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Shironam: What Lies Behind the Headlines?

26 Oct, 2020 | Reviews by Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri
Jisshu Sengupta and Swastika Mukherjee in Indranil Ghosh's Shironam

National Award-winning art director and production designer Indranil Ghosh makes his debut as director with an exposé of the media’s penchant for manufacturing breaking news

Director: Indranil Ghosh
Cast: Jisshu Sengupta, Swastika Mukherjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Anjan Dutt

A journalist has two responsibilities: one, publish news; two, withhold news. Given what we have been witnessing of late, this particular statement made by Rajat (Anjan Dutt), the executive editor of a TV news channel, gives Shironam, award-winning art director and production designer Indranil Ghosh’s directorial debut, a contemporary resonance. When photojournalist Abhin Ray (Jisshu Sengupta) goes missing while on assignment in the insurgency-infested badlands, the powers-that-be in the newsroom deem it the perfect opportunity to milk the story for all its TRP and sensational potential. 

Based on a story and screenplay by Dwipanita Ghosh Mukherjee, Shironam begins on just the right note
Based on a story and screenplay by Dwipanita Ghosh Mukherjee, Shironam begins on just the right note: a truck making its way through the dusty interiors of the state in the dead of night is flagged down at a police check post. A search is conducted and with just the right hint of something intriguing in the offing, the director cuts to a party among friends which introduces us to the dramatis personae, in particular Abhin and his wife Anandi (Swastika Mukherjee). 

With senior channel executive Sujit (Saswata Chatterjee) in tow, Abhin soon finds himself on his way to meet dreaded insurgent leader Ranchhorji, who has granted an interview. Thus begins what is Shironam’s most interesting segment, introducing Abhin, a rookie to the world of hard news, and the viewer to life in a region marked by insurgency. As the journalists make their way to the rendezvous, a dozen bananas and a copy of India Today in hand as required by the outfit for purposes of identification, Sirsha Ray’s cinematography captures the desolate expanse of a land where fear rules. The two are picked up from their car by a bike-borne contact and taken towards the designated hideout only to be informed that the interview stands cancelled thanks to renewed skirmishes between the administration and the insurgents. As Sujit and Abhin decide to wait it out at the local hotel hoping for an interview the next day, the latter embarks on exploring the region on his own, in particular an ancient temple. 

The narrative takes a darker turn as Abhin loses his way and soon enough things begin to spiral out of control. One eye on TRPs, Rajat decides to give a newsy spin to his missing journalist, and Abhin’s ‘kidnapping’ is soon breaking news on all channels. Halfway through, the narrative is tantalizingly poised, as Indranil Ghosh returns to the sequence with which he began the film – the truck being flagged down at a police check post. 

Despite the interesting structure to the film, which adds to the film’s intrigue quotient – in an interesting cut, we see a bangled hand on Abhin’s shoulder, and even as we wait, the action moves to a different scene altogether, thus heightening the tension – the narrative gets increasingly diffused, meandering through multiple strands. The personal trauma of Anandi, the media’s unscrupulous and sensationalist handling of the situation and Abhin’s travails, as news filters through of his presence in a red-light area in the region. The last act – including a gratuitously explicit sequence, with even a rendition of Monica, O my darling thrown in for good measure – is particularly jarring, despite Ankita Chakraborty’s scenery-chewing act, and as it stretches on, more or less fritters away the build-up till the halfway mark. 
 
In the end, Shironam flounders between too many stools. It is not quite a thriller (of which it had the potential of). It stops short of providing a hard look at the vicissitudes of living with insurgency – opting for only passing insights.
In the end, Shironam flounders between too many stools. It is not quite a thriller (of which it had the potential of). It stops short of providing a hard look at the vicissitudes of living with insurgency – opting for only passing insights. And as an exposé of the media, there is too much exposition of what is known, and much of it in broad strokes which robs it of potency. With a star cast like this, it’s hard to fault the performances, but none of the characters is developed enough to grow on you. For example, Abhin’s against-the-grain opinion of Osama bin Laden – ‘those oppressed by America may not rejoice at his killing,’ he observes as the friends watch the news of America’s hit on the terrorist – is never fully explored to provide an insight into the character and its motivations. Both Swastika and Anjan Dutt remain largely unidimensional – one at the receiving end of media sensationalism, the other the perpetrator of that sensationalism – while Saswata, not surprisingly, provides the funny, all-knowing one-liners, but that’s all there is to him more or less. As the opening credits mention, the film is inspired by Arnob’s hit song Hok kolorob – one only wishes there was more of the kolorab, the tumult, in the narrative. 

 

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About the Author

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is either an 'accidental' editor who strayed into publishing from a career in finance and accounts or an 'accidental' finance person who found his calling in publishing. He studied commerce and after about a decade in finance and accounts, he left it for good. He did a course in film, television and journalism from the Xavier's Institute of Mass Communication, Mumbai, after which he launched a film magazine of his own called Lights Camera Action. As executive editor at HarperCollins Publishers India, he helped launch what came to be regarded as the go-to cinema, music and culture list in Indian publishing. Books commissioned and edited by him have won the National Award for Best Book on Cinema and the MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) Award for Best Writing on Cinema. He also commissioned and edited some of India's leading authors like Gulzar, Manu Joseph, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Shourie and worked out co-pub arrangements with the Society for the Preservation of Satyajit Ray Archives, apart from publishing a number of first-time authors in cinema whose books went on to become best-sellers. In 2017, he was named Editor of the Year by the apex publishing body, Publishing Next. He has been a regular contributor to Anupama Chopra's online magazine Film Companion. He is also a published author, with two books to his credit: Whims – A Book of Poems (published by Writers Workshop) and Icons from Bollywood (published by Penguin Books). 

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