Shakeela (2020) 

Makers of biopics have often used an interview to allow a character to tell their life story. The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe used a psychiatrist’s couch, Wonderland a police interrogation, Chaplin a book editor and My Dinner with Hervé a journalist. Yet this is the first time we can recall that a scriptwriter has hooked his subject up to a machine that compels her to tell the truth. Not in an abstract sense, but an actual character in the movie who refuses to write Shakeela’s biopic until the experiment is complete. Entering a trance-like state, the actress reveals her trials and tribulations in a flat, monotone manner that’s indicative of the way her story is conveyed throughout this film.

After the death of their beloved father, Shakeela and her siblings are uprooted by their mother to her hometown of Cochin. Faced with extreme poverty, Shakeela’s mother decides it is better for her daughter to sell her soul in reel life than for her to sell her body in real life (quote/unquote). So begins Shakeela’s career in South India’s softcore film industry, where her stocks rise when leading star Silk Smitha commits suicide. Now employing a body double for the nude scenes, Shakeela’s films dominate the industry to such an extent that other productions are unable to obtain film crews and face disaster at the box office if released against one of her movies.

Satisfied with Shakeela’s candour, the scriptwriter agrees to write her biopic, having previously boasted he could do so in only a few seconds. Based on the evidence before us, that is exactly what happened. When Shakeela’s perfunctory narration fails to provide impetus, the screenplay enlists an endless parade of excitable newsreaders to mark out the film’s plot points. Their gift for subtlety is matched by the bulk of the supporting cast. As if to provide a counterbalance for this overexuberance, Richa Chadha evokes little passion in her role as Shakeela. 

The film concludes that no-one will pay to see a biopic of Shakeela unless she takes her clothes off. It’s doubtful even that gimmick would help this film at the box-office.

1/1

Silk Smitha committed suicide by hanging herself, not by an overdose.

Shakeela’s cinema rival, Salim, is a fictional character.

Biopic includes an assortment of generic scenes representing Shakeela’s career. However, the only identified film is Party Girls (1995), where Silk Smitha’s famed slap of Shakeela behind the scenes is depicted.

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