SHAKTI—THE POWER . Director: Krishna Vamsi. Players: Nana Patekar, Karisma Kapoor, Sanjay Kapoor, Shahrukh Khan, Deepti Naval, Ritu Shivpuri, Jai Gidwani. Music: Ismail Darbar and Anu Malik. Theatrical release.

685dd78005660618151d62753b56afba-1Now that Sridevi has turned to producing films, her first project is an appropriate woman-centric offering. SHAKTI—THE POWER, not to be confused with Ramesh Shippy’s Bachchan-starrer Shakti, has a captivating story to tell. Director Vamsi and lead Karisma Kapoor are keen on selling an unsettling portrait of one woman’s will to overcome unexpected hardships in the house of her in-laws. SHAKTI—THE POWER stars off giddy, turns bloody, and just narrowly escapes itself becoming bruised.

After marrying Shekhar (Sanjay Kapoor), the pampered Canadian-Indian princess Nandini (Karisma Kapoor) accompanies her husband to India to meet her in-laws. Shekhar’s mother (Naval, nicely restrained) welcomes Nandini with open arms while Shekhar’s father Narsimha takes a diametrically opposed mindset. Preoccupied with a bloody, ongoing feud with a rival clan, Narsimha wants nothing to do with Nandini other than winning over her young son (Gidwani). Nandini’s squaring off against Narsimha over the little boy sets the stage for a dangerous, tumultuous tug of wills.

What at first resembles Not Without My Daughter, the gutsy Hollywood adventure about an American woman stranded in Iran after her Iranian husband turns on her, ultimately ends up having more in common with Priyadarshan’s excellent Virasat . In addition to the rustic, neo-feudalistic south Indian feel to the setting, Shakti also traces the story of a Western-educated transplant arriving at an upcountry hamlet, a Westernized wife who has trouble being accepted by the in-laws, a control-freak for a father-in-law and a misogynistic atmosphere where cattle appear to have higher status than women.

While Patekar has repeatedly pulled off prolonged inner rage (Agnishakshi, Krantiveer), he is not 100 percent foolproof here. Patekar is best when he is both angry and has no physical power to wield. Here he has both a non-specific rage as well as an army of ruffians ready to extend his reach over a 4,000-household mini empire. By converging both elements into one character, Patekar is occasionally denied the sharpness he otherwise thrives on. Even with this shortcoming, Patekar is still immensely watchable as he mingles caricature and apathy with genuine, unpredictable megalomania.

Then there are the bylines, mostly in the form of Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai. A post-Devdas boost has landed these two faces with limited roles into the forefront of the Shakti promos. Anu Malik’s sole contribution to the soundtrack, the sizzling “Ishq Kamina” dance number provides plenty to oomph for Khan and Rai. With her nimble footwork in Devdas and now here, Rai establishes herself the best dancer amongst her peers.

Khan’s role, on the other hand, bears more than a passing resemblance to Mithun Chakravarty’s short, shining role from J.P. Dutta’s equally rustic Ghulami as a soldier of fortune who befriends a down-and-out woman on a short, intensely fateful journey. Yes, it would have been nice to have a better-edited product to take to market. Yes, it would have been nicer to have Kajol, Nandita Das or even producer Sridevi herself take on the lead role. But as it stands,SHAKTI—THE POWER offers enough to rise above mediocrity.

Strong Frailties
SUR . Director: Tanuja Chandra. Players: Lucky Ali, Gauri Karnik, Harsh Vasisht. Music: M.M. Kreem.

Along the lines of good things emerging from unusual wrappings comes Sur, a remarkably easy to digest character study. Allowing Lucky Ali to make a smooth transition from singing to acting, producer Pooja Bhatt and director Chandra deliver a wonderful sleeper. 685dd78005660618151d62753b56afba-2

Thrust at the center of a carefully scripted story, Ali plays Vikramaditya Singh, a music teacher who confronts a book full of human frailties as he negotiates a challenging would-be student Tina (newcomer Karnik). Slowly undressing an array of personality artifacts, director Chandra outlines everything from Singh’s not-always-nice inner child to his wizened old hand unafraid to be outshined by a protégé. Characters fleshed out so well are a rarity anywhere.

For the handsome Ali, an acting future was clearly etched in the tea leaves after he bagged the Filmfare Best Male Singer trophy with his crooning on the seven-million seller Kaho Na Pyaar Hai soundtrack. Working with Rajesh Roshan, who chanced on Ali even when the singer was on the rebound following an estrangement with his family, has paid off for both Roshan and Ali.

In support, a crew of lesser-known names lead by a focused Karnik, nicely shoulder the balance of the film. The magic of bringing Sur together in such a tidy frame must also be extended to Chennai-based M.M. Kreem’s gifted musical score and Nida Fazli’s haunting lyrics. Kreem, who earlier wove a vastly underrated musical wand over Criminal and Zakhm, again delivers a remarkable set of tunes. Both “Aa Bhi Jaa” and “Kabhi Shaam Dhale” are tunes that loom large and linger long. Sur has everything going for it.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

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