Shaitaan movie review: Ajay Devgn the saviour meets Ajay Devgn the family man | Bollywood - Hindustan Times
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Shaitaan movie review: Ajay Devgn the saviour meets Ajay Devgn the family man in this mildly scary hostage thriller

Mar 08, 2024 10:02 AM IST

Shaitaan movie review: If a raucous and mildly unsettling hostage drama with a more-than-mildly entertaining R Madhavan is enough for you, go watch it.

Shaitaan movie review: I often find myself marvelling at Ajay Devgn’s unending appetite for stories and treatments that showcase him as the inevitable liberator. He plays a specific kind of ultra-masculine, unfaltering hero — someone overly preoccupied with ideals and a supposedly endearing naivete that’s supposed to be compensated for with brawn, a cultivated smoothness and a fiery temper. Cases in point include Gangaajal (2003), the Singham franchise and Raid (2018). (Also Read – Maidaan trailer: Ajay Devgn plays a tough coach in Chak De! India for football. Watch)

Shaitaan movie review: R Madhavan invades Ajay Devgn's house
Shaitaan movie review: R Madhavan invades Ajay Devgn's house

What I marvel more at is the other half of his recent filmography, where he plays the goofy, rough-around-the-edges dad type who has everything going for him in life, including a loving family that are at the centre of his world. He’s done it in the Drishyam films and Shivaay (2016). In Vikas Bahl’s Shaitaan, the saviour in Ajay Devgn meets the father in him. Why I go on so much about his filmography is because there’s much in this torture porno that hinges on Ajay’s set character mould as Kabir Rishi, yet another compromised father fighting for the life and honour of his daughter.

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Hostage drama tropes galore

The chills and flinching that come with Shaitaan are not because the film and the situations its screenplay conjures up are actually, genuinely, organically horrifying. They come as a product of the situational response template that twisted psychological thrillers and hostage dramas always deliver. Vikas' film takes both of those sub-genres and tosses it in an overdone gravy of the supernatural. That is what makes the final product so vapid.

An uninvited guest (R Madhavan) at a family’s remote farmhouse in the hills isn’t unnerving enough — he needs to be a “vashikaran” specialist whose methods are beyond the grasp of science (are we really still saying that?) and whose ends have something to do with, well, with hypnotising and abducting teenage girls and rounding them up for a jauhar-style sacrifice so that the reins of the netherworld could be his.

Many Indian children grow up being told not to accept candy or treats from strangers, which is how this diabolical sadist gains control of Janhvi (Janki Bodiwala), Ajay’s daughter. For his portrayal of this unhinged interloper, Madhavan taps into his proclivity for mischief-monger characters. His insinuating himself into the family’s interpersonal dynamics and soon after into their house might begin to seem some kind of masterful, but this too has been done countless number of times on screen (my favourites being The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Funny Games in the West, and Kaun? and Road closer home).

What’s also become boring and rather icky in a lot of movies starring Ajay Devgn is the reliance on brutality, torture and the sexual vulnerability of young women. Everybody, including the psychotic intruder, is beaten up and should you flinch and close your eyes to escape the unnecessary heft of it, the movie makes sure the volume reaches your ears. The antagonist commands his subject to clobber her eight-year-old brother’s head against a sharp-edged bannister before casually asking her to slap her face hard enough for her parents standing on the porch to hear it, with their heads hanging low and their eyes bloodshot Additionally, some elements are not only off-putting but rather dated – the gaze on young women, particularly Janhvi, because she gets more screen time, and the closeted transphobia coming to light in the wee hours when Ajay, stabbed through his palm, grapples with two characters that seem like transwomen.

Anyway, all that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this film. Honestly, I had stepped in hoping to come out unsettled even if at the cost of the right messaging. The jumpscares, such as the one when Kabir and Jyoti (Jyotika) find Janhvi transfixed even after Vanraj’s fake departure, and the viewers see him standing with his hands folded in front of the bag of cash and jewellery that he has set ablaze, is terrifying on its own. But when he opens his mouth, all that writer Aamil Keeyan Khan (who has worked with Ajay in Runway 34 and Drishyam 2 earlier) can muster is, “Tumhein laga tum mujhe paison se khareed loge?” and then Vanraj reveals his grand plan to procure their daughter for his horrifying sacrifice (basically some old-school Bollywood-style mumbo-jumbo).

The climax is predictable and even if you want to look past its flimsiness, the excruciatingly stretched sacrifice sequence and Madhavan’s tantrik makeup don’t let you. The final sequence, which the film’s self-aggrandising self-awareness ties in with the opening shot of a rotting rat in a forest, ultimately loosens the knot that you ought to feel in your stomach after a film like this. Also, can I request the CBFC to allow makers to avoid disclaimers like ‘this film does not promote black magic’ for films that clearly demand faith in backward, superstitious beliefs.

The performances

Jyotika, who starred in the highly acclaimed Kaathal - The Core last year, is restrained and convincing as Janhvi’s mother. Devgn, of course, has had solid practice playing the cookie-cutter dad who will rip to shreds anyone who lays an eye, let alone cast a spell, on his family. So his performance is in the same ballpark as Vijay Salgaonkar (only, more urban) from Drishyam. R Madhavan gets the most meat to chew on and chew it well he does, extracting humour and cold comfort in a very grim plot. You just have to forget the hamming he has to resort to when he’s supposed to yell and appear evil.

It’s still a tricky period for the big-screen film, and what Shaitan seems to be hoping will work in its favour is shock value. If a raucous and mildly unsettling hostage drama with a more than mildly entertaining R Madhavan is enough for you, go watch it.

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