Although it has its loopholes, but director Bishnu Dev Halder’s satirical take on forced vasectomy during The Emergency affecting personal relationships is worth a watch
Rating: 2.5 / 5
By Mayur Lookhar
Indian society has always laughed at the very mention of nasbandi [vasectomy]. Being not being able to reproduce in a populous nation like India can be embarrassing for a man in a patriarchal society. To do it against a person’s will, like it happened during The Emergency [1975-1977], can severely dent a man’s pride and his psyche.
Filmmaker Bishnu Dev Halder takes us back to The Emergency period but he’s not telling a political tale per se. Shukranu [sperm in Urdu] subtly condemns the gross injustice, human rights abuse during The Emergency, but Halder draws your attention to how forced vasectomy ruined personal relationships in a conservative society then.
Rejected by his crush Akriti [Sheetal Thakur], Inder [Divyenndu Sharma] settles for an arranged marriage with Reema [Shweta Basu Prasad]. Two days before his marriage, Inder ends up as an unfortunate victim of the widespread forced vasectomy carried out during the Emergency period. Embarrassed by it, Inder keeps the dark secret to himself and is even scared to consummate his marriage. He does so (consummate marriage) eventually and soon returns to his workplace in Delhi. A few months later, he is shocked to learn of Reema’s pregnancy. He suspects his wife of infidelity but is too embarrassed to reveal his shortcoming. Almost miraculously, his Delhi crush Akriti comes back into his life, and soon Inder treads on the path of infidelity.
There’s an air of familiarity to the tale, rekindling memories of Pati Patni Aur Woh , but there’s a huge difference here as Akriti and her family of wrestlers are unaware about Inder’s marital status.
Though predictable but Shukranu doesn’t end with a simple sorry by the hero, and the other woman forgiving him. Halder’s Shukrana drives on its rustic humour and the admirable show by the cast.
It’s hard to empathise with a man like Inder, but Divyenndu Sharma often draws the guffaws when confronted with uncomfortable situations. It’s not so much the vasectomy, but the chaos that Inder rings into his life that amuses the audience. Sharma amuses you with his worried look, dead pan expressions. That was a quality often associated with veteran actor Farooq Sheikh. Sharma is generally considered as a fine comedy actor, but anguish and aggression, we don’t associate such traits with Sharma. The Chashme Baddoor  actor shows an offensive side to him when Inder starts distancing himself from his wife and even ill treats her.
Sharma shares a fine chemistry with Aakash Dabhade, who plays his best friend and room mate Bhanu. It’s the Inder-Bhanu conversations that lead to many humorous moments. Be it his retro look or act, the underrated but very natural Sharma chips in with another convincing show.
Much like Sharma, Shweta Basu Prasad, too, is an untapped talent in Hindi cinema. The girl, who charmed us as a child artiste in Vishal Bhardwaj’s Makdee , has a tremendous screen presence and regales in her demure, traditional Indian bride avatar. The ‘70s hairdo though could have been more convincing. Young Raj Bhansali, who impressed all as Totto in Dream Girl , shines as Reema’s best friend Birju.
It’s the first time that yours truly has seen Sheetal Thakur in action. Thakur strikes as a confident young lady with a tremendous screen presence. You are curious about Akriti. Here’s a Haryanvi girl raised in a family of wrestlers. She’s truly the odd one out in her vicinity. Haryanvis are generally perceived to be conservative. So, it is bizarre to find a Haryanvi lady in the ‘70s don western clothing. [Akriti’s hairdo, costume, long boots are a tribute to the ’70, ‘80s sex symbols]. She doesn’t even have the Haryanvi accent. But Akriti enjoys great freedom where she secretly makes out with her man inside her bungalow. Akriti looks apart in her family. But as her father Bhisham Lathwal [Rajesh Khattar] says, “She’s the only daughter, and so we’ve given her complete freedom” Well, Akriti is also the only woman in the Lathwal house and that justifies why she is such a free bird.
Bhisham and his burly sons – Mahaveer [Sangam Shukla], Mangal [Sandeep Nahar] and Maruti [Shakti Singh] are intimidating but they also imbibe the true Haryanvi humour. The Lathwals want to test Inder’s knowledge. Bisham calls upon a disciple Govardhan [Prathamesh Sharma] to pose a tough query to Inder. The educated Haryanvi shoots in his Haryanvi accent, “Wot izz yurrr name?” Inevitably, it earns a wrap from Mangal who then blurts, “Yo bhai, itni angrezi toh hame bhi aati hain” (Hey bro, now we, too, know such basic English]. The text may seem silly, but the humour derives from the Haryanvi tone. And it’s not just Haryanvi, but Shukranu has a fine mix of Uttar Pradeshi and Bihari humour too.
The cast does a fine job, but a few glaring loopholes in screenplay prevent Shukranu from being a potent comedy. For a girl who had spurned his advances earlier, it is bizarre as to how all of a sudden Akriti wants to reconnect and soon marry Inder. Here’s Inder who left upset upon receiving word of his wife’s pregnancy but few seconds later, Akriti pop again in his life out of nowhere. The next moment, Inder is being interviewed [rather interrogated] by her family. And a few days later, he’s celebrating with the family. Besides, soon he is secretly making out with Akriti in her home. You wonder what’s going on here? Has he committed bigamy?
Once an eight-month pregnant Reema lands up at Inder’s quarter in Delhi, the film treads upon a predictable path where the wife and the other woman meet. Inder and Bhanu’s feeble attempts to conceal the truth produces few hilarious moments, but the predictable screenplay drags the film down. Blame it on the rushed writing. It’s disappointing for there was potential for Shukranu to be a genuine laughter riot. It’s simply the quality of actors who keep the ship afloat. What is admirable though is that that are the characters are not judged based on their actions. It’s simply the unfortunate turn of events that lead them to chaos.
The film delivers it key message at the business end where it condemns the authority who suppressed freedom during the Emergency. It blames the authority for the havoc forced vasectomy created in their lives. Inder is not preachy though. He simply embodies the frustration of lakhs of men (even boys) who went through hell during The Emergency. Divyenndu Sharma’s sterilized stud [slang] penetrates your mind. Unfortunately, this tale doesn’t end with a simple sorry. The feared outcome has a jaw dropping effect on the audience. You are laughing in your seat as you ponder could there be a sequel? But perhaps somethings are best left uncovered.
Shukranu will stream on Zee5 from 14 February.