Film, Hindi, India, Review


Vikas Bahl’s Shaitaan, based on the Gujarati horror film Vash, fails to deliver. After an okayish first half, the film, starring Ajay Devgn, Jyotika and R Madhavan, struggles with a weak second one,  its woes piling up further in its final act thanks to its extremely weak climax and resolution.

The film has a simple premise. A loving, well-to-do ‘normal’ family – father Kabir (Ajay Devgn), mother Jyoti (Jyotika), daughter Jhanvi (Janki Bodiwala) and son Dhruv (Anngad Raaj) – is faced with a supernatural problem. A chance encounter with a stranger, Vanraj (R Madhavan), at a roadside dhaba leads to him surreptitiously hypnotizing Jhanvi. The true extent of  Vanraj’s plans is revealed when he enters the family farmhouse under the pretext of something trivial. He soon begins to flex his supernatural prowess by commanding the young girl to do his terrifying bidding…

It is better to judge Shaitaan regarding its delivery of cheap thrills rather than on a more serious level.  Even if one could argue that there’s more under the surface, A viewer could read it as a commentary on all the worst fears of Indian parents about their daughter in the thralls of a man far older than her.  Or as an affirmation of the strength and determination of parenthood. Maybe a statement on the perils of liberalization. Or even all of the above. But those are all long shots. For none of it is really explored in any sort of depth. So a silly, thrill ride it is with the writing lacking a clear thematic through line. Notwithstanding how repetitive it is. So, Vanraj asks Jhanvi to do something outrageous. She follows that command without question or hesitation, and her parents try to stop her by any means necessary. To make things worse, the sound design is inconsistent, at times effective in its sparseness, but at times completely overblown, taking the viewer out of the story. It also doesn’t help that the trailer already revealed the best-set pieces within the movie, thereby robbing us of the impact of viewing them unspoilt.

By the time Shaitaan moves into the third act, the lore of the story threatens to take over. The movie completely doubles down on black magic with all its esoteric concepts, and the plot rushes forward, with twists revealed via sloppily spliced flashbacks. There is also a needless action scene of four trans-women attacking Kabir in the middle of his furious search for Jhanvi and Vanraj through the dark, heavily forested region and it feels superfluous at best.

That said, there are bits that actually work. For instance, the scene when the police arrive to check on the family even as the possessed Jhanvi cautions her mother to remain quiet while threatening to blow the house up by sitting perched up over an open gas cylinder. The cinematography, with its bluish hues highlighting the darkness and mood of the story along with the rain, gives us an added sense of dread. The movie being restricted to a singular location – the farmhouse – for the majority of its runtime makes the locale another character in the film.  As thunder and lightning lead to a torrential downpour, evil cackles and purrs inside the house.

The film solely rests on the performances for it to remotely work, be it through Madhavan’s gesticulations or Devgn evoking all the intensity and vulnerability via his eyes alone. His character is the nth permutation of his Drishyam character – a father determined to protect his family at all costs. He is designed to be the yin to the chaotic yang of Madhavan’s Vanraj, the charismatic yet creepy and manipulative black magic user who is the personification of the devil itself. While Madhavan enjoys chewing up the scenery in every scene he is in, a lack of a back story of why he does what he does robs us of a compelling hook for the character. The standout, undoubtedly, is young Janki Bodiwala as the possessed Jhanvi, who is extraordinary in depicting a possessed young woman, echoing feelings of anger, vulnerability, and even streaks of insanity at the snap of a finger.

At the end of the day, Shaitaan is a muddled and empty mess somewhat redeemed (if at all) by the odd moment or two hitting their mark, and the performances getting by some of its narrative flaws.


Hindi, Horror, Drama, Color

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