Cast: Rajasekhar, Aathmeeya Rajan, Muskaan Khubchandani, Shivani Rajashekar
Director: Jeevitha Rajashekhar
Before watching Shekar, I felt awkward reviewing it. The film is a remake of the Malayalam original Joseph, directed by M Padmakumar, starring Joju George. I saw Joseph in 2018 when it was heavily praised by critics and casual film audiences alike. But I didn’t enjoy that film. At best, it was like a film version of boiled broccoli in that it’s supposed to be good viewing but felt bland, and at worst, it felt like the angst of a slam poet pretending to be a lot deeper than he actually is.
It doesn’t help Shekar that it’s too faithful a remake of its original.
Shekar is about its titular character played by Rajashekar, a brooding policeman who deals with the death of three women he loves. He continues to waste his life and detective-like intellect drinking and smoking until he gets a chance at redemption when he discovers that the deaths were in fact murders. Can he use his powers to find the murderers? Did he contribute in any way to their murders? Does he redeem himself?
At first, Shekar seems to be a self-aware remake and the first fifteen minutes are not only gripping but also a hat tip to its leading man and the director. The film is directed by Rajashekar’s wife Jeevita Rajashekhar and both of them were a smash hit pair in the 80s and early 90s. In fact, Rajashekar was known to play roles that ranged from angry young man to angry young cop to angry young brute and Jeevita would play characters that tame the man. It was a hit formula and it contributed to big numbers at the box office. In the beginning of the film, Shekar is listening to ‘Idi Cheragani Premaku‘ from Ankusham, the biggest hit starring Rajashekar and Jeevita.
I applauded this little meta touch and expected more such cleverness from the director.
I also expected the film to explore the character’s additional meta-baggage because Shekar, the weary and cynical cop, could be an extension of the angry young cops played by its leading man. Rajashekar once enjoyed stardom similar to Chiranjeevi in the 80s and 90s but now it’s completely waned and he is a shell of the star he once was. A character like this is a perfect metaphor of that decrease in popularity and box office pull – the body is frail, the beard and hair are whiter, and the trademark energy in the gait is now reduced. Even Sai Kumar seems to have hit the perfect melancholic note while dubbing for the film’s leading man.
But sadly, past the first fifteen minutes, Shekar runs out of freshness and sticks to not just the beats but even some of the shots and frames from the original. While the original consisted of long uninterrupted shots, here we get more cuts and lesser time to imbibe the performance. Rajashekar himself seems more comfortable with the pathos than the portions involving Sherlock-esque intelligence. The film rushes to tell its two love stories that make Shekar a grey character who seems to have strayed from the path his moral compass was pointing him towards. The problem was there in the original and it lies in this one too. The way we learn about what broke the man feels like an information dump rather than something we live with and feel heartbreak about. Similarly, the climax which has the big reveal feels like a sermon in a star-driven social message film than a satisfying conclusion to a well made thriller because it feels like information thrown at the audience as a lecture in caution rather than as dialogue meant to engage.
This film too depends on “aha”-moments where the leading man has solved the case already and we are two steps behind him, waiting for him to explain the case to us like an impatient teacher. Abhinav Gomatham’s Sudhir, who is the computer expert, gets to do all the tech dump but it is to the actor’s credit that the exposition seems partially lighter with his performance and delivery. Similarly, Shivani Rajashekar impresses in a well-conceived but poorly executed character. Her character Geeta is the one big departure from the original where she becomes the fulcrum upon which we learn the Shekar’s past. While she is excellent at selling the bubbly and the lovable character, her character’s fate never feels as tragic as the Anup Rueben’s score makes it out to be.
Rajashekar seems to be taking the right steps to reinvent himself for a new generation. Whether it was the impressive tech-thriller PSV Garuda Vega, or the brave but underwhelming action thriller Kalki or the mediocre Shekar. It is particularly impressive that in Shekar director Jeevita didn’t change the ending of the film or what Indu (Athmika Rajan) chooses to do after leaving Shekar. But this film, despite its earnest efforts, needed more bravery at a conceptual level.
For now, we can consider it a success that a star from the 90s is finally playing his age and taking some brave steps and hope that he isn’t the last.