Shabd is a 2005 film starring Sanjay Dutt, Aishwarya Rai and Zayed Khan. The film is about Shaukat (Sanjay), a writer who is going through a rough patch because his last book did not do well. The criticisms about his book has really gotten to him and he is struggling to write another book. Unable to find inspiration elsewhere, he looks towards his wife Antara (Aishwarya), a college teacher. When a young and handsome new teacher Yash (Zayed) joins the college and shows interest in Antara, Shaukat encourages her to befriend him to find more inspiration for his story. However, as his wife becomes closer to Yash, fiction and reality start to resemble one another.
Shabd is a strange film. I’ve always liked irony in films. Shabd, though, is ironical in not a very entertaining or appeasing way. It’s kind of bizarre. It’s not just a story about a husband encouraging his wife to cross the line into infidelity for the sake of his book, it’s also about a man who actually believes that he can control people’s lives through his writing. Although some of the language was very nice and well written, Sanjay Dutt appears as a mad man throughout, talking to himself constantly, and allowing himself to forget his identity as a husband for the sake of writing another successful book. It’s sort of like he chooses success over his marriage, his wife and their honor. And his wife strangely goes along with it till the very end.
I actually enjoyed Aishwarya’s performance in this film more than anyone else’s. Sanjay’s performance felt a little too forced to me. And Zayed unfortunately overacted. In some of the scenes where he lowered his voice to a tone he believes a romantic hero sounds like and his puppy sad eyes actually made me want to laugh. He tried too hard. Aishwarya on the other hand was very good. She performed very honestly and really got Antara’s sincerity and naivety across well. I highly doubt that anyone else could have made that character work. She hit a great balance in this film with an avatar that’s a combination of sensuous and innocent. Without her beauty and portrayal, I’m sure Shabd would have lost the very little credibility it has as a story.
At the end of the film, I really wasn’t sure what exactly it was I watched. I can’t quite fit this film into any main film genre. It’s definitely not a thriller drama as described. It’s more of a surreal film — not in its imagery– but more as a concept. I think what the writer and director went wrong with Shabd is that they wanted those surreal elements in the film but they also wanted to make a film that would fit the typical Bollywood cinematic experience, probably to attract the masses. But they diluted what could have been a well made, shocking art film. If they had taken the story a little more to the edge and removed the commercial elements (and tweaked the ending), Shabd could have been more influential, more disturbing.
This might sound contradictory to the beginning of my review. It’s not that I like or approve of Shabd’s plot. But the way that the film was made left little impact on me as a viewer. At the end of the film, I just brushed it off as silly and inconsequential. When I think about it though, the story is very unique and so much could have been done with it. But art and commercial don’t really mix. In order to work, they need to be kept separate. Shabd should have been an all-out art film. Having said that, I do appreciate that they got some big names involved in this project and tried something out of the ordinary for Bollywood.