Shaakuntalam: An Epic Story That Doesn’t Match Up To The Expectations

Gunasekhar is successful in creating a fantasy forest world but is unable to sustain the audience’s interest till the end.

Watch it for Samantha & Arha!
Shaakuntalam (Telugu)
  • Cast: Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Dev Mohan, Sachin Khedekar, Mohan Babu, Aditi Balan, Ananya Nagalla, Prakash Raj, Gautami, Madhoo, Kabir Bedi, Jisshu Sengupta, Allu Arha, Harish Uthaman, and Subbaraju
  • Director: Gunasekhar
  • Producer: Neelima Guna
  • Music: Mani Sharma
  • Runtime : 2 hours 36 minutes

Gunasekhar’s Shaakuntalam is an adaptation of Kalidasa’s “Abhignana Sakuntalam”.

It is a significant piece of literature that has relevance even in today’s times. Some galore men ditch women on various pretexts and leave them to their fate.

Shakuntala is a woman who had not seen any world outside the ashram where she is born. But all that changed with the entry of King Dushyant.

The trials and tribulations of Shakuntala are something that resonates with women even to this day like Sita. The love story of Dushyant and Shakuntala is, of course, familiar to everyone.

The play has also seen its share of onscreen adaptions. Hence, Gunasekhar should have put in more effort to make it more engaging for contemporary audiences.

Before Shaakuntalam, he made Rudramadevi — starring Anushka Shetty — ­which was also meant to be an epic tale but the director wasn’t completely successful in his endeavour.

This is despite Anuskha’s committed performance and also Allu Arjun’s thundering presence. Unfortunately, the same is the case with Shaakuntalam.

Much like Rudramadevi, this is also an ambitious attempt but Gunasekhar hasn’t got the technical finesse or storytelling craft needed for a film of this scale.

Synopsis

Shaakuntalam begins with a brief introduction regarding the birth of Shakuntala (Samantha). She is brought up in a tapovanam (a forest of spiritual practices). It is love at first sight for both Shakuntala and King Dushyant (Dev Mohan).

Their conversations are filled with poetic dialogues written by Sai Madhav Burra. Love leads to marriage but in Gandharva style (consensual acceptance without any rituals) with the animals and Nature as witnesses.

The king gifts Shakuntala his ring as a symbol of his love and leaves for his kingdom promising to take her later. However, Shakuntala’s happiness doesn’t last for long, thanks to sage Durvasa (Mohan Babu in a short but impactful role). He condemns Shakuntala to a life of unrequited love in his anger.

As a result, Dushyant forgets all about Shakuntala on his return to the kingdom. The result is something that the audiences are well aware of.

Samantha’s show all the way

Before going into the negatives, it is necessary to talk about the positives.

The trope of love, at first sight, is one of the most overused things in cinema. Yet, Samantha and Dev Mohan make it work with their chemistry. Both actors are successful in bringing out sensuousness. The passion is very much visible.

Before Shaakuntalam, Samantha did back-to-back action roles in The Family Man Season 2 and Yashoda. Here, the actress is seen in a vastly different avatar.

She does a good job of bringing out both the naivety of an ashram girl and the stoic strength of a wronged woman. A scene that deserves particular mention is when she questions Dushyant about his inability to recognise her. Samantha is simply terrific at that moment.

Dev Mohan as Dushyant also shows a wide range of emotions. He has also got the physicality required to portray the king. He is very convincing in all his shades.

Gunasekhar deserves appreciation for how he treats the reunion of Shakuntala and Dushyant. She doesn’t run into his arms after meeting him in the end. Dushyant pleads and begs for forgiveness. The entire scene has come out well.

Shaakuntalam has a huge plethora of supporting characters but there are only a few who make an impression. Mohan Babu as Durvasa has a short role but the senior actor commands your attention whenever he is onscreen. His modulation of voice is bang-on.

Madhoo (Roja fame) as Menaka comes in the second half. Again, she doesn’t get a lot of screen time but the actress makes a solid impression.

Last but not least, Allu Arha proves to be a worthy successor to her father Allu Arjun. She is an absolute dynamite with an undeniable screen presence.

Here’s hoping that Arha continues to do films and Shaakuntalam isn’t a one-off. Her interactions with Dev Mohan’s Dushyant do bring a smile to the audience’s face.

By its very nature, Shaakuntalam is heavily dependent on VFX. The special effects are not perfect but still, they are not a complete write-off either.

The portions involving ashram life and animals have been beautifully done. It successfully transports the audience to a fantasy world.

The costumes by Neeta Lulla are absolutely eye catchy. There is nothing expensive about them but Samantha looks gorgeous.

What doesn’t work?

The biggest problem with Shaakuntalam is the TV serial treatment of Gunasekhar. His narrative style hasn’t got the brevity that is needed for a film of this nature.

The director could and should have worked more on the tribulations of Shakuntala in the second half. But instead, the film becomes more about Dushyant’s redemption.

There are some comic bits in the second half that are meant to bring a smile to the audience’s face. But instead, the viewers feel more frustration than happiness.

The demon gang led by Kabir Singh Duban does not come across as a powerful villain at any point. They end up being caricatures.

The battle scenes have zero intensity. Except for increasing the run time they do not give any thrills to the viewers.

Mani Sharma’s music and background score is good but needed to be far more impactful for a movie of this nature. “Maliika Maliika” is easily the best among all the numbers though.

Final take

Gunasekhar needs to take a break from these period dramas. Watch Shaakuntalam if you want to see some good acting by Samantha and Arha and also enjoy yourselves in a fantasy world.

(Views expressed are personal.)

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