The versatile filmmaker Shimit Amin started out with a cop drama Ab Tak Chappan, following it up with the best Indian sports film of all time Chak De India. He later went on to make one of the wittiest comedy dramas in Bollywood Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year.
His ability to get the best out of his leading men, while respecting audience’s intelligence makes him the most exciting director of recent times. Let’s look at why Shimit Amin’s films have become such cult classics in the past decade.
1. Ab Tak Chappan (2004)
Shimit Amin gives us a deliciously gritty cop drama, possibly the best since Ardh Satya (starring Om Puri). Allergic to any melodrama, Shimit Amin makes sure the leading man Nana Patekar is not exploited with histrionics (no “hindu ka khoon, musalman ka khoon” cheesy lines). In Ab Tak Chappan, Nana gets the respect a theater actor of his caliber deserves. The anger is palpable but understated, the humor is subtle and the action well-choreographed and real.
The first phone conversation between Nana’s character Sadhu Agashe and the antagonist Zameer sets the tone of the film. An honest police officer’s dual edged life couldn’t have been better portrayed. He must instill fear in an underworld don and at the same time watch his language in front of his doting wife.
Notice that Nana doesn’t meet the antagonist until the very end of the film. The phone conversations throughout the film are like a game of chess where Sadhu is always two steps ahead of Zameer.
Shimit is never in a hurry as the scenes unfold at a relaxed pace. Yet there is that simmering urgency throughout, which makes for an intricate suspense thriller. An observant viewer is rewarded with small details. In the first few scenes, for example, Sadhu overhears his wife explaining Sambar recipe to someone over the phone. In a scene later in the film, he explains the recipe verbatim to Jatin. His wife laughs at Sadhu showing off his non-existent cooking skills.
Such endearing moments in the gritty world of a police officer make us care for the characters. And the effortless chemistry between Revathi and Nana Patekar results in the shattering tragedy, leaving a heart-wrenching impact on the audience.
The greatest achievement of a storyteller is when he presents the toughest of characters in the most human form. Not everything is black and white. Shimit understands this, respects the brilliant writing by Sandeep Srivastava and delivers a tragic but memorable account of an encounter specialist.
2. Chak De India! (2007)
Just when we thought Amin was the successor to RGV, he completely changed tracks and made a film with Yashraj and Shahrukh Khan.
Although a cheesy storyline, Shimit Amin keeps Chak De India! as real as possible. The women’s hockey team is not hot chicks with hourglass figures. These are real girls from small towns of India most of who don’t understand a word of English. Ex-hockey players traveling on a scooter, the renting of hockey stadiums to Ramleela and haggling with rickshaw drivers are small details that make the film relatable and rich in storytelling.
In a Shahrukh Khan show all the way, Shimit made sure the Chak De girls have their own space to shine. Even bit players like Krishnaji (Vibha Chibber) and Sukhlal (Javed Khan) became memorable characters.
The real magic of Shimit Amin can be seen in the scene where Kabir Khan raises the intensity of the training just when we think everything is under control. Amin makes sure Shahrukh is challenged to work outside of his comfort zone. To Shahrukh’s credit, he completely submits to the director’s vision.
There are moments of spoon feeding throughout but it was imperative since the budget of the film dictated it reach a wider audience. Amin plays to the galleries with several moments. Like the girls beating up boys, last minute goal scoring and a kid rubbing “Gaddar” written on the wall for 10 years (eye roll).
The true brilliance of Shimit’s direction lies in the fact that it exhibits the quality of a Hollywood sports film. Just as Lagaan turned movie theaters into a cricket stadium in the second half, Chak De India! pumped the audience’s hearts with hockey matches that were nothing short of an international event. The slow-motion captures, cinematography and swift editing help involve the audience in the game and heighten the drama without using any histrionics.
Amin keeps it crisp as the film is devoid of any lip sync songs and delivers a progressive storyline with technical finesse, making it one of the best Shah Rukh Khan movies ever.
3. Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year (2009)
In Bollywood, only three types of comedy genres work. Dumb slapstick like Housefull, David Dhawan movies; double meaning sex comedies like Masti, Kya Kool Hai Hum; Rohit Shetty action comedies like Golmaal, Singham etc.
Shimit Amin gave us a drama comedy too smart for its own good. Rocket Singh is the kind of film that has jokes thrown at you from all sides. It is upto the audience how many jokes they can grasp. Rocket Singh was in line with smart comedies like Dibakar Bannerjee’s Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye! and sadly suffered the same box office disaster.
Amin sprinkles the completely fresh storyline with his trademark detailing. The banner of “We Passed The College Failed” at a graduation party, the small comb that Ranbir uses to groom his beard, rival salesman writing ‘Vijay Dinanath Chauhan’ in the society register, Harpreet and Nitin putting their ties inside shirt pockets while eating and Nitin reading client’s papers upside down are just a few of the innumerable subtle instances of a well-researched and rich screenplay.
Shimit’s casting is pitch perfect. Veteran actors Manish Chaudhary, Prem Chopra, Mukesh Bhatt and newbies Gauhar Khan, Amol Parashar light up each scene. Shimit yet again succeeds in extracting the best performance of his career from the leading man Ranbir Kapoor.
The beauty of Shimit’s direction lies is in how the office itself comes alive as a character in the film. Narrow cubicles, conference rooms, formal dress of employees, reception area, food stalls outside office. All of it elevates the film in a way that very few directors would have the imagination to.
Watch the brilliant Puri’s (Manish Chaudhary) phone conversation with Harpreet (Ranbir) thinking him to be the MD of RocketSales Corp. Harpeet’s small cubicle surrounded by AYS boxes, close to the men’s toilet presents a drastic contrast to Puri’s spacious, comfortable office. It’s a David vs Goliath moment with the two actors in top form.
Equal parts insightful and entertaining, Rocket Singh is a treat to the senses with a rollicking background score by Salim-Suleiman. It is a shame that Shimit Amin’s best film became his last. He hasn’t directed a film since 2009.
Avijit Ghosh in his book 40 Retakes: Bollywood Classics You May Have Missed sums up the audience reception perfectly. “Much has been made about the maturing of audience taste in multiplexed Bollywood in the last few years. This is one film where the audience fails the test.”
By Shridhar Kulkarni