Directed by Leena Yadav
Written by Leena Yadav, Sutapa Sikdar
★ Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Zayed Khan
2005, Northern Germany: a little girl lies on her bed, looking through her collection of fashion magazines and listening to her currently favourite song, Khoya Khoya from the movie Shabd. She has been listening to this song for at least the past four weeks, watching the trailers of the movie in an infinite loop, and she can't get any of this out of her head. How perfect this movie seems to her! If only she had the chance to see it somehow, but it's hard for a little girl in Northern Germany to get her hands on a copy of a newly released Indian movie. Especially one that flopped.
2012, the same place: the same girl lies on her bed, searching for a movie to watch that night. A song goes back and forth in her mind, an old song she found on an old dusty CD some days before. Khoya Khoya from the movie Shabd. She remembers her longing to watch this movie so many years before, how she searched out every tiny bit she could find about it on the internet. The girl makes a decision: she is going to watch that movie tonight. She must see it, even if she might be disappointed and the illusion of that perfect movie she hasn't seen yet will fall apart.
I wonder what made me notice Shabd at all back in time. The people involved where rather unknown, and while the cast was more famous, their fame was declining at that time. Aishwarya didn't have too many hits, much like Sanjay, and Zayed was only being remembered for Main Hoon Na. In fact, Shabd didn't do any good for either of them.
Sanjay plays the role of the acclaimed author Shaukath, whose fame decreases after some bad reviews. Struggling to prove his talent, he starts writing another book about the mystic woman Tamanna, searching inspiration from his wife Antara (both women played by Aishwarya). Antara, a fashion teacher, is annoyed by Yash, a new photography teacher at her school (disastrous: Zayed Khan) who is trying to get closer to her. Shaukath however, convinces Antara to get out of her everyday life and make a new friend in Yash, while his real intention is to find material to write about. As Antara and Yash grow closer though, Shaukath starts getting jealous. Believing himself to be writing reality, and with that, Antara's and Yash's story, Shaukath decides to write Yash out of the story.
The question is, how much is real and how much is unreal? Is Shaukath writing reality, or is reality writing his book? Who makes the decisions for the future? Is Antara truly in love with Yash, or is she just a marionette in Shaukath's writing hands?
Apart from the eminent soundtrack, the best thing about Shabd is that it presents us with a very complex, gripping and profound story, which is especially impressive considering the fact that this is a 2005 Bollywood movie. Its mysteries and unsolved questions linger with the viewer a long time after the ending.
What spoils all of this - at least almost all of it - is a triad of bad direction, editing and acting. Director Leena Yadav tries to make a point of showing Shaukath's and Antara's deep love for each other in an awkward love making scene at the beginning of the film, but their life as a married couple never truly convinced me. Shaukath seems very unfriendly and harsh in most scenes, pushing Antara around all the time and criticizing each and every of her opinions, actions, words. With his creation of the fictious character Tamanna, we get the feeling that he tries to create a "perfect" Antara - as beautiful as she is now, but less insecure, less humorous; inhuman and mysterious.
But maybe this was the intention of the director? Anyhow, if this is the matter I don't understand how Antara could be in love with such a man.
The same thing can be said about her relationship with Yash - this is also where the bad acting comes in. Zayed Khan, whose latest miss was this year's Tezz, is one of those Uday Chopra's that simply won't go away no matter how often they prove their non-existent talent. Funny as he was in Main Hoon Na, this man should simply try to find another job. I know this must sound harsh, but honestly, we can't all have the same talents, can we?
Shabd could have been so much better with a more convincing actor in the youthful lover's role. How could someone as beautiful, intelligent and mature as Antara fall in love with some bad joke telling and unsexy laughing guy like Zayed's Yash?
If only Ranbir Kapoor had been around back then!
As for the already mentioned Aishwarya and Sanjay, they were both as good as possible in their unthankful roles.
My last point is the editing, which is nothing but horrific. Especially the first scene, in which we are fast-forwarded through Shaukath's career as a writer, proves this. The many awkward cuts, angles and unsteady camera are annoying and made me consider turning the film off again. Also, there are many scenes in which letters are raining down in a bluish light, mainly the scenes in which we see Tamanna. They drag the quality of the film down a lot.
In the end, I'm happy to have seen Shabd however. Surely, I can't go on living with the illusion that it didn't deserve flopping, but I also won't go on thinking that I've missed something not seeing it.
And I can always listen to the soundtrack which I still think is absolutely superb (perhaps minus the monologues).