Review: No Place for Love (Or a Good Man) in Netflix’s ‘Love and Shukla’
As I zip through Mumbai’s highways at midnight after a late work shift, I often see couples - of all ages - sitting on the edge of the pavements, deep in conversation or simply taking in the night air. The sea promenade is too far and there’s clearly not room enough for a quiet tete-a-tete at home.
Siddartha Jatla’s Love and Shukla, streaming on Netflix after a festival run including Busan and Palm Springs and the prestigious NETPAC Award at Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival, dropped me almost in the middle of such a couple. The film, starring Saharsh Kumar Shukla and Taneea Rajawat in the lead roles, revolves around the struggles of an autorickshaw driver to get intimate with his newly wedded wife in the cramped space he shares with his family.
Stories around Mumbai’s woefully inadequate spaces are not uncommon on screen - think the recent Love Per Square Foot on Netflix for instance. In many ways, Love and Shukla is also a more realistic retelling of Basu Chatterjee’s 1972 Piya Ka Ghar, which revolved around a similar theme. But Jatla’s tale steps out of the confined space of a room in a chawl to capture the claustrophobia of life for the not-so-privileged on Mumbai’s streets as well.
Shukla (Shukla) is mostly found in the driver’s seat, ferrying passengers to and fro around Mumbai. But despite being the saarthi, he is barely in control. The narrative is repeatedly snatched from his hands by his more well-off customers, even as he literally tries to etch a space out for himself at home and struggles to save his wife (Rajawat) and their budding relationship from humiliation.
Life, in short, is not easy in the city for the good common man. For there is no other way to describe Shukla. He might be little educated and lack “heroic” qualities, but he has his heart in the right place. He tries to do his job well; tries to understand what’s going on in the minds of the women of his household - something that escapes his controlling mother - and believes in getting to know his wife first rather than simply sleeping with her.
While the caste references seem a little out of place and the film teeters on the edge of actual dark drama, Love and Shukla mostly keeps it real. The characters are well etched out, with the screenplay allowing enough scope for free-play of emotions - check out the scene where Rupa (an awesome Hima Singh), Shukla’s sister, cackles at the bride for dressing up for her husband. Saharsh Kumar Shukla nails it as the common man who’s never far from a kick in the face - even if he has just mouthed an inspiring speech.
Written (with Amanda Mooney), shot, directed and edited by Jatla, Love and Shukla is a well-made film that leaves you with an uncertain smile on your lips.