Director Vinay Shukla returns to the big screen after five years with his latest film Mirch. Starring Arunoday Singh, Konkona Sen Sharma, Raima Sen, Shahana Goswami, Sushant Singh, and a whole host of supporting actors, this film is witty, cleverly told, and has delightful performances. It addresses the issue of women’s emancipation from restrictive roles in traditional storytelling, and ends up walking a very thin line between making a profound statement about empowerment and being potentially offensive for painting empowered women as cunning. That decision is ultimately left to the viewer, and I walked out unsure about how to interpret it. Ultimately, Shukla delivers a film that is creatively narrated, makes you laugh, leaves you thinking, and provokes a discussion.
The basic story is of a struggling director/writer (Arunoday Singh) trying hard to impress a producer (Sushant Singh) to back his idea. Under pressure, the director narrates four short stories to him, each female-centric and evolving over time and in its feminist message. Konkona and Raima each feature in two of the stories he narrates, alternating from one to the other. They are supported by a very capable ensemble of actors such as Boman Irani, Ila Arun, Saurabh Shukla and Prem Chopra. One of the best things about the short stories is that each one transports the viewer completely to a new ambience and setting, and for a while you forget that you’re in a story within a story, until you’re pulled back out of it. Credit for this goes to the fluid writing and production design, which enables a seamless jump from swanky producer’s office to medieval village to Rajasthani palace to high-end art gallery to sleazy hotel room. If you’re curious about all those locations, watch the film to see what I mean.
Commenting on the evolution of the film, Shukla said, “The film is highly self-reflective, it mirrors the process I went through to get this film made. It was a huge struggle so the story is a commentary on that as well.” Shukla’s most well known film to date has been the 1999 release Godmother, starring Shabana Azmi, which won him awards and critical acclaim. It is good to see him return with another powerful script and a great line-up of talent. The film’s actual portrayal of women’s emancipation is up for interpretation, but at least here’s a film that inspires debate and shows you a good time while doing it.