REVIEW: Kala Shah Kala

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Kala Shah Kala is a Punjabi language film – but don’t let that fool you. The language, tough to comprehend at times because of its rapid-fire dialogue deliveries, is easy to understand, and far, far easier to enjoy. Everything one needs to be invested in the film is happening on-screen.

Notwithstanding more than its share of unnecessary fade outs during and between scenes, the story is accessible and unfussy – a complete family entertainer that is both clichéd, yet engaging.

The story is about Lovely (Binnu Dhillon), a hard-working, humble man constantly rejected by suitors because of his dark complexion. One day, he is told to go to a holy shrine to pray and tie a ribbon to end his bad luck, and is hit by the cupid’s arrow when he spots Pammi (Sargun Mehta). Pammi however is a handful. Already in love with a local village do-gooder Jaggi (Jordan Sandhu), Pammi goes to great lengths to make sure she isn’t married to Lovely.

This is just one part of a story; the other is – as you may have guessed – is about how Lovely and Pammi come together. The scenes that build their relationship are brief, but well worth their moments.

Mehta, a fine actress, gets to handle the bulk of the film’s running time, as her character – an unruly, fairly self-centered woman – matures enough to learn to not just judge a book by its cover (or to not judge a man by the color of his skin).

Kala Shah Kala isn’t a public service message, and more importantly, doesn’t try to fool the audience into thinking that there is a strong subtext to the story.

Director Amarjit Singh plays it by the book, keeping this film away from stand-up comedy juggats (comedy banter between artists). The tone, instead, is that of a proper feature film, with a routine set of songs that fit in quite nicely between scenes.

Some instances with Pammi’s old grandmother may seem crude and tasteless – especially given the actress’s age and the demands of physical comedy. Other than Mehta and Dhillon (who I will talk about in a bit), the other eye-catching character in Kala Shah Kala is Pammi’s friend Taro played by Shehnaz Gill.

Gill is appealing, but more than the actress’ talents, it is her character of the brash, cheeky best-friend that makes one feel she should have had more to do with the story in the latter half of the film.

Dhillon, also the producer, has matured into a versatile actor. Sparingly indulging in physical action, Dhillon instead, subtly takes care of the dramatic aspect of the performance, slowly and surely adding small nuances to his character, whom the town people lovingly (or sarcastically) call Naag (as in Kaala Naag – or black cobra – because of the color of his skin).

Although the film is apolitical and doesn’t talk about religion or geography, not for one moment does one feel that they are watching an Indian Punjabi film.

In hindsight, our filmmakers should learn a thing or two about making clichés work, if they in particular go to watch Kala Shah Kala. The story is universal, as is the filmmaking.