September 20, 2002 
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Shakti:The Power
Run Lolo Run
Shakti -- The Power is heavy viewing with powerful performances

Sukanya Verma

Here's a comforting thought. Sridevi Productions' Shakti -- The Power is not about a woman single-handedly fighting for justice. It is not about a rape victim turning into a revenge-thirsty bandit. Nor is it about a scorned woman forming a mini army to avenge her husband's killers.

The film just revolves around a young widow who knows her limitations yet possesses the spirit to rescue her three-year-old son.

Don't get too comfortable, though. The film works at an extreme level. Every episode in the film is lifted to terrifying heights. Shakti -- The Power, based in rural Rajasthan, presents such a horrifying depiction of the place that you might seriously think twice before setting foot there.

Also, there is enough blood, gore, violence and verbal abuse to make your skin crawl.

The story circles around the young orphan girl Nandini (Karisma Kapoor), based in Canada. Her indulgent uncles (Tiku Talsania and Jaspal Bhatti) play Cupid to Nandini and her best friend Shekhar (Sanjay Kapoor). In one continuous song, the two get married, go on a honeymoon and have a baby, who proceeds to grow into the chubby three-year-old Raja (Jai Sidhwani). Shakti: The Power

A local television screen shows some brawls in a remote town of Rajasthan with references to Shekhar's parents Narsimha and his wife (Nana Patekar, Deepti Naval) being in trouble. Ahem. Canadian television covers local village feuds in interior India?

Shekhar, wife and son immediately leave for India. He is financially sound. But he opts to rough it out with wife and son in a crowded local bus. Surely there was a less obvious way to portray the rural setting? Anyway, Shekhar is soon attacked by his father's opponent Beecha (Vijay Raaz), much to Nandini and Raja's dismay. He is rescued in the nick of time by Narsimha's men.

Narsimha, village patriarch and the caretaker of 40 villages and 40,000 men, speaks in a vitriolic tone, shoots pigeons for fun, kills animals in the name of sacrifice, treats women like doormats and butchers men mercilessly. Sterling qualities to be dubbed as a noble man by the village folk.

He is pleased to meet his grandson, but is indifferent towards Nandini. Shocked by his tyrannical attitude, Nandini resents him spending time with Raja. During a local combat, Narsimha beheads Beecha. Horrified, Nandini urges Shekhar to return to Canada.

Unfortunately, Shekhar is killed during a well-planned encounter between Narsimha and his enemies. A distraught Nandini wants out, Narsimha does not relent. She escapes with her son in tow.

On the run, she bumps into a smooth-talking, maverick rogue (Shah Rukh Khan) who resolves to help her.

From the time Nandini decides to elope with her kid, the film is at its tense and gripping best. The climax, however, is a let down --- it glorifies Narsimha's misdeeds without giving him a chance for remorse.

Shakti -- The Power is heavy viewing with powerful performances from the cast.

Nana Patekar is a great Narsimha. Obstinate with vague hints of a disturbed, frustrated past, Patekar brilliantly captures the complex nature of his character without making it too obvious.

Karisma Kapoor spits heated fire at Nana Patekar in the face-off sequences. Her Nandini is believable and strikes a balance between vulnerability and toughness. She impressively conveys the mental strength of her character in the scene when she tells her mother-in-law, "It's all about commitment --- of a wife to her husband, of a mother to her child."

Thankfully, you are spared unrealistic, feministic dialogues and references to Goddesses with conches in the background. Shakti: The Power

Sanjay Kapoor essays his brief part with sincerity and does not get overshadowed.

Shah Rukh Khan is the light relief in this otherwise stark film. His energy is put to good use as he rambles nonstop and fights dozens of goons with the ease of a musketeer. He is particularly funny while making a dig at animal activist Maneka Gandhi, "Abe unthon ko haath mat lagana, warna Maneka Gandhi chodegi nahi" (Be prepared to face Maneka Gandhi's wrath if anything happens to the camels). Another good moment is when Karisma bribes SRK with dollars.

Shah Rukh's much-talked about song sequence with the stunning Aishwarya Rai in Ishq kameena comes out a bummer. Its placing in the film is mistimed. Actually, that goes for all the songs in the film. Immediately after Sanjay Kapoor's funeral, there is a dream song between him and Karisma. Next, Karisma is crying her guts out after a heavy scene. Cut to Ishq kameena. You could be forgiven for losing focus here. Shakti: The Power

S Sriram's camera captures the stark and arid Rajasthan, while art designer Priten Patil effectively brings out the ruthlessness of Narsimha's nature with the overpowering sets. Director Krishna Vamsi who made the original Anthapuram in Telugu, which was loosely adapted from Brian Gilbert's Not Without My Daughter extracts poignant performances from the cast.

I will say one thing. It disturbed me no end to see the masses applaud Nana Patekar mouth obscenities at women and gnarl during Karisma Kapoor's emotionally charged scenes. This is the reaction in Mumbai. You shudder to think about the audience in rural India.

Faced with a regressive audience such as ours, I have one question: did this film need to be made?

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