SHABRI Review: Killer performances in a deadly directorial debut

Kudos to Eesha Koppikhar, gleefully sinking her teeth into the grim and meaty role of Mumbai’s first female gangster, Shabri

There have been enough films made about gangsters over the years, but Lalit Marathe’s directorial debut, Shabri, manages to make a mark as one of Bollywood’s most authentic in the genre, reminiscent in parts of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya and Mahesh Manjrekar’s Vaastav. Though it has been lying in the cans for almost five years now, it still has a freshness, because it looks shockingly real. The sepia-toned scenes, bereft of vibrant colours, are haunting, without the forced skin show or foul language usually seen in such productions.

Not your regular family entertainer that implores you to leave your brain behind, Shabri could be the tale of any modern-day woman who has to slug it out for her family, against all odds. Without any song and dance, it manages to leave an impact. Director Marathe, a self-confessed RGV protégé, flaunts his influence without qualms and yet ensures that his own voice comes through, uncompromised.

The story of Shabri has layers, none of them frivolous or forced. The film starts with a bunch of ‘cool’ kids discussing their (non-existent) woes when, all of a sudden, a bloodied man falls on their table from somewhere up above. This scene takes the viewer into Shabri’s world of ‘real’ woes, where she can’t afford to be vulnerable, as everyone around her wants to exploit her – mainly her father and brother, who (unintentionally) are feeding off her. She has to wear a no-nonsense exterior to retain her sanity.

Shabri is probably the only film in recent times where two people are shown to be intensely in love, without any physical contact at all. That is perhaps the best part of Marathe’s film – he leaves a lot to the imagination; for instance, he has two lovers curled up at different ends of the bed, without specifying any intimacy between them. Though the love angle isn’t the central point of the film, it still causes goosebumps.

On the surface, Shabri is about how an everyday woman is transformed into a gangster, thanks to the fact that her young brother (played very convincingly by Vijay Khadechkar), whom she deeply loves, is killed by the cops in a false case. Murad (played subtly yet brilliantly by Raj Arjun), who loves her, runs a gambling den remote-controlled by Rajdhar Bhau (a chillingly good Ghajini-villain, Pradeep Singh Rawat). After the police kill her brother, Shabri’s lover accidentally kills the villain’s brother and the villain takes revenge by killing him in turn. Shabri seeks revenge – which is what the film is really about.

While many might find the climax too convenient, Marathe has left the ending open, perhaps to accommodate a sequel. Shabri defies the grammar of commercial films and yet manages to keep you intrigued. The protagonist doesn’t seek sympathy; all she wants is to breathe freely, without worrying about the lives of her near and dear ones. This film deserves a watch, especially for the stunning performances and a peek into the lives of those existing on the fringes of urban civilisation.