By the oddest coincidence, Satellite Shankar shares its release date with Death Stranding. The divisive new game by Japanese auteur Hideo Kojima is finally out, and it follows the journey of a courier (likeness, Norman Reedus) as he delivers packages and reunites a broken America using the Internet. Sooraj Pancholi’s film is less exciting, but boasts a similar setup. And while I cannot stretch that comparison any further, I must broadcast my peculiar sadness at having to review this film instead of sinking into Kojima’s game.
When bullets fly off at the Indo-Pak border, rifleman Shankar (Sooraj) is injured. He avails a week’s leave to visit his mother in Pollachi, who needs a cataract operation. Shankar starts from Jammu Tawi and reaches Kathua, Pathankot, Agra, Nagpur and Salem, making deliveries for his comrades and sticking his nose in everybody’s business. It remains unexplained how a cadet with such short attention span was ever recruited in the army, or even-handed a gun.
At one pit stop, Shankar runs into a mobile journalist (Palomi Ghosh). She gets wind of a story — a soldier risking his holiday to help his countrymen — and spins a social media circus on his cross-country trek. In a parallel track, there’s Megha Akash on the phone, as a girl Shankar is hoping to marry, and who rightly cuts him down to size. “You look nothing like Mahesh Babu,” she says, “But nevermind. I like Vijay.”
Satellite Shankar has its heart all over the place. Our hero sprints from state to state, but is rarely affected by the cultural diversity around him. Annoyingly, he seems thorough with it all — he can speak Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu, in an accent that’s smugly and uniformly West-Bandra. He also finds ridiculous excuses to turn each conversation to Hindi, gladly imposing the language on the whole of India. In his backpack lies a toy — a small Shiva figurehead — with which he figuratively connects the world. (The totem isn’t a MacGuffin, as I first imagined, just a personal object Shankar carries along, like the Superman doll in Udaan).
Scattered throughout the film are nods to India’s multiculturalism. Shankar’s Tamilian mom watches Kabir Singh and Guru Randhawa videos. Alia Bhatt turns up on the cover of a regional magazine. Megha rocks her lilting Hindi, chew up lines like ‘Main toh daring karega’ (I’ll do some daring) and, later in English, “The world is a battlefield.” You begin to warm up to the film’s simple messaging, and that’s exactly when it shows its fangs. Having spread the word of goodness in the plains, Shankar returns to Kashmir.
He is met by swarming stone-pelters who give him chase, no barricades or army vehicle in sight. Suddenly, an entire populace is reduced to agitating zombies, as the gains of the first half shrink from view. Satellite Shankar can’t mend our fences. Like that Akshay Kumar movie about female scientists, it sends out mixed signals.
Movie: Satellite Shankar
Director: Irfan Kamal
Cast: Sooraj Pancholi, Megha Akash