Shaakuntalam: It's Not Just The Technology That's Stuck In The Seventies

I suspect even ChatGPT can come up with a better twist
Shaakuntalam: It's Not Just The Technology That's Stuck In The Seventies

If you go into Gunasekhar's Shaakuntalam blind, the opening scenes would fool you into thinking this is an animated film. The cartoonish VFX obliterates any sense of epicness from the movie. The frames look so artificial that you will notice the green screen if you squint a little. The more the filmmakers try to beautify the screen, the more laughable the effects seem. They throw in a giant moon, peacocks, and butterflies, but the images appear unnatural. They resemble a screensaver. The animals move awkwardly. When they run or attack with their paws, they bob up and down like marionettes. Were we supposed to be impressed by this shoddy CGI? 

It's not just the technology that is stuck in the Seventies. The movie has a backward mentality. The women in Shaakuntalam are like small stars which shine for the men in their life. In fact, they fail to have any conversation unless it explicitly involves men. Gunasekhar so rigidly sticks to this rule that he uses two females to dispense the backstory of an angry sage. Someone should have informed the director that naming your film after a female character  (and providing lip service to the struggles faced by women) doesn't automatically make it a story about women's empowerment. What's more, Shakuntala (Samantha Ruth Prabhu) is so subservient she fails to make an impression. She, as well as this film, is a product of male fantasy. The story demands Shakuntala to be meek and devoted to the male figure(s) in her life. One of them is Dushyant (Dev Mohan). She drops to his feet when they embrace each other and asks him to save her from sin. Of course, only men can do all the saving. Would you even be surprised if I tell you that a man convinces Shakuntala to forgive her husband? (Her bitterness is allowed to exist for a few insignificant moments).

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None of the characters in Shaakuntalam have a charming personality. Well, I won't even call them characters when all the actors do is pose around in their costumes. People in a Manyavar commercial act with more conviction. Gunasekhar isn't interested in exploring anyone's mind. In terms of "psychology," he gives us superficially dramatic scenes like the one where Dushyant pines for Shakuntala and threatens to kill a bee. Are we meant to take any of this seriously? I couldn't suppress my laughter for most of the time. Shaakuntalam is unintentionally funny. The scene in which Shakuntala is cursed by the abovementioned angry sage is a masterclass in comedy. She is so absorbed in thinking about Dushyant that her trance-like state doesn't break even when water is thrown at her. The problem is that this scene is not meant to be amusing. It wants us to say, "Oh, this girl deeply loves her husband." However, all we say is this, "Ha! Stupid girl. That's what you get for daydreaming."

The fight scenes are executed horribly. The bodies move frantically, and the camera shakes violently, but there is no rhythm or choreography. Gunasekhar goes for that cheap shot of a crying child about to be attacked in the street. That moment serves as a warning. It informs us that we shouldn't expect anything from this film. What makes Shaakuntalam a fantasy is the fact that a girl writes a long love letter within five to ten seconds (or less) after picking up a leaf. Before this, Shakuntala and her friends give a girlish giggle in such a manner that I wondered if Gunasekhar is one of those people who think women do pillow fights in pink nighties during girl's night.  

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When Dushyant gives Shakuntala a ring, the camera focuses on it so intently that you predict it will play an important role later in the story. Its role becomes apparent when the angry sage reveals how his curse could be lifted. Obviously, Dushyant and Shakuntala's reunion cannot be done with ease. There must be some drama, tension, and excitement - right? Those looking for these elements should seek their thrills elsewhere. In the name of conflict, you get a silly scene where a fish swallows a ring. I jokingly commented that this fish would come to Shakuntala's rescue. And when my joke turned into reality, I mentally checked out from the movie. I suspect even ChatGPT can come up with a better twist.  

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