'Shab' Review: Onir's refreshing take on human relationships in the modern world

By Murtaza Ali Khan

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews

Ashish Bisht, Raveena Tandon, Shab, Directed by Onir
Shab is the latest offering from the National Award-winning filmmaker of I Am, Onir, who is one of the pioneers of independent cinema in India. And, in many ways, it was the critical success of his 2005 film My Brother… Nikhil that encouraged other directors to look upon indie filmmaking as a viable alternative. Over the next few years Onir continued to experiment, making films like Bas Ek Pal and Sorry Bhai! that try to grapple with the different issues associated with sexuality. With Shab, Onir continues the trend of making films that invite debates revolving around sexuality. Also, it’s really heartening to see him make a movie that dares to show us the underbelly of the Delhi's elite circles. And it's not been done superficially like the attempts made by some of the lesser filmmakers in the past but it's been done in a deeply meditative manner.

Ashish Bisht, Arpita Mukherjee, Shab, Directed by Onir

Onir in his films has always managed to present relationships in a different light and he succeeds in doing the same in Shab as well, only this time he goes further than he has ever done. And the result is a dark brooding treatise on the complexities of human relationships (heterosexual as well as homosexual) that's nothing like anything Bollywood has ever attempted. He succeeds in eliciting wonderful performances from an ensemble cast that includes the likes of the 'Mast Mast' girl Raveena Tandon, Bengali actress Arpita Chatterjee, French talent Simon Frenay, Areesz Ganddi, and the newcomer Ashish Bisht. It's Ganddi and Frenay who stand out with their subtle and deeply nuanced performances. While Chatterjee is a treat for the sore eyes, Tandon is the archetypal femme fatale who's vintage Classic Hollywood. Bisht is alluring as the small town boy who dreams of making it big.

Arpita Mukherjee, Shab, Directed by Onir, Dressed as a Bride

Shab, co-written by Merle Kroger and Onir himself, is essentially a story of love and betrayal but one that’s elevated by multilayered characters, ambiguous subtexts and complicated subplots. Another unique aspect about the film is that it’s been shot in Delhi across four different seasons— Summer, Monsoon, Autumn, and Winter—so as to capture the distinct mood of each of these seasons. Sachin K. Krishn’s cinematography is topnotch and it helps bring the characters to life with the city of Delhi, with its changing seasons, being a separate character in itself. Handling a story with multiple characters require parallel editing of the highest quality and the brother-sister duo of Onir and Irene Dhar Malik, herself is a National Award winner, is certainly up to the task. The songs of Shab are already creating buzz all around and credit for the same goes to composer Mithoon, lyricist Amitabh Verma, and Tips Films & Music.

Areesz Ganddi, Arpita Mukherjee, Shab, Directed by Onir

Overall, Shab tries its best to avoid clichés and comes across as a thought provoking film that offers a refreshing take on human relationships in the modern world that's driven by opportunism and hypocrisy. However, Shab is far from being a seamless film in that it unravels like a puzzle and may therefore end up puzzling the average viewer looking for a straightforward story of love and heartbreak. Yes, there is plenty of that in Shab but Onir like any intelligent filmmaker hates to spoon-feed his audience. The only way to enjoy the film is to lend yourself completely to its ebbs and flows or else you are better off skipping it altogether.

Rating: 8/10

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