaonkar as Shirodkar is extremely charming. The choice of her as the girl who our young protagonist Joshi falls in love with must be lauded, because she isn’t pretty in a conventional sense, but in a rustic way. Her personality seems to make Joshi’s love for her seem that much more real.
But ultimately, Shala is Joshi’s story and young Anshuman Joshi carries the film on his tiny but able shoulders. He is spontaneous, endearing and extremely confident. Make no mistake about it, the character of a teenage boy in love is a complex one. Young boys that age are rarely given credit for the troubles that they have to navigate through. Adolescence is tough to deal with, and Anshuman Joshi’s charming portrayal brings that to the fore wonderfully.
What may work against the film is fact that it does take its time to make its point. The makers are in no hurry to tell their story and while that can put some people off, the fact remains that life rarely unfolds at the speed at which a Christopher Nolan film does. Perhaps you need to experience what Joshi does in this film to truly identify with him. Shala worked for me because it was a genuine, slice-of-life story, something that is rarely seen in Indian cinema today.
Shala’s Joshi & Shirodkar may not join the likes of Rick & Ilsa or even Raj & Simran in terms of immortality, but they will ensure pure warmth and joy when you watch them share those sweet little moments in this charming little film.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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