Shaitaan Movie Review: Vikas Bahl’s ‘Shaitaan’ is more thriller than horror, and it needed more chills, but it’s generically watchable

Vikas Bahl
The film stars Ajay Devgn, R Madhavan, Jyotika. It doesn’t commit itself fully to its conceits, but the actors keep us watching.
Shaitaan Movie Review

Shaitaan Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Jio Studios,Devgn Films,Panorama Studios
Director : Vikas Bahl
Music Director : Amit Trivedi

There’s something interesting about the conception of Shaitaan, adapted from the Gujarati film Vash and directed by Vikas Bahl. It is the age-old story about a teenage girl (the excellent Janki Bodiwala) being possessed – but this is not exactly a “possession”, as we know it. In this kind of movie, the devil remains an unseen presence, but here we see the shaitaan (played by R Madhavan) and – get this!! – he does not seem to have any powers of his own. Then how is he able to take control of the girl? Despite the fact that the mother (Jyotika) instantly guesses that this is some kind of kaala jadoo, black magic – is it, really? The reason for the possession involves a scientific explanation, and the reason the Devil is vanquished (at least till the probable sequel resuscitates him) also involves science and technology, namely some software.

The cleverest aspect of all is that a horror movie – involving a man who says he is not a man, but the Devil himself – is disguised as a home-invasion thriller. This is not the kind of scenario where the terrified parents have to call a priest. The terrified parents have to fight back, on their own. The mother leaps on the Devil and gives us an action scene. The father has to think up his own tricks. He has to find a way to live up to what he told his daughter earlier, in a casual scene, early in the movie: “Tu duniya ke kisi bhi kone mein hogi na, tab bhi tujhe dhoondh nikaloonga.” He said this when the daughter wanted to go to Ladakh with her friends and joked that she may never come back. But now, he has to “bring her back” from the apparently non-earthly realm she has been transported to.

Shaitaan works as a generic watch, and the biggest disappointment is that there are no real scares. (And I say this as someone who scares easily at the movies.) The screenplay takes its time to establish this family – this very rich family – and their cutesy closeness. The young son calls his dad by name. The daughter tells her folks everything, even things about her love life. The mother is sweetness and gentleness and love and care personified. And just when we think this family is too good to be true, the shaitaan pays a visit. Someone must have a good sense of humour. The name of the character Madhavan plays is Vanraj, which was what Ajay Devgn was called in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. There, the name belonged to a saint. Here, it’s affixed to the worst kind of sinner.

The first half seems to be on loop: the girl does something the Devil says, the parents give shocked reaction shots. And over. And over again. These portions could have used some variations. And the second half does not exactly build up to that big mumbo-jumbo climax. (Fun fact: “This film does not support / endorse black magic.” This text actually appeared on screen.) But the actors keep us watching. Jyotika is solid in the scene after her daughter embarrasses herself. Ajay Devgn, too, is rock-solid. You really feel for him in the scene where he walks upstairs, silently, resigned to his daughter’s behaviour. But Shaitaan, finally, belongs to Madhavan, who delivers the entire spectrum from subtle to loud, as per the character’s flickering demands. Sometimes, he makes you feel the Devil is toying with this family. At other times, he makes you feel the Devil’s exasperation at their repeated attempts to save the girl. This may be a horror-thriller, but Madhavan also makes it a whole lot of fun!

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.