Review: ‘Shabnam Mousi’

Purportedly inspired by a true story, though heavily fictionalized, "Shabnam Mousi" follows titular hijra (eunuch) from birth to underdog success as a reformist political candidate. Once revered as mystic "third sex" androgynes, hijras are still superstitiously invited to bless newborns and weddings in modern India, but their status has otherwise been degraded amid the country's increasingly Westernized moral clime.

Purportedly inspired by a true story, though heavily fictionalized, “Shabnam Mousi” follows titular hijra (eunuch) from birth to underdog success as a reformist political candidate. Once revered as mystic “third sex” androgynes, hijras are still superstitiously invited to bless newborns and weddings in modern India, but their status has otherwise been degraded amid the country’s increasingly Westernized moral clime. Yogesh Bhardwaj’s well-produced pic, complete with the usual Bollywood song numbers, gradually shifts from pleading for tolerance to more generalized protest against corruption. Stateside, Frameline Distribution is handling the DVD release.

Shabnam (beetle-browed Ashutosh Rana) was seized from privileged parents when hijras blessing the infant realized it, too, was a hermaphrodite. Upon reaching adulthood Shabnam is framed for the murder of his beloved mother Halima (Vijay Raaz), accidentally slain by the vicious leader (Vishwajeet Padhan) of their eunuch clan. Protag flees, landing in a Madhya Pradesh village where s/he saves a girl from rapists. This heroic act leads to Shabnam’s eventual crusading campaign against an evil politico (Govind Namdeo). Occasionally overdrawn, the pic mostly avoids excess melodrama. Perfs, pacing and production values are solid.

Shabnam Mousi

India

Production

A Frameline Distribution release of an Arun Kumar J. Muchhala presentation of a Bollywood Films & Entertainments production. Produced by Sudesh R. Bhostle, J. Manoj. Co-producer, Dilip Bhua. Directed by Yogesh Bhardwaj. Screenplay, Bhardwaj, Aadesh K. Arjun, S. Sachindra.

Crew

Camera (color), Karim Khatri; editors, Deepak, Vilas, Arun; music, Dilip Harikishen, Mani Shankar, Kanakraj, Sujeet Chaubey, P. Sameer; production designers, Nikesh Kumar, Bhavana Soni. Hindi dialogue. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, June 24, 2006. (In San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.) Running time: 143 MIN.

With

Ashutosh Rana, Vijay Raaz, Govind Namdeo, Vivek Shauo, Navnie Parihar, Avtar Gill, Vishwajeet Padhan, Pardhan, Mukesh Tiwari.
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