UA – 2h 22m
What Is the Film About?
Shaakuntalam is an adaptation of Kalidasa’s Abhignana Shaakuntalam. It is an epic love story of Shakuntala (Samantha) and Dushyant (Dev Mohan), where Gunasekhar tries to commercialise it with a few action sequences amplifying the smaller details available in the books.
The story spans from how Shaakuntala ends up in Kanva Maharshi’s ashram, how Dushyant falls for her and does Gandharva’s marriage and the drama that follows until it reaches a happy ending with the reunion.
The main characters of Shaakuntalam are Shakuntala and Dushyant. Samantha plays Shakuntala. It is a brave decision to cast her in the role.
Shakuntalam has two shades – Srungara Shakuntala and Atmabhimana Shakuntala in Abignana Shaakuntalam. Samantha put up a fine show in the second portion. But her image and body language came in the way of Srungara Shakuntala. We got to see the usual Samantha in those portions, thereby damaging the authenticity of the character. She appeared masculine and well-built, which contradicts the Srungara Shakuntala Kalidasa described. She tried to bring that impact using her voice, but that did not work. Considering the length and absence in significant portion, it isn’t the memorable outing that Samantha hoped for, undoubtedly.
Dev Mohan playing Dushyant seems to be a good find. Barring a couple of small sequences, he put up a largely good performance. However, a couple of flaws undoes the work. The first is the need for more screen presence in some places. The other is a lack of nativity. A known face locally would have had a bigger impact.
The next role that grabs attention is that of Allu Arha’s, which stands out and captures the audience’s interest. The kiddo rocked the screen in the climax. She delivered her lines with charm and grace during the confrontation scenes. Arha’s on-screen presence and her confidence is a treat to watch.
First things first, Gunasekhar should be commended for his attempt to take mythology closer to millennials. Shaakuntalam is a proper love story, and to mount it on a large canvas like this is a risk. He tried to commercialise it by bringing in some action sequences, and that attempt did not appear forced.
So, Gunasekhar came up with a good idea, to begin with. The brief action sequences in the first half were decent (barring one war), but the war sequence in the second half was a massive disappointment. The tyranny of the Asuras should have been more properly written, and the less said about the VFX, the better.
Fundamentally, Shaakuntalam is a love story, but Samantha in the titular role and Dev Mohan, a new face, gave it a feeling of a female-oriented subject. The makers did portray it in the same way to market Samantha. But that idea did not provide a proper view of the subject. To drive home a love story like this, we need strong chemistry between the lead pair, conflicts to drive the story, and drama to connect to the proceedings. This is where Gunasekhar failed.
There is no proper chemistry between the lead pair and insufficient drama to feel attached to Shakuntala’s character. Samantha’s regular image also became a problem. In the second half, Samantha goes missing for a good portion after an effective court scene. The director should have shown more of her pain here. Probably, Gunasekhar missed it while trying to avoid melodrama. But the essence of a crucial block in the love story is lost in the process. The Dushyanta‘s realisation is also not that impactful.
Allu Arha helps with the final portions of the film. The kiddo’s cute screen presence and beautiful dialogue delivery leave the audience amused. The final union also happens with very little drama. The production design is impressive, but the visual and 3D effects were a mixed bag.
Shaakuntalam is the kind of film where we can clearly see Gunasekhar’s honest intention and effort. But when we finish the film, we are left with the feeling that he was too ambitious with a very thin story to deal with. Also, there are some flaws that can be avoided and some that are unavoidable.
Overall, there is a genuine and honest attempt from Gunasekhar to present a mythological story to the millennials. But he fails to bring enough drama to the proceedings to hold the attention. More than the visual effects, the superficiality of the core emotions is Shakuntalam’s undoing. Still, you can try it if you are interested in the genre but have the expectations accordingly.
Performances by Others Actors
Shakuntalam comprises a vast cast. There are an array of artists doing bits and pieces roles. Mohan Babu is seen in a cameo as Durvasa Mahamuni and is good. Sathya is seen in a comic part, but the impact is missing.
There are many other noticeable faces like Sachin Khedkar, Ananya Nagalla, Prakash Raj, Gautami, Madhoo, Kabir Bedi, Jisshu Sengupta, Kabir Duhan Singh, Harish Uthaman, Subbaraju, Aadarsh Balakrishna etc. There are some hits and misses in them. Some good actors given minor roles are acceptable, while other recognisable faces are wasted.
Music and Other Departments?
Mani Sharma’s songs were situational, and we would expect something better from him. The background score is also a letdown in places. It is too old school in some portions of the second half. Neelima Guna and Dil Raju should be appreciated for backing a project like this.
Gunasekhar, as said earlier, should be appreciated for commercialising the love story. But then, the writer in him is flawed in evoking the right emotions. The dialogues are written keeping in mind that too much Grandikam should be avoided. The production design is good, but the VFX is a mixed bag. The quality is further lost in many places due to the 3D conversion.
The intent of promoting mythology
Dushyanta’s court scene
Couple of emotional scenes by Samantha
Allu Arha’s portions
Lack of chemistry
No proper emotions
Samantha’s image comes in the way in places
Samantha’s own dubbing in few scenes
Did I Enjoy It?
Will You Recommend It?
Yes but with huge reservations
Shakuntalam’s second half continues the sluggish pace with much weaker drama and focuses entirely on King Dushyant. Unknown cast for the main part, missing Samantha, terrible war sequences and overall superficiality make Shakuntalam a missed opportunity ‘despite’ honest efforts from Gunasekhar.
— Allu Arha proves to be the unexpected delight in the movie, leaving us pleasantly surprised. Her charming on-screen presence is an absolute joy to watch.
First Half Report:
Shakuntalam’s first half is slow paced, but Gunasekhar’s effort in creating a neat fantastical world helps hold things together despite a mildly engaging drama. Samantha shines playing the titular role and the rest are okay. Over to the second half now.
— Shaakuntalam started within a forest, introducing a newborn by the name of Shakuntala. Stay tuned for the first half report.
Stay tuned for Shaakuntalam U.S. Premiere report.
Cast: Samantha, Dev Mohan, Allu Arha, Sachin Khedekar, Kabir Bedi, Dr.M Mohan Babu, Prakash Raj, Madhubala, Gautami, Aditi Balan, Ananya Nagalla, Jisshu Sengupta and others
Producer: Neelima Guna
Presenter: Dil Raju
Editor: Prawin Pudi
Cinematography: Shekar V Joseph
VFX Supervisor: Alagarsamy Mayan
Dialogues: Sai Madhav Burra
Costume Designer: Neeta Lulla
DI: Annapurna Studios
Colorist : Shiva Kumar