The subject of illegal immigration gets a bizarre representation in Shiddat, a Hindi language film written by Shridhar Raghavan and Dheeraj Kedarnath Rattan, and directed by Kunal Deshmukh. Jaggi (Sunny Kaushal), an unemployable young man from Punjab, hitchhikes to Europe to sabotage the wedding of a woman with whom he had a brief affair in India. There is a problem – she had made it clear in multiple instances that she never loved him and would not marry him. Nevertheless, the man does not stop, and to his aid comes an Indian diplomat who goes out of his way to help him reach the wedding venue. In the film’s universe, a man’s obsessive romantic feelings take precedence over cases of illegal border crossings caused by poverty and civil war.
Shiddat features several Bollywood clichés about Punjab. It opens to an elaborate upper-class wedding scene. A cheerful background score follows the hero everywhere he goes, even when, at one point, he passively harasses a woman he spotted at a swimming pool that he gatecrashed with his sexually frustrated friends to ogle at “fair-skinned chics in wet clothes (sic).”
But the clichés aside, Shiddat is an infuriating film that flattens out a complicated plot, centred on a man’s self-destructive obsession, into a delusional account about soulmates. Jaggi, a hockey player with little interest in the game, falls head over heels in love with Kartika (Radhika Madan) at first sight. She grew up in London and is a professional swimmer in Amritsar. He starts to stalk her after a bitter first meeting and interprets an instance of casual sex as a promise for a lifetime together. When she leaves for London to marry her fiancé, he follows her, for he believes his shiddat – passion – will change her mind.
Kartika’s disinterest in a marriage with Jaggi is the film’s villain, the biggest hindrance in his pursuit of a soulmate. In their first meeting, he clicks a picture of her without her consent and posts it online, leading to strangers on the street passing lewd remarks on her body. One would think this instance of harassment flags the natural death of a possible romance between them. But the film’s universe grants him leeway. Isn’t everything supposed to be fair in love?
The film seldom pays attention to the woman’s side of the story. She remains a voiceless object of Jaggi’s affection. She weakly protests when he ignores personal boundaries or mansplains her about swimming, although he is a terrible swimmer, and eventually, she submits to his neurotic romance. She states that she would cancel her wedding in London if Jaggi succeeds at snatching her away from the altar. He takes up the challenge. “My love comes with a lifetime guarantee,” he declares, and the film agrees by playing a corny violin in the background.
A toxic male gaze characterises the film. Consider this scene. Jaggi, at the house of Gautam (Mohit Raina), an Indian diplomat in Paris, notices the cereal packets and milk cartons in his refrigerator. He asks the latter if he doesn’t miss his estranged wife. No, he isn’t referring to her company but the food she used to bring to his table. “I can see it in your eyes that you miss her aloo parathe…,” Jaggi enthuses. Men fall in love and marry because they can’t live forever on bland ready-to-eat food. True love is not letting go of that woman who can cook.
While it makes little sense to point out logical errors in a film as silly as this, one can’t help but mention the scene where Gautam, on a professional assignment, divulges the issues in his married life to an illegal immigrant in an interrogation room. Every time Jaggi playfully violates his bounds, he plays along. That said, Raina’s convincing, aptly subtle performance as Gautam is the only silver lining in this film that goes from odd to insufferable.
Radhika Madan, one of the best actors working in contemporary Bollywood, struggles to fit into the role of a stereotypical heroine who is defined solely by her relationship with the hero. She doesn’t get a good moment to shine, and worse, she seems as clueless about Kartika’s motivations as the viewer is.
Sunny Kaushal is devoid of the charisma that makes an actor a star, but he plays the role wholeheartedly, remarkable in the moments where Jaggi weeps and writhes in heartache. He rightly interprets Jaggi as a variant of Arjun Reddy, an embodiment of cockiness. Unlike Reddy, Jaggi has the bearing of a happy-go-lucky guy who likes to chat away rather than brood. But both men are capable of inflicting similar damages on people around them, especially on the women they take an interest in.
The Shiddat review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the movie. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.