‘Patna Shuklla’ Review: Raveena Tandon Led Disney+ Hotstar Film Is Politically Relevant & Dull


Making anti-establishment films (and shows) during oppressive times is undoubtedly a big deal. Shah Rukh Khan became the face of Jawan to talk about institutional corruption, and he looked into the camera to tell the audience to not just vote responsibly but also to ask their leaders to fulfill the promises mentioned in their election manifesto. Bhumi Pednekar led Bhakshak to shed light on the Muzaffarpur Shelter House case and turned to the audience to tell them to wake up to the atrocities that were happening around them. Ravi Kishan, in Maamla Legal Hai, talked about how the personal priorities of high-profile lawyers are robbing the poor of their chance to get any semblance of justice. Raveena Tandon looks at fraudulent practices in the sphere of education in Patna Shuklla. But they all have the same issue: you have to be an expert at separating the art from the artist to enjoy them.

Vivek Budakoti’s Patna Shuklla, which has been written by Budakoti, Sammeer Arora, and Farid Khan, tells the story of Tanvi Shukla, who is a lawyer who works at a lower court. She is married to Siddharth, who is a government employee in the water resources department, and they have a son named Sonu. In the professional field, Tanvi has a lukewarm reputation because she is a woman who takes up odd cases. And in the personal field, Siddharth keeps her in the kitchen and downplays her work as a lawyer in front of his friends’ wives so that they don’t feel too bad about her achievement. She gets the chance to dispel all these prejudices when she is approached by Rinki Kumari. The girl is a third-year BSc student at Vihar University, and she says that even though her exams went well, she failed. She wanted her papers to be re-examined, but only the marks were recounted, and her status remained unchanged. Based on that, Tanvi sends a notice to the university, and that attracts the attention of the high-profile lawyer, Neelkanth Mishra. While that raises a lot of eyebrows, it’s the involvement of the son of Bihar’s CM, Raghubir Singh, that leads Tanvi to believe that Rinki’s case isn’t as simple as it seems.

Credit where credit is due: the writers of Patna Shuklla cover a lot of relevant topics in the film. There’s the sexism that working women face, regardless of where they live. Then there’s the love-bombing that Indian men do after acting in a misogynistic fashion on a daily basis and how they get a pass from women because of that. The central case is about scams that revolve around educational degrees and how they lead to the persecution and othering of religious minorities and underprivileged people in India. The repercussions that Tanvi’s family faces highlight the practice of political pressure via fake government reports and bulldozer injustice. But all this is presented in such a matter-of-fact way that it makes me wonder who this movie is for. There’s a section of the audience that is aware of these atrocities. Seeing a watered-down, safe version (the fact that this is so watered-down and safe is a separate issue altogether) of it will do nothing for them. And there’s a section of the audience that’s aware of these issues, but they’ve been brainwashed to perceive a government’s corrupt and destructive practices as a sign of smartness and power. This movie isn’t changing any of their minds. Is it just to say “this happens in India”? Well, the news is there for that.

Furthermore, when you sit down to watch Patna Shuklla, you’ll notice a peculiar logo right at the beginning. If you are feeling curious, you’ll probably look into its amazing governance. If you are really observant, you’ll notice that the movie is set in Bihar. And if you can connect the dots, you’ll be able to sense the hypocrisy coursing through its veins. Without making things too controversial, Budakoti creates the illusion that the film is anti-establishment because it’s critiquing the misuse of bulldozers and the hollow slogans about educating girls. But since it’s backed by an institution that’s similar to the villains of the film and is helmed by someone who champions controversial policies, the whole thing feels like a mockery of the very real issues that the general populace is facing. It seems like the movie is trying to get the approval of the liberal crowds (who are desperate for any form of dissent, even if it’s fake) and then the people involved are going out, in real life, and fueling majoritarian rhetoric. I mean, Tanvi and Siddharth even joke about the bulldozer injustice, which is something that people in real life can’t. You can say that shows their majoritarian privilege but given how the protagonist is incompetent and only fails upwards, that joke feels insensitive and infuriating.

Even if I put all these inferences to the side and watch Patna Shuklla in a vacuum (which is the worst thing that you can do when a film is apparently being openly political), it’s still an incredibly dull movie. The cinematography and editing are abysmal. The score is annoying. As mentioned before, Tanvi is a bumbling idiot who never seems to get anything right. Raveena Tandon’s lifeless performance makes it worse. Siddharth’s whole arc is similar to the arcs of all those husbands in faux-feminist films, where they start off as sexist pieces of garbage and end up becoming fans of their wives while jokingly using the sexism that hasn’t left their bodies. Manav Vij looks and sounds bored, which somehow makes Siddharth really punchable. The usually dependable Chandan Roy Sanyal is barely watchable. The late Satish Kaushik is really one-note and out of place because of his unnecessarily goofy antics. Jatin Goswami is this close to growing a mustache and twirling it. Anushka Kaushik spends the whole film with this hapless look on her face. The same can be said about Ambrish Kumar Shukla. Rio Kapadia is there. Raju Kher is also there. Arijeet Kaurav is the best out of the lot. The rest of the supporting cast is passable at best and grating at worst.

It can seem like I am asking too much of Bollywood by expecting them to make sure that their on-screen anti-establishment sentiments and their off-screen politics are consistent, or vice versa. But the issue is that I have grown up watching actors, directors, writers, and various artists from the world of entertainment whose off-screen politics and their on-screen roles have been pro-people and anti-establishment, and I can’t lower my standards just to enjoy some half-baked, poorly-made film. Yes, something like Patna Shuklla is undoubtedly better than most of the propaganda films out there that are amplifying a certain kind of corrosive politics. However, if the two choices that I have at my disposal are cinematic dullness and cinematic poison, then I suppose the industry as a whole should act on it by separating their art from the authorities that are puppeteering them and learning to tell their stories in a way that truly underscores and respects the issues that are “inspiring” their movies and shows.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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