In a scene in Love and Shukla, the protagonist, Shukla (Saharsh Kumar Shukla), an autorikshawalla, watches his sister place a coin on a railway track that will soon be crushed. So, it appears, is the human spirit in danger in a city where too many struggle for too little.
This engaging indie film invites us into the inner life of Shukla, a surprisingly tender-hearted autorikshawallah who ferries his fellow humans around the City and who is in love with his new wife. He smiles as he thinks of her, as he speeds along the roads. He is protective towards her. He buys her bangles on his way home.
Yet there are some impediments in this after-marriage love story. His home is a claustrophobic room in the chawl.
In a recurring birds’ eye view shot that looks like that of an open sardine can, we see that the sleeping adults in the communal room can lay claim to no personal space. A line of suitcases is the unironic boundary to his “honeymoon suite.” Even conversation with his beloved is hard to manage in his chaotic household, leave alone any romantic overtures.
An Everyman in a Mahanagar (city), reminiscent of Satyajit Ray’s film by that name, Shukla forces us to challenge some notions. While we might remember the auto guy who won’t take us to our destination because he can’t get a savari (ride) back, Shukla is the bhaiya who agrees to do so out of the kindness of his heart. The film takes us on a ride with this autorikshawallah who keeps getting ripped off. The police preys on and antagonizes Shukla rather than protecting whatever dignity he can preserve.
A montage of the passengers who populate Shukla’s backseat is an introduction to the denizens of the city that teems with free riders, goondas, fare dodgers and chatterboxes. An upper class young woman en route to see her boyfriend is as callous as the thugs who rob and beat him.
His home life is no better, full of bitter arguments with his parents and their choices. When will things finally begin to go his way? Much as in Love Per Square Foot (2018), the yearning for an independent living situation is powerful, but the cinematography in Love and Shukla (2017) is realist and gritty.
In the end, the film celebrates the victory of the human spirit over the many humiliations and debasements that are thrown its way.
Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Film Critic at India Currents. She is glad to live in a city where film festivals like Cinequest bring independent cinema to theaters.
India Currents is a media partner for Cinequest 2018.