Shaitan is a next-gen film, an ember of ideas in the midst of the scattered mediocrity that is Indian cinema, lighting the path for the journey ahead in its glow. Shaitan™s strength is its technical finesse and masterful control of the director, Bejoy Nambiar.He shows his wide-eyed audience an uncompromised rendering of his vision, stretching the medium to its visual extreme. However, in an ironic metaphor, Shaitan has its own demons and imperfections, especially in the writing department.Visual innovation in small, low-budget films is tricky business. Without millions of dollars and terabytes of CGI, a director has to be inventive. Nambiar and his cinematographer R Madhi show much flexibility and flair with their digital tools.
Whether it™s effectively using high FPS for kaleidoscopic ultra slow-mo images or niftily captured real-world location and events as part of the story, Shaitan is a treat to watch. Certain techniques are borrowed (or a homage paid, if you prefer) from Tarantino (fans will easily make the connections) to producer Anurag Kashyap himself (his defining chase through slums has been seen in everything from Black Friday to Aamir to Slumdog Millionaire where Boyle duly gave him credit) with several ideas from films you™ve seen before (how many times will the burqa trick be reused?). Still, the first-person view long take that is the introduction to Rajeev Khandelwal™s straight-but-violent cop character, the opening titles sequence, and a gunfight to the tune of Khoya Khoya Chand are fresh and memorable in Bollywood.Complementing the images is some truly contemporary music ranging from the highly synthesised to metal. Kunal Sharma™s sound design is so much better than the average Bollywood film. None of that tic-toc-tic-toc footsteps foley nonsense! Here, sound contributes to storytelling. Production design is first rate for the budget, though the styling is a tad out of sync with the milieu.
Tech departments aside, Shaitan tells the dark, intriguing story of friends (with a special focus on Amy, essayed by Kalki Koechlin, with past trauma of her own to deal with) who get themselves into some serious trouble, a result of their excessively indulgent lifestyles.
Then there are cops (three varied personalities bringing much needed respite from single-dimensional portrayals of a stereotype within a single film) and one of them Arvind (Khandelwal) has martial complications that interferes with his no-holds-barred idea of handing out the law. The kids hatch a scheme to fake-kidnap Amy and get her father to pay ransom. A smart plan except all of them decide to go underground.This is an oversight and a big logic loophole. All Amy had to do was hide while the others pretended they didn™t know anything, right? But, er, no. Anyway, the cops get wind of it and the chase begins in earnest. In between are jokes, fights, drugs, deaths, a backstory in a backstory, and several metaphorical and physical references to every characters inner shaitan.It™s dramatic yes, but engaging only at a superficial level. It™s hard to sympathise with any of them. Khandelwal gets close, but because there is so much happening, there just isn™t enough time. Also, you™re left wondering with arbitrary questions like how did a waiter in a coffee shop become best friends with a guy who owns a Hummer and if a guy owns a Hummer, why can™t he cough up a (relatively) paltry amount of money.Despite being an extreme film in many ways, somewhere Shaitan doesn™t quite go the distance to pop past convention in its telling, save for the big event that ignites the plot. The moments of violence are brutal no doubt, but the film itself doesn™t push boundaries that it promises to early on and ends in a relative whimper.
Blame the censor board for scaring filmmakers? Or blame the audience who™re habituated to soft endings? This is a film about substance abuse, but you don™t get overwhelmed; this is a film about a dark, spirally void but there™s always light at the end of the tunnel.
Dependable performances by everyone. Kalki and debutant Shiv Pandit stand out. And it continues to confound why Khandelwal isn™t already in more films.For its visual style, sheer energy, and the trip that it is, Shaitan is recommended viewing. Its inconsistent storytelling takes away somewhat from being a great film, but you won™t come away disappointed.