Director: Kunal Deshmukh
Writers: Shridhar Raghavan, Dheeraj Kedarnath Rattan
Cast: Sunny Kaushal, Radhika Madan, Mohit Raina, Diana Penty
Cinematographer: Amalendu Chaudhary
Editor: A. Sreekar Prasad
Streaming on: DisneyPlus Hotstar
Radhika Madan and Sunny Kaushal are eminently watchable actors. Both combine a natural ease with inherent charm. Neither come with that specific designed-to-the gills polish that too many Bollywood newbies substitute for talent. Instead, both have an endearing relatability and most importantly, both can act.
None of which is enough to save Shiddat, a bewilderingly logic-free film about a man obsessed with a woman. Shiddat means passion. It is what Jaggi, a center forward for the Punjab Hockey Team, feels for Kartika, a national-level swimmer. They meet at a sporting event – he and his friends go to the pool to letch at the female swimmers who they refer to as jalparis in nikke nikke kapde. Jaggi has his friend take Kartika's photo without her permission. He then posts it. She responds by marching into the boys' locker room and photographing them in various stages of undress. Jaggi, who is in the shower, has no issue with this and poses for her naked. When she sees the water trickling down his chiseled abs, she pauses. Eventually of course her anger melts and romance blooms.
If you think this is absurd and problematic, wait till we get to the second half, which takes the ridiculousness to a whole new level. Jaggi's love is so relentless that he is willing to face impossible odds – he crosses international borders, becomes an illegal immigrant and repeatedly risks his life. I think director Kunal Deshmukh, and screenplay writers Shridhar Raghavan and Dheeraj Kedarnath Rattan, meant for Shiddat to be a sweeping narrative about the transformative power of love – Jaggi's emotion changes the lives of those he meets, including Kartika and Gautam, an officer with the Indian embassy. But none of it is believable, even for a second. Like so many older Hindi films, Shiddat conflates stalking with love. In one scene, Gautam even tells Jaggi: Tum stalker ho. But this means nothing. Jaggi is positioned as a Majnu in the time of Tinder – a man we must admire and celebrate.
Sunny plays Jaggi with such infectious enthusiasm that the character becomes a few shades less irrational than he must have been at the script level and less awful than he would be in real life. The actor works the cliches of the large-hearted, exuberant Punjabi radiating cheer and sincerity. Radhika also gives it her best shot but her feisty presence and innate intelligence make her a misfit for this half-baked role. At one point, Kartika tells Jaggi – 90s ki Bollywood heroine ki feel aa rahi hai. Which is exactly the problem with this film – it's old school and not in a good way.
Worse off are the older couple – Gautam and Ira, played by Mohit Raina and Diana Penty. These two are written like stick figures. He plays by the rules and she is a bleeding-heart activist. In a scene that borders on unintentional comedy, she tells him, 'Maine tumse shaadi ki hai Gautam, government of India se nahi.' He says: Pehle tum iss Bhagat Singh revolutionary zone se bahar aajao. My sympathies lay with Mohit Raina, who was so good in the recent Mumbai Diaries 26/11. There is little that he can do to make such a lifeless character work.
Shiddat strains to be epic in its romance – in one scene, the legend of Sohni Mahiwal is evoked – but also, contemporary. We get a one-night stand, Instagram plays a role and there are lines like: Where do you get condoms your size? You're the biggest dick I've ever seen. The jarring tonalities accentuate the loopholes in logic. Gautam seems to have no other job except to assist Jaggi. In one scene, Gautam tries to persuade Jaggi to forget about Kartika and play the field instead – he gives Jaggi a lecture comparing life to a buffet and says: Variety ko samajh, sirr chakra jayega tera. He then hands him money and suggests that he buy a smiling French girl a drink. I wanted to groan.
These actors deserve better.
You can watch Shiddat on DisneyPlus Hotstar.