INT. DILAPIDATED FLAT - DAY
Deep within the confines of a Dharavi-style slum (ref: Slumdog Millionaire, Aamir), Inspector Arvind and his sidekick begin to realize that something is amiss at the Muslim-owned tiny flat that they have just conveniently broken into without rhyme or reason just to mislead the audience. And before a smart viewer untouched by the impressive techincal prowess of the film finds a flaw…
Khoya Khoya Chand begins to play over two sequences happening simultaneously. In slow mo, we have:
Inspector Arvind discovers a dead body at back of flat. Two Kenyan (Not Nigerian, mind you) druggies appear out of nowhere and begin shooting like routine American teenagers at a high school…
MATCH CUT TO:
INT. SIMILAR DILAPIDATED LODGE (SHADY LOCATION) - DAY
Four of our teenagers crash into a very-similiar looking room below their hideout ‘flat’, and begin to brandish all kinds of impressive violence on the almost-rapist to save their annoying friend Tanya. If you don’t get it, this is just the beginning. Following this will be an extremely well-executed clusterf*ck of events so loud that it won’t even matter who is doing what by the end of this haunting song. Just to make sure we’re being really stylish, one sequence plays at 18 fps and the other at 30 fps. And Inspector and sidekick need to have a liking for gore and Tarantino-style no-holds-barred violence. Cheers!
What you see above is the (probable) screenplay of one of the most talked about action sequences in the history of Indian cinema. Yes, before the release of the film too! I know, right? RIGHT? It is also how the writer might have personally written the scene to convince the director to ‘pull off’ the sequence and get it talked about. Before you die-hard ‘execution’ fans jump at my throat, I am aware the Mr Nambiar is the writer too. Let’s say I’m talking about the second writer Megha here. It could probably be how she actually presented the scene to her director. Obviously, you can’t detail every bullet shot and every note of every contrasting music score that plays over the blood and gore. Can’t write that stuff. And of course, Bejoy has done a commendable job of it and demonstrated that his mastery over the visual medium is second to none, much like he had done so years ago in an Ashok Amritraj-concieved reality show which had India’s best amateur filmmakers face off against eachother for the grand prize (which, to this day, was not revealed). After all, that is a director’s job - to visualize a sequence and present it to us in an interesting way. So what if the writing is weak? It can still be saved. Right? RIGHT?
Credit where it is due: a highly stylized and technically flawless attempt at pulling off technical flawlessness, Shaitan is a colorful screenshot of the kaleidoscopic happenings (bole toh all kinds of chemical lochas) inside a true junkie’s quivery mind. A brave debut with quite a lot of ‘wow!’ moments, Shaitan still fails to isolate itself from the Anurag Kashyap school of filmmaking. And that’s not really a bad thing. In fact, this particular style has begun to find takers - lots of them (VIACOM 18 with yet another bold decision) - and in the long run, this could only mean good things for a country that thrives heavily on performers and entertainers instead of actors and half decent scripts. Nambiar, on his part, might have managed to convince an orthodox community (Bollywood, not Brahmins) that self-indulgence and obvious inspiration will never be looked down upon at a time where every second film cannot possibly be worse than the previous ‘commercial’ potboiler without stars.
Armed with a soundtrack that makes ‘loud’ the new ‘beautiful’ and a cast of the next batch of yet another remarkable set of young actors that thrive on living out their rebellious streak unabashedly on screen, Nambiar and Kashyap (who become one entity during certain shots and slumdog-inspired chase sequences) have strived to make the most of a rebellion-gone-wrong story with their technical prowess and eye for detail. The psychological aspect to each of these characters, though half-baked, does add a certain layer of darkness to each of their twisted minds, and only makes you wonder how many such star-crossed gangs exist in the leafy bylanes of Altamount Road and the quiet inner-roads of Vasant Vihar.
Having said that, the strength of this film is also its glaring weakness. Too much has been crammed into one madcap display of urban violence, and apart from the kinks and bolts displayed by Kalki (the new face of your suicidal wicked girl next door, taking over from Kangana) and the ever-dependable Khandelwal, none of the other characters seem to blessed with enough of a backstory or a motive to make us feel sympathy/happiness/sadness/ecstasy when their adventure begins. A fit of anger here and a streak of unbridled lust there, and the rampage continues. The hilarity of the situation only comes to light when the regular oversexed Jat boy of the group continues to make ‘innocent’ mistakes (that amount to manslaughter in any other country, or movie) inspite of making the first galti-se-mishtake that proved to be the initial catalyst (read plot point) that began to lead this unusual gang of glorified social rejects into their eventual meltdown. No problems with that, really but why exactly do they think that they can get away with their grand masterplan of kidnapping one of their own, especially when she is the daughter of a high-funda hyper diplomat (Rajit Kapoor doing what he does best)?! No, the Rajat Barmecha story that has been inserted to justify their desperate decision is not reason enough - not if this decision is supposed to give rise to the massive chain of crazed events that follow. And no, not even breaking the fourth wall in the inimitable style of famed French director Jean Pierre Juenet helps the cause. But yes, a gold star for being different. After all, that is what counts in a region-specific field bereft of guts and orginality. Still refreshing. To an extent.
As demonstrated earlier, the director’s translation of writing to visuals, though quite creative and outstanding, might have reached unchartered territories of brilliance if there was some sort of an easy-going and less-vague storyline handed over to him. The bigger picture being the eventual dilemma of truth against morality for greater good is not lost on us, of course, thanks to some not-so-subtle dialogue exchaged between our wise cop friends at the end. A bit of fine-tuning could have done wonders, but hey, craving for betterment can only mean a good thing for a film, right? RIGHT?!
Raj Kumar Yadav as the corrupt cop, who sets the first Shaitan loose to play, and Pawan Malhotra as the wary and unusually philosophical commissioner, who puts to rest the final Shaitan, are, in fact, the cameos that stand out amongst others. Not to say that the others are mediocre (though debutant Shiv Pandit comes mighty close) but there is just too much going on to really appreciate the talent on display. As half the world already seems to have heard, the cinematography by R Madhi does, on occasion, tend to take you places that no camera has dared to go before- and successfully supports Nambiar’s lofty visual standards. The sheer quantity of subjective shots may seem repetitive after a while, and the camera stops short of taking the form of water and entering the mouths of the characters.
All in all, Shaitan does break a few barriers but pathbreaking storytelling isn’t one of them. Anurag Kashyap, though, has maintained his impeccable record of producing content that will go on to inspire many of his younger contemporaries to think, imagine and execute. Now, all we need is a decent emotional connect.
- Reel Reptile