Viacom 18 is fast acquiring the reputation of being producers who kill their own films, for reasons that are more fiscal than creative. They did it to the wonderful Dhak Dhak and now to Shastry Viruddh Shastry, a thoughtful if somewhat sluggish remake of a very successful Bengali film Posto.
The story of an unusual custody battle, Shatry Viruddh Shastry sees a 7-year old boy’s grandparents, played by Paresh Rawal and Neena Kulkarni who are no match to Soumitra Chatterjee and Lily Chakraborty in the original, fighting to keep their grandson with them.
Paresh plays a classical musician Manohar who along with his wife Urmila (Neena Kulkarni) looks after their grandchild Momoji (Kabir Pahwa) in Panchgani (the original film was set in Shantiniketan). When the child’s parents Malhar( Shiv Pundit) and Mallika (Mimi Chakraborty who reprises her role from the original) express their desire to take their child with them to the US, Manohar takes his son to court for the child’s custody.
It is a powerful and poignant plot on proper parenting, rendered somewhat enfeebled by some poor direction and a stretched-out narrative structure. The battle lines are well drawn. But once the courtroom battle begins, the film loses steam, although the ever-reliable Amruta Subhash and Manoj Joshi are commendable as the two lawyers.
Some of of arguments in the courtroom to prove the biological parents unfit to gain their child’s custody are absurd and their lawyer’s arguments even more so. What I really liked about the screenplay is its determination to stay non-judgemental. Momoji’s parents are never demonized for dramatic effect.
In the sequence where the mother Mallika pleads with her in-laws asking what her fault is , the audience actually gets a measure of how unfair the legal battle is to everyone involved. That said,the co-directors seem to have lost some of the original’s spontaneity in the adaptation. The songs are especially intrusive and annoying especially the party song towards the end when we are waiting for the plot to reach its closure. Nonetheless this is a work of some sincerity , and I again ask its producers Viacom 18 why they gave it such a stepfatherly treatment.