Shakti: The Power (2002)
Directed by Krishna Vamshi

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Nandini (Karishma Kapoor), a young woman living in Canada, marries Shekhar and has a son with him. When Shekhar receives disturbing news about his hometown in India, he, his wife, and their child rush back to his parents' house. There, Nandini discovers her husband's family is engaged in a violent conflict with another local faction. When her husband is killed, Nandini and her son are kept virtually as prisoners in the house of her tyrannical father-in-law, Narsingh, leading her to rebel against his brutality.

Krishna Vamshi's Shakti is hardly a daring film by Western standards, but its portrayal of a decent young woman suffering at the hands of her ignorant and barbarous father-in-law differentiates it from the great bulk of insipid movies being made in Bollywood. It is also genuinely entertaining to watch.

The violence perpetrated by the rival factions in Narsingh's village and the acts of brutality and humiliation that man commits against Nandini are harshly though not graphically portrayed. In fact, Nandini's physical and verbal degradation and her helplessness in a horrible situation are never watered down. As a consequence, there are portions of the film that are difficult and sorrowful to watch. Vamshi manages to develop a real sense of tragedy with such an approach. Had he made a less disturbing film, he would have made a far less affecting one.

The emotional effect the director achieves with such depictions is often, although not always, enhanced by the qualities of the movie's protagonist. Nandini is a sympathetic individual played with charm and gusto by Karishma Kapoor. She appears as a wilful but innocent youth at the beginning of the film, suffers terribly through the middle, and develops into a strong and resilient woman by the end. Sadly, her growth is somewhat undone by a number of elements included in the film. Shakti, literally "power," is personified in many Indian traditions as a goddess or as the Goddess, the one ruling or all encompassing deity. The title, consequently, evokes ideas of feminine power. It is a shame, therefore, that while Nandini does fight back against her father-in-law, disobeying him and trying to escape from his power, to do so she inevitably comes to rely on the help of a man, Jaisingh (Shahrukh Khan), a vagrant she meets by chance.

The ending of the film is also cowardly, undermining much of Shakti's impact, not only because it undercuts Nandini's strength and diminishes Narsingh's villainy, but also because, in doing so, it panders to those conservative viewers unable to accept any possible threat to traditional values.

The musical numbers, however, are consistently enjoyable, especially Aishwarya Rai's amusing and erotic appearance in a dream Jaisingh has prior to his meeting Nandini and the rousing and ferocious celebration held in the courtyard of Narsingh's house upon the arrival of Shekhar and his family. All are effectively used throughout the film, building tension at some points, relieving tension at others, and generally maintaining the film's pace so that it never drags.

While burdened with a fair number of faults, Shakti is, nevertheless, an entertaining and powerful movie.

Review by Keith Allen

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