Patna Shuklla: Raveena Tandon Stars in a Middling Social Drama

The film is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Patna Shuklla: Raveena Tandon Stars in a Middling Social Drama
Patna Shuklla: Raveena Tandon Stars in a Middling Social Drama

Director: Vivek Budakoti
Writers: Vivek Budakoti, Sammeer Arora, Farid Khan
Cast: Raveena Tandon, Anushka Kaushik, Satish Kaushik, Manav Vij, Jatin Goswami, Chandan Roy Sanyal

Duration: 125 mins
Available on: Disney+ Hotstar

Patna Shuklla stars Raveena Tandon as Tanvi Shukla, a Patna-based lawyer who goes from arguing inconsequential cases in a lower court to taking on the entire system in a landmark trial. Tanvi’s life changes when she decides to represent an underprivileged B.Sc. student, Rinki Kumari (Anushka Kaushik), who refuses to believe she’s failed her final-year exams. As Tanvi digs deeper, a wider conspiracy is uncovered – featuring a marksheet scam, the son of a powerful chief minister, unsuspecting victims, and a corrupt university. The case gets media attention; Tanvi and her family are subjected to societal bias, threats and administrative bullying by a government that’s determined to silence her. 

The narrative template is fairly derivative. You don’t even have to go too far back. In terms of Tanvi’s underdog journey, Patna Shuklla brings to mind Bhakshak, the recent Netflix movie about a small-time female reporter (Bhumi Pednekar) who exposes a sex trafficking racket in Bihar. Tanvi’s domestic identity is similar: She juggles home-making – cooking, cleaning, fussing after a state-employed husband (Manav Vij) and school-going son – with her day job. Her father (Raju Kher) is wary of her career, her husband downplays it, and her male colleagues don’t take her seriously. Rinki Kumari’s case gives Tanvi purpose and direction; her family learns to respect her a little more through the struggle. The education scam itself has thematic similarities with Farrey (2023), the well-acted social drama co-produced by Salman Khan Films, which aligns with the fact that Patna Shuklla comes from the same family (it’s produced by Arbaaz Khan). The courtroom portions – Tanvi’s opponent is an arrogant lawyer named Neelkanth Mishra (Chandan Roy Sanyal); the veteran judge (the late Satish Kaushik) is a silent ally – unfold like a lesser sibling of Jolly LLB (2013). It’s not supposed to be authentic or even plausible, but there’s a sense of déjà vu about the melodrama, the surprise witnesses, the reasoning and closing monologues. 

Patna Shukla on Disney+Hotstar
Patna Shukla on Disney+Hotstar

Ant vs Elephant

The treatment of the film is soapy and simplistic. It’s the kind of aesthetic that misinterprets rooted as dated. An early scene, for instance, features husband Siddharth’s guests over for dinner. The goal is to show that Tanvi is different – she might be playing a good host, but she is also a working lady. But the women say something like “we are also housewives like you” in order to prompt this exchange, which ends with Siddharth reducing his wife to someone who makes decent affidavits if needed. Several conversations are staged like this, without imagination or detail, existing only to deliver information about the characters. At some point, Tanvi visits a corrupt college supervisor at his lavish bungalow – his daughter is getting married. He is nervous about being called out in front of his family. The idea here is to draw a parallel between the Indian man’s irrational love for his daughter and Tanvi’s own identity as the apple of her father’s eye – which ties in nicely to one of the film’s climactic revelations. But the young bride is so literal and performative (a hybrid of Jab We Met’s (2007) hyper-cute Geet and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’s (2008) delulu-girlfriend Meghna) that it distracts from the significance of the scene. It’s like she exists solely to make Tanvi feel sorry for the ashamed dad. 

Later on, journalists question Tanvi about her own moral integrity while fighting the case – she answers like someone whose thoughts are written rather than felt or internalized. A crucial scene where Rinki meets Tanvi for the first time – directly walking to her through a crowd of haggling male lawyers – lacks the sense of depth and occasion; Tanvi’s face suddenly acquires an activist’s glow, and that’s that. At one point, Tanvi puts herself on stand by announcing her own name and standing in the witness box tearfully while the judge dutifully reacts to her. The dramatic license is fine; the problem is in the vanilla execution. We get that Tanvi is the ant and the system is the elephant, but does Tanvi need a literal hand-drawn sketch of an ant and an elephant from her son that sits on her desk? Does she?

The film also leans on montages too hard, using them as a shortcut to reveal inner transformations instead of the passage of time. When people start referring to Tanvi as ‘Patna Shukla,’ the coinage sounds random; there is no context or buildup to what is essentially a cultural moment. The performances – especially Tandon as Tanvi – are at odds with the sharpness of the case; they follow a safety-first route, shaped more by the reflections of the premise than the reality of the humans in them. It’s nice to see Anushka Kaushik – who stood out in Ghar Waapsi (2022) – play the role of Rinki without theatrics, but there’s not enough of her in a film that flattens the vignettes of womanhood in its pursuit of democratizing them. 

Patna Shukla on Disney+Hotstar
Patna Shukla on Disney+Hotstar

Saved by Mediocrity

That said, Patna Shuklla cannot be entirely dismissed. It has its share of subversive touches, despite the dry film-making. The commentary is defined by a more current world. The evil politician (Jatin Goswami) who intimidates Tanvi is a youth icon running a “beti bachao desh badhao” campaign. While Rinki’s fight is consumed by her status as a girl in a patriarchal country, an early victim of the scam is revealed to be a Muslim man whose calls for justice fell on deaf majoritarian ears; his testimony becomes the turning point of a story that overshoots its dead end. There’s also a lovely farewell shot of Satish Kaushik, where the OCD-afflicted judge he plays walks into the sunset after offering some nuggets of feel-good wisdom. I particularly like that the protagonist, Tanvi Shukla, is not a madly ambitious or gifted lawyer. She is quite mediocre at what she does, evident from the kind of cases (suing an underwear company for producing a piece that ‘injured’ her client during a chase) she gets. She yearns to succeed, of course, but there are times when it’s obvious that she lacks the work ethic and instincts to be a cut-throat litigator. Fortunately, the film doesn’t play her skills for comic relief, except for an establishing sequence where Tanvi is introduced as a forgetful mother who chases down her son’s bus to give him his tiffin. 

As a result, what initially comes across as blatant sexism – like Siddharth’s shutdowns, or the judge telling her that her talent is in the kitchen and not the court – is actually a nod to Tanvi’s (in)competence in court. They mean well, because they’ve seen her operate at half-speed over the years. Ditto for her father, who has nurtured and enabled her ‘averageness’ for decades. It’s why Siddharth isn’t the chauvinist we expect him to be; he is a good man who quietly pays the price for her coming-of-age arc – he loses a lot but continues to be a supportive parent and partner, which is a neat inversion of how women often uproot their world to go where their husband’s jobs take them. It’s also why Tanvi’s decision to seek justice for Rinki is not selfless; it offers her an opportunity to try, fail (which she often does) and learn with every high-profile setback. 

In other words, Tanvi is not a hungry hero so much as an honest striver. Her character comes full circle in a fascinating final act, where a twist reveals the complicity of the ordinary even in the most extraordinary stories. It’s the kind of revelation that pits merit against privilege and integrity against quality – a conflict that mirrors the challenge of the film itself. Patna Shuklla has the form of a workhorse, too. In the broader scheme of things, perhaps its courage to be human – and thrive on a protagonist who reflects the best and worst of us – outdoes its fragile sense of craft. I’m not a fan of hyping up social dramas with cliches like “small film with big heart” or “noble intentions,” so let’s just say that Patna Shuklla almost overcomes its own limitations. It tries to do better. And for that alone, it’s the equivalent of an ‘Umpire’s Call’ decision in modern cricket – the review shows it’s marginal, but it might deserve the benefit of your doubt.

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