Not So Shor

On the plus side, the artwork is cool.

Rediff.com called it brilliant. NDTV said it was terrific. Mid-Day commended it for its “remarkable screenplay“. IBN Live said it was a sparkling comedy thriller. MSN Entertainment described it as a film that would “mesmerize and fascinate.” The Economic Times was a little less gushy but it still lauded the directors and said it was “worth a watch!” (yes, complete with an exclamation mark). When some of the best and most well-known film reviewers in the country gave “Shor in the City” such amazing comments, you’d think that the smart set would throng the cinemas for tickets. Turns out there was no throng of any kind. “Shor in the City” had awful box office returns in its opening weekend (10% occupancy is crap by all standards).

This is the point at which most Indian journalists who cover culture would complain about living in an idiotic, illiterate society that doesn’t pay any attention to reviewers and generally has no taste for anything but crude spectacle and sentimentality. I have my doubts about whether reviewers make a film a box office hit anywhere in the world, but there’s no doubt that reviewers (and those who write in English in particular) have very little sway over the Indian masses. Generally, I’d join in the whining but having watched “Shor in the City”, I totally see why no one pays attention to critics. I’m certainly not going to take them seriously ever again.

Directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, “Shor in the City” is about life in Mumbai. I’d heard that one of the sub-plots is about a book pirate whose life changes when he reads Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” (while pirating it) and he decides to live his life according to the philosophy laid out in the book. As if this wasn’t fabulous enough, the pirate was being played by Tusshar Kapoor, son of Jeetendra and one of the dud-liest actors in Bollywood. The moment “Shor in the City” was released, I shoved life around to find time to see the film. About 30 minutes into the movie, I was bored. After 45 minutes, I was grinding my teeth. By the 80-minute mark I was ready to slit my wrists if that would mean the end of “Shor in the City”. This is despite the fact that the cinematography is nice and all the acting is good, even Tusshar Kapoor’s (well, sort of. It’s better than what he generally unleashes upon the public).

There are a few lovely moments: the book pirate’s little romance with his wife is very sweet, and the scene where he and his mates try to make a bomb explode is initially quite well done. It ends up dragging and becoming tiresome, rather than shocking. If there were any others, I can’t remember them (she said, seething as she remembered the lavish praise in the reviews).

Here beginneth SPOILERS and rant. I’m not going to summarise the plot because I refuse to playback the film in my head another time. Basically, almost-disconnected characters from three separate stories wind up in one plot. Main characters: One book pirate, two unemployed lowlifes who are friends of aforementioned pirate, one aspiring cricketer, one NRI, two local thugs, one shady middleman.

1.”Shor in the City” is slow. The build-up to the climax takes forever and once you get to the climax, it makes no sense. This is either because the directors weren’t able to get it right during shooting, or because the editor was shoddy or the story was weak. Whatever the reason, it’s a problem of ineptitude at some stage or the other. Why do a book pirate and his friends want to rob a bank? None of them hanker after money so what makes them want to risk such a serious crime? What kind of an idiot bank manager and staff first run after robbers and then watch the Ganesh procession, leaving the cash waffling around to be stolen a second time? Especially when the guard has been shot and the lockers have been broken into. Even if these peeps like the idea of a cross-city marathon, wouldn’t they first lock up the cash and then hit the road?

2. At least one of the directors is an NRI. I really want to know if this was how he settled in. “Shor in the City” supposedly happens over 11 days. Here’s what Mr. NRI achieves in this time. He sets up his office; gets threatened by local goons; meets, romances, has sex with model; gets threatened again; finds a man who will sell him a gun; shoots the local goons. Now, admittedly Sendhil, who plays the NRI, is cute and has been in “Heroes”, but that doesn’t explain how he manages to get all this done in just 11 days, and that too when those 11 days are during Ganesh Chaturthi.

Also, why on earth does he set up shop in such a dodgy neighbourhood? Not a single NRI I know has done this, precisely because they are petrified by stories of the underworld and extortion.

As if to further underscore what an idiot Mr. NRI is, the film shows him doling out cash to pretty much anyone who smiles at him. He doesn’t haggle, he doesn’t shoo people away; the person in front of him smiles, Mr. NRI rolls his eyes and forks out all the money in his wallet.

In one scene, we see a post-coital Mr. NRI sitting shirtless on his bed. There’s a scar near his shoulder blade. His girlfriend sultrily asks him about the scar. He doesn’t tell her. From this caginess and him emphasising that he wants to make a new beginning, we’re supposed to deduce that Mr. NRI has a dark and violent past that enables him to buy a gun and kill two people in cold blood. All because he didn’t tell her about a decidedly un-scary and ordinary-looking scar that in fact looks more like a scratch.

3. Why did the writers bother to keep the cricketer’s sub-plot? It adds nothing. Yes, he does have the idea of robbing the bank but it’s not an outstandingly brilliant plan and anyone could have come up with it. While it’s awful that team selectors ask for bribes, given how badly the young cricketer plays in every match we see, it doesn’t seem like an injustice. If that’s how he plays, obviously he won’t get selected without a bribe. Plus, he seems more interested in making money from the game, rather than playing, so it’s almost fitting. And he’s a cow with this girlfriend.

4. The reason the book pirate offers for helping his mates in the bank heist is funny but hideously weak (“I’m here to give you two moral support,” he says). However, compared to what happens at the end of the heist, the logic is of Einstein-ish strength. Book pirate gets shot in the stomach. He collapses. His friends howl and shake him to no avail. He’s dead. Friends have to run. Customers and bank staff who were locked inside come out. He’s still dead. Cricketer comes in, sees him, sees the injured guard, leaves with the money. Police shows up. He’s still dead. Ganesh idol goes past the window. Book pirate opens his eyes, winces for a second, sees his bullet wound, gets up and walks out, unseen by a crowd that is more concerned with Ganesh procession than a just-robbed bank.

This was when I decided there was no point slitting my wrists. If Tusshar Kapoor can be revived from a bullet in his stomach, then my wrists can be unslitted too.

5. At the close of the film, we’re informed that the plots are all based on and inspired by news reports. I have one bit of advice for the writers: change your newspaper subscription. If you are going to use what you’ve read as the starting point of film scripts that are supposed to be realistic, give up Mid-Day or Mumbai Mirror or whatever trashy tabloid that’s been your morning companion and try reading a proper newspaper like Indian Express.

After much pontification and teeth-gnashing, I’ve figured out what boxes a film needs to tick in order to get a good review from the critics: no item numbers or lip-synced song sequences; at least one shirtless sequence starring the best-looking of the male actors; go on and on about your film being an “indie” film, even if it’s nothing of the sort (there is no “indie” cinema in India; virtually every film is produced by big-ass commerce-driven established production houses. However, the moment the budget is low or there aren’t A-listers in the cast, we dub the film “indie”). Kisses and sex scenes help the cause but are not essential. I’m told if all this isn’t possible, then just dole out cash. In fact, in case of the reviewers who work for trade magazines, cash is the only thing that will get you a good write-up.

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