It takes vision and courage to make a film about the de-escalating valour and plummeting morale of the Indian Army. "Shaurya" is about the army, but it isn’t a war film. The battles are all fought at the level of individual conscience. But never does it get preachy.
It’s a film about the Indian Muslim’s identity. But it steers miraculously clear of taking sides or becoming hysterically passionate on the subject. There have been significant films on the isolation of the Indian Muslim as seen through the eyes of a persecuted individual. One can immediately think of John Matthew Matthan’s "Sarfarosh" and Raj Kumar Santoshi’s "Khakee".
In "Shaurya", Deepak Dobriyal as Javed Khan, the Muslim army man accused of terrorist activities, reminds you of Atul Kulkarni in "Khakee".
There’s even a predictable sequence where the mother of the accused comes visiting the lawyer’s home in the dead of the night. Seema Biswas’ cameo as Javed’s mother is surprisingly lacklustre.
She demonstrates unnecessary restraint where a more dramatic pitch for the distraught mother would have carried the theme of persecution and isolation further.
Samar Khan seems exceptionally shy of emotional display. The relationships that grow within Joydeep Sarkar’s intricately plotted courtroom drama seek solace in silences rather than dramatics.
Even the relationship that grows between the hero Major Siddhanth Chowdhary (Rahul Bose) and the journalist (Minissha Lamba) resonates with restraint rather than rhetoric. Buddies Bose and Javed Jaffrey, we are told, are inseparable. But that level of camaraderie isn’t evident in the film.
The cloudbursts are saved up for the entire climactic interlude. The last 45 minutes are so stunningly honest that you wonder if the dormant spirit of the rest of the narrative was meant to mislead us.
The wake-up call – how a certain section of the government-sponsored agencies look upon the Indian Muslim – is hurled into our face with a ferocity that leaves us in state of stunned incredulity.
Credit must go to the writer, director and the dialogue writer (Aparna Malhotra) for telling it like it is about the alienation of a community.
More than Rahul Bose, who’s remarkably in-sync and uniformly vibrant in playing his character, it’s Kay Kay Menon as the biased army officer who imbues a compelling credibility to Samar Khan’s honourable and brave intentions.
It would be no exaggeration to say that "Shaurya" and its theme of the Indian Muslim’s self-worth would not have worked without Menon’s vital presence.
In the courtroom, when he spews venom against the community for "polluting and poisoning" the country, Menon sounds frighteningly Hitlerian.
Again, we must stress that the director doesn’t try to get fashionably polemical in addressing the sensitive issue of communal angst. Samar Khan mostly remains non-judgemental in his treatment of characters and their blemishes.
The trial of the silently smouldering Muslim is punctuated by bouts of humour between Bose and his screen-friend Javed Jaffry.
"Shaurya" reveals sparks of master storytelling and doesn’t hide away from uncomfortable truths – from its opening titles, when on a wet, windy, and slippery night out in Srinagar, Javed Khan pulls the trigger on his senior, to the stunning finale when Shah Rukh Khan’s voice recites poignant poetry defining valour and courage not as we see it but as the conscience knows it.
But the director could have easily avoided the limp pockets in the narrative, those telltale breathers when the buddies bond, lovers sing and the fringe characters try to get a face from the edges.
Forget the humbug. Just watch "Shaurya" for its compelling and positively gripping insight into the heart and mind of the average Indian who hides his subconscious biases in the garb of fashionable liberalism.
The film’s army backdrop is authentically captured by Carlos Catalan’s panoramic cinematography. It captures the feelings and failings of the characters as fluently as the cascading tranquillity of the Srinagar backdrop.