You watch movies week after week. Some stories remain etched in your memory. Some evaporate minutes after they've been narrated. Besides, there's a strong possibility that the tale the storyteller has chosen to narrate may appeal to him more than it would to the listener. That's precisely the problem with SHIKHAR.
John M. Matthan's second outing, SHIKHAR, after the refreshing and interesting SARFAROSH [Naseeruddin Shah, Aamir Khan, Sonali Bendre] is not even half as motivating and fascinating as his debut vehicle. The culprit here, like in most Bollywood films, is the screenplay.
What adds to the problem is that the subject material isn't the type that would catch the fancy of an average cinegoer. To make matters worse, Matthan and his co-writer Abbas Tyrewala try so hard to strike the fine balance between commercial and serious cinema that the outcome is neither here, nor there.
There's no denying that Matthan had an interesting story on hand. The story of an overtly ambitious man wanting to realize his dreams at any cost catches your attention the moment curtains go up and the reels unfold. But the film runs out of gas after a strong 30 minutes. Worse, it loses its balance in the post-interval portions, with the last 35-40 minutes making the goings-on look like a complete farce. It's like a person wanting the aircraft to land, to reach the destination pronto, but all that the pilot keeps doing is go round and round in the sky, not wanting to touch ground. Exasperating, isn't it?
To cut a long story short, SHIKHAR could've been an entertaining cum thought-provoking film, but what you get is not what you expect. Definitely not from a high-calibre director like Matthan and an ensemble star cast. Sad, Matthan has missed the bus this time around!
Gaurav Gupta aka GG [Ajay Devgan] started with nothing and now believes that only money can fuel his ambitions. On the other hand, Guruji [Javed Sheikh], a leading industrialist turned philanthropist, believes that wealth means nothing if not used for society. Caught in the tussle between the two is Guruji's son Jaidev [Shahid Kapoor], who, while respecting his father's philosophy, falls hook, line and sinker for GG's manipulations.
While Guruji hopes that Jai will return to his roots, GG uses the glamorous Natasha [Bipasha Basu] to bewitch Jai and the unscrupulous politician Patil [Manoj Joshi] to exploit the adivasis into selling their lands. Madhavi [Amrita Rao] watches the man she loves being carried away to a world of wine, women and wealth. But Jaidev soon realizes his follyï¿½
Although it's a sheer coincidence, SHIKHAR reminds you of NAYA DAUR [Dilip Kumar, Vyjayantimala] in parts, while Ajay's characterization bears an uncanny resemblance to the overtly ambitious Bachchan of TRISHUL. That apart, SHIKHAR is almost an original piece of work as far as the story idea is concerned.
The first half-an-hour of SHIKHAR unfurls with great fervor. Ajay's crafty nature, his striking a deal with the corrupt politician, the transformation of Shahid from a simpleton to a drunkard/gambler, the scheming games Ajay and Bipasha play to trap Shahidï¿½ the viewer is as involved as the characters on screen.
But not all journeys have a smooth ending. The agriculture track in the narrative shows up time and again, after brief intervals, and that starts diluting the impact. Besides, Shahid suddenly develops immense faith in Ajay without Ajay doing much to win Shahid's confidence. Both have diametrically opposite views when it comes to the outlook towards life, so there should've been at least a couple of sequences to justify Shahid following Ajay like a little lamb or obeying his orders after their initial introduction.
But these are minor issues, for the real problem lies in the post-interval portions mainlyï¿½
- The moment Ajay stands exposed -- after the John Abraham sequence -- he decides to take solace in liquor. Hello, shouldn't he be shunning alcohol/realizing his folly and heading straight to his father?
- Then the entire sequence-n-song -- starting with the goons attacking him to Amrita nursing him to normalcy -- looks so weird. Isn't Shahid the Chairman of a multi-crore company? So why is he being treated in a slum [yes, you've read that right!]? And he continues to stay in the slum, without taking medication from a doctor. Wonder, which era the writers of this film belong to!
- If at all the motive was to show that the billionaire [Shahid] has had a change of heart, it was pretty evident when Shahid realized that Ajay was out to usurp the land. Why increase the length of the film by another 15-20 minutes?
- The climax is long-drawn, tedious and a major letdown. The politician's stooges burn the saplings to brainwash the Chief Minister and then the Chief Justice gives orders to arrest Ajay and Manoj Tyagi during that functionï¿½ it seems like a complete compromise from the writing point of view. Either Tyrewala and Matthan must've suddenly realized that they need to hurry up or they were drained of ideas here.
- Even the handshake that Shahid offers to Ajay in the last scene is ridiculous. After knowing Ajay's intentions, anyone in his right senses wouldn't want to even step on his shadow. Perhaps, the intention was to portray Ajay grey, not complete black, giving him a goody-goody image towards the end. Chalo ab Ajay ko villain nahin banate, the writers must've thought in the final tally.
Matthan has shot the film competently, but as the writer of the film, along with Abbas Tyrewala, he ought to take the blame for letting go of an interesting idea. Viju Shah's music is nothing to rave or rant about. 'Fitna Dil' is the only track that stands out. Cinematography [A.K. Bir] is first-rate. The locales of Bangkok give the film some glamorous visuals.
The performances in SHIKHAR are highly competent. Ajay Devgan excels in a negative role, although he is relegated to the backseat in the last 20 minutes. Shahid Kapoor is only improving with every film. He matches up to Ajay in almost all sequences. Bipasha Basu is just perfect. She's not there for the glamour quotient only; her role has ample meat as well and she does justice to it. Amrita Rao is wasted. Javed Sheikh gives a good account of himself. Sushant Singh irritates. Farah is okay. Manoj Joshi tries to ape Sanjeev Kumar [at places], but in vain. Ash Chandler provides some light moments. John Abraham is hardly there for one scene.
On the whole, SHIKHAR disappoints big time. At the box-office, its survival seems remote.