The Hindu (Mumbai)

‘Shaitaan’: Madhavan makes the mean monster shine opposite Ajay Devgn

Backed by a poignant premise and powerful performanc­es, director Vikas Bahl generates some genuine moments in eerie situations

- Anuj Kumar

Across the world, daddysavin­gdaughter 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.

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 140second trailer. Ajay and Jyothika play an urban couple who are struggling to keep their worldlywis­e 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 Englishspe­aking occultist who has possessed their daughter Janvi ( Janaki Bodiwala).

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 makeorbrea­k situations, Vanraaj asks Janvi to laugh or dance, ensuring the sense of helplessne­ss of parents percolates through the screen.

Madhavan in new avatar

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 largerthan­life. 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).

Had Vanraaj been given a credible backstory, the film would have got a lot more depth. 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 to be waiting to be addressed, but the writers prefer to keep it a straight battle between black and white.

After a smart flourish in the denouement, the postscript 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 smoothtalk­ing stranger.

Shaitaan is currently running in theatres

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