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Patna Shuklla Review: Raveena Tandon Tries Her Best To Propel The Film But It Is A Losing Battle

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Raveena Tandon in a still from Patna Shuklla. (courtesy: disneyplushotstar)

New Delhi:

A boxing analogy may not be out of place in a courtroom drama – it comes from the mouth of one of the advocates involved in the legal battle on which the film hinges – but Patna Shuklla, starring Raveena Tandon and streaming on Disney+Hotstar, does not come anywhere near generating the energy and intensity one expects when two pugilists jump into a ring and begin to throw punches at each other.

Patna Shuklla, directed by Vivek Budakoti and produced by Arbaaz Khan, is a well-meaning exercise that could have done with more gusto. The film makes the right noises about abuse of political power and the anomalies that beset the higher education system but it does so in a manner so bland that all its good intentions come to naught.

The laboured drama has one arbitrary twist too many. The revelations, most of which come in a heap in the last quarter of the film, serve the sole purpose of either erecting an obstacle in the path of the protagonist or easing her chosen course of action.

The film’s titular character, Tanvi Shukla (Tandon), has Patna attached to her surname by the mass media of the city where she becomes a minor celebrity as a case falls on her lap and gets the public rooting for her and her underdog client.

Tanvi, who is popular in Patna’s district court for her culinary skills, has spent years fighting inconsequential cases while balancing her career with the responsibilities of her family. Her husband, Siddharth Shukla (Manav Vij), is an engineer with the municipal water board. Her only son suffers from asthma.

To be fair to her life partner, the man is honest about what he thinks of Tanvi’s work as a lawyer. But to humour her, he says that the stroke beneath his signature is ‘you’. Even my signature isn’t complete without you, he asserts. These are just words, of course. The film is no different. It tries to say a lot but does not quite get its lines right.

The homemaker-lawyer’s public fame stems from her advocacy of Rinki Kumari (Anushka Kaushik), a rickshaw-puller’s daughter who falls prey to a marksheets scam and flunks her B.Sc. third year examination. Turns out that the man responsible for the girl’s plight is Raghubir Singh (Jatin Goswami), son of a powerful politician who uses his clout to change his marksheet with Rinki’s.

The battle that Tanvi wages, be it in the courtroom or in society at large, isn’t one of equals. The institution Rinki sues – it is called Vihar (not Bihar) University and Patna Shuklla is filmed in Bhopal, not Patna – is represented by hotshot lawyer Neelkanth Mishra (Chandan Roy Sanyal).

Neelkanth is the glib man who equates a legal joust with a boxing bout. He is a heavyweight by all reckoning. Having picked on somebody who is not quite his size, the cocky Neelkanth is confident that Tanvi stands no chance of winning the case.

The politician – he is accused of resorting to unfair means to acquire the degree that he needs in order to file his nomination papers for an upcoming election – loses no opportunity to weaken Tanvi’s resolve. He arm-twists her in every way possible but the lady stands her ground because she is determined to ensure justice for Rinki.

Judge Arun Kumar Jha (Satish Kaushik in one of his last roles) is obsessed with balance, which is how it should be. He is respectful of Neelkanth given the latter’s reputation as a lawyer, but is firm with him when the presumptuous defence counsel crosses the line.

Patna Shuklla, written by Budakoti, Sammeer Arora and Farid Khan, flags an issue of import and showcases a fight to ensure that the weakest of the weak has a fair shot at justice. But the storytelling style that the film adopts succumbs to crushing dreariness in its quest of solemnity.

The title isn’t the only thing that is baffling about this film. The choice of Bhopal as filming location for a story set in Patna is strange, to say the least. Not that Patna Shuklla is the first-ever Hindi film to pass Bhopal off as a city in Bihar. But the ones that have done that before – notably a few of Prakash Jha’s political thrillers – had the dramatic heft to make amends for the locational liberty.

With the focus being squarely on the lawyer played by Tandon, the wronged girl is reduced to a side player. That considerably reduces the impact of the film’s central theme. Anushka Kaushik, the actress cast as the harried Rinki Kumari, is an able screen performer (viewers might remember her for her roles in Disney+Hotstar’s Ghar Waapsi and Prime Video’s Crash Course). She deserved far greater play for the sake of the story.

Rinki’s pitiable financial status is repeatedly emphasised and so is her complete lack of social power. But the film is unable to gather the courage to mention her caste. That, like so many of the other choices that Patna Shuklla makes, undermines its purpose. The film would have made its point far more pointedly had it factored the caste discrimination angle into the legal drama.

The simplistic methods, which revolve around sudden and laboured reveals about unstated truths, are at times exasperatingly anodyne. They undermine a slew of earnest performances.

Raveena Tandon tries her best to propel the film out of its stupor but it is a losing battle. This despite the fact that she has wonderful support from cast of actors led by the late Satish Kaushik, whose marvellously well-modulated performance shows why his untimely passing on is such a loss for Hindi cinema.

Chandan Roy Sanyal, Manav Vij and Jatin Goswami do everything that they can to liven up proceedings within the limitations that the script imposes on them.

To end, here is another boxing analogy. It is far more apt than the one cited earlier in this review. Neelkanth Mishra tells his client, Vihar University vice-chancellor Harsh Sinha (the late Rio Kapadia), about the existence of something called a “walkout bout”. It refers, he says, to a contest between unfancied boxers that is scheduled after the main event. It triggers a walkout from the arena.

Patna Shuklla, no matter how hard it tries to get us to engage with the important questions it raises with all the seriousness they merit, is the cinematic equivalent of a walkout bout. It is way too stiff and starchy to be a meaningful call to action.

Cast:

Raveena Tandon, Satish Kaushik, Anushka Kaushik, Chandan Roy Sanyal, Manav Vij and Jatin Goswami

Director:

Vivek Budakoti and Rajendra Tiwari





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