In recent years, movies based on Indian epics have been making a big impact on the audience and people have loved them. Telugu film Shaakuntalam, directed by Gunashekhar, falls in this genre and focuses on the story between Shaakuntala and Dushyant written by Kalidasa in his play Abhijana Shakuntalam.
Menaka abandons her baby in the forest and a sage names her Shankuntala and takes her to his ashram. Shakuntala (Samantha) is raised as his own child and her entire world is the ashram, the forest and animals, like the deer and peacocks, who are her friends. Shakuntala is born to Menaka and Vishwamitra and her life is filled with woes. One day, Maharaja Dushyant (Dev Mohan) comes to their area, and they end up meeting. She falls in love with him. Her love for him is so strong that she agrees to a Gandharva Vivaha (a marriage based on mutual acceptance with no rituals or witnesses) and the marriage is consummated.
Dushyant promises to come back and take her back to the kingdom with full pomp and splendour as his wife, but he never returns. Meanwhile, Shakuntala tells her foster father about this marriage and discovers she is pregnant. Sage Durvasa comes to visit the ashram and Shakuntala, who is lost in her own world, is cursed by him. The rest of the tale will be known by many as it’s a popular story that has been told in books and other films as well.
The first half of Shaakuntalam is quite slow. It sees Samantha in very few scenes though the movie has been projected as revolving around her. As the audience starts watching the film, it feels like an animated children’s film with a lot of pretty animals and birds brought alive due to extensive VFX. It is in the second half that the story picks pace and unfolds.
Director Gunashekhar must be appreciated for attempting to make this film, but he seems to have been in a dilemma as to whether to make this film for adults or kids. The story narration is just not gripping enough to keep you engaged and, given its slow pace, it is a tedious watch. Given the title, one would have expected the story to be told in Shakuntala’s voice. Unfortunately, it is narrated by others around her in bits and pieces.
Dushyant and Shakuntala may be all heart in the first half, but there is no soul to this romance. One doesn’t connect to the characters which have been poorly written. There are other actors like Gautami, Madhoo and Prakash Raj, who make brief appearances and don’t add much to the story’s proceedings. The director has gone all out to make it heavy with grand sets and VFX and has missed out on a story that would go with it. One is reminded of some telefilms and series that were made decades back.
Samantha is good in the film and we do have to give it to her for making Shaakuntalam watchable. If the director had written a stronger role for Samantha – given that this story revolved around Shakuntala – the film would have been taken several notches higher. Dev Mohan too, gave a good performance and Allu Arjun’s daughter, Allu Arha, is a delight on screen!
Shaakuntalam is an epic that leaves us yearning for the story much like Shakuntala’s yearning for Dushyant.