‘Shaitaan’ movie review: R Madhavan makes the mean monster shine opposite Ajay Devgn in this horror show

Backed by a poignant premise and powerful performances, director Vikas Bahl generates some genuine moments in eerie situations but surprisingly shows a straight bat in the slog overs

March 08, 2024 11:46 am | Updated 12:07 pm IST

R Madhavan in ‘Shaitaan’

R Madhavan in ‘Shaitaan’

Across the world, daddy-saving-daughter stories keep many aging action heroes in the box office race. After Drishyam and Bholaa, this is the third film in a row where Ajay Devgn plays an overprotective father running against time to save his sweetheart from a monster. While in Bholaa, the action star’s invincibility was hardly in doubt, in Shaitaan, like Drishyam, he is up against an imposing wall called R. Madhavan making the contest a lot more even and hence engaging.

Interestingly, like Drishyam, the story of Shaitaan is drawn from a regional film. Director Vikas Bahl, who is attempting a new genre in every film with varying success, has adapted the Gujarati film Vash to create a frantic sensory experience. It is hard to sell a supernatural occurrence in 2024 but Vikas manages to strike an emotional chord with a sceptical audience, the way Ram Gopal Varma used to do once upon a time.

The story is simple and initially gives the impression that it has already been told in the 140-second trailer. Ajay and Jyothika play an urban couple who are struggling to keep their worldly-wise kids in check. On a trip to their farmhouse, they come across a stranger named Vanraaj (Madhavan). Initially, he seems like an amiable gentleman who needs a little help but soon he shows his true colours and turns out to be an English-speaking occultist who has possessed their daughter Janvi (Janaki Bodiwala).

Shaitaan (Hindi)
Director: Vikas Bahl
Cast: Ajay Devgn, R Madhavan, Jyothika, Janaki Bodiwala
Run-time: 132 minutes
Storyline: Held inside their farmhouse, a couple battles to free their daughter from the spell of a mysterious stranger

It is the nimble treatment and creepy twists that make Shaitaan leap at you at times in the darkness of a multiplex. For instance, in make-or-break situations, Vanraaj asks Janvi to laugh or dance, ensuring the sense of helplessness of parents percolates through the screen. A lot of credit goes to Krishnadev Yagnik’s story which is aware of making the characters go slightly against the lay audience’s expectation from a supernatural setup.

Madhavan, who is known to play docile characters in Hindi films, is cast against type, making the eerie experience relatable. He lends Vanraaj a pitch that oscillates between lifelike and larger-than-life. If Ajay taps the vulnerable side of a father, Madhavan explores the mean streak of the demon well. Similarly, Jyothika lends freshness to the mother’s role and provides an element of surprise for those who have grown up on the romantic beats of Madhavan and Jyothika in Dumm Dumm Dumm (2001). Janaki, who reprises the part she played in the original, is not bad either.

Had Vanraaj been given a credible backstory, the film would have got a lot more depth or one should say Gehrayee (1980), the Aruna-Vikas classic horror that was also about a girl possessed by a spirit. It had a strong undercurrent on the horrors of lopsided development but here, from the charm of fake news to the spell of a demagogue on blind followers, there are plenty of possibilities and metaphors that seem waiting to be addressed but the writers prefer to keep it a straight battle between black and white. Even the verdant potential of a name like Vanraaj and the presence of transgenders in his team have neither been exploited nor explored.

Perhaps, the fact that Devgn is also the co-producer of the film came in the way. Perhaps, the makers sought to retain the U/A certificate for a horror film that showcases black magic with a disclaimer that it doesn’t support it. Otherwise, with a little more author support, it would have become a Madhavan show all the way. After a smart flourish in the denouement, the post-script feels forced to keep the heroic status of Ajay intact but it is Madhavan who makes sure that one shuts the door the next time one comes across a smooth-talking stranger.

Shaitaan is currently running in theatres

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