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‘Shaitaan’ review: Occult thriller runs out of ideas

This home invasion thriller boasts a creepy turn by R Madhavan but the script is too shaky to be genuinely memorable

R Madhavan in 'Shaitaan'
R Madhavan in 'Shaitaan'

Never take food from strangers. That seems to be the first warning that should go out with the supernatural thriller Shaitaan. Vikas Bahl directs this Hindi language remake of Krishnadev Yagnik’s 2023 Gujarati film Vash. Ajay Devgn and Jyothika play Kabir and Jyoti, a well-to-do couple that goes on a weekend break to a remote holiday home with their two children Janvhi (Janki Bodiwala) and Dhruv (Anngad Raaj). Their carefree banter and easygoing family dynamic (Dhruv is one of those precocious kids who calls their father by his first name) are hugely tested and shattered after encountering a stranger who casts a spell on Janvhi. As mentioned, never take food from a stranger, definitely not more than once.

The uninvited visitor who calls himself Vanraj Kashyap (R. Madhavan) conducts a home invasion. Using black magic and occult practices to violently control Kabir and his family, chiefly teenager Janvhi who becomes his weapon. The parents helplessly watch their older child become a performing monkey, a human bomb, a killer and a shadow of her former self. Vanraj Kashyap is in complete control. It will take a whole lot of cunning for Kabir to save his family from this dark force and his fiendish plan. But for the most part, Kabir and Jyoti are paralysed, not knowing how to protect their family.

Logic is conveniently side-stepped for the sake of nudging the plot along. Oftentimes one wonders why this family would make the choices it does, and not try other things. But Bahl’s clipped direction (no jump scares, thankfully) and Madhavan’s interpretation of the devil in a hoodie keep you involved. After typically seeing long-haired, unbathed characters dressed in all black with terrible teeth and hygiene who chant mumbo-jumbo as practitioners of the dark arts, it’s refreshing to see a well-spoken demon with clean teeth and a sense of humour. That is until Vanraj goes completely diabolical. Madhavan glides from affable to menacing to malevolent. 

In spite of all its silliness and loopholes, Shaitaan holds our attention as all the actors—including Devgn, Jyothika and Raaj—are performing on the same pitch, as bystanders to the horror. R Madhavan is aptly creepy in his portrayal of Vanraj and Janki Bodiwala, who played the same character in the Gujarati original, is impressive, particularly once she becomes the devil’s puppet, at first confused and later terrified. Watching the exploitation and manipulation of a teenage girl by a gleeful, bristly middle-aged man is unsettling at many levels. It’s a physically demanding role and Bodiwala conveys the discomfort and fear.

The initial suspense gets discarded for a dark night ritual. Just when you think the film is over, Bahl slaps on a superfluous epilogue that might be intended to deliver a message. Is it that good and evil need to coexist, that good will always trump evil, that men are the saviours and women will be mere pawns or that for every child, a parent is apparently akin to God? Mixed messages further wreck an already shaky script. 

The pre-climax and climax are just long set pieces that don’t fully capture the breathlessness of a ticking clock. In fact, the scenes give the viewer time to pause and reflect on the cracks in the story. Like how does Vanraj pick his prey, or why would Jyoti not send a SOS message from her cell phone, and which teenager who rejects a buttery paratha for the calories would accept a sweet treat from a strange man?  

Also read: Chronicle Of An Hour And A Half review: When the mob takes over

 

 

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