Film Review: Shaitan

It all probably started with Anurag Kashyap’s Dev D, followed by Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex Aur Dhokha. The advent of slick Indian movies that look like they could be imported from Hong Kong, Taiwan, France, or even Rio De Janeiro.

These new-age films from the Hindi cinema stable have all the ingredients to make them appear to be avant-garde—crazy hand-held camera movements, mind-numbing cinematography, non-star casts, and not to forget, the soundtracks, which are anything but conventional. Of course, there are also the eye-popping posters, which keep alive the tradition of the myth and allure of the movie poster.

Helter Skelter: Shaitan
Shaitan film poster.

This is what Bejoy Nambiar and Anurag Kashyap probably had in mind when they decided to produce Shaitan. It all went well until the avid cinema lover started noticing little glitches in the film, which in due time turned out to be not so little. The film has all the popular techniques in place, but what was unsettling was the feeling of pastiche throughout the film—not to forget the blasé storyline. Messrs Kashyap and Nambiar probably thought Shaitan would be the avant-garde film of 2011 with its neo-noir appearance. Alas, all appearances proved to be deceptive in this case.

Shaitan is the story of five youngsters living a hedonistic lifestyle in Mumbai. It is the story of super-brats and super-rich spoilt kids, and the collision, the literal collision between the hedonism of South Mumbai and the aspirational middle-class of the Maximum City. Shaitan doesn’t really have anything that we haven’t seen or read before. Bumping off a person or two on the roads after a night of binge-drinking is almost staple fodder for tabloids in metropolises like Mumbai or Delhi. For a rebel of a filmmaker like Kashyap, one doesn’t head to the theatre expecting to see a film like this.

The moment when Rajeev Khandelwal is introduced as the no-nonsense, violent, vigilante cop is one of the sparks in this dull narrative. The sequence is fully inspired by Gaspar Noe’s epic neo-avant-garde masterpiece Enter the Void. This kind of filming technique is probably new to Indian cinema. The shoot-out and escape sequence provided another brilliant moment in the film. The haunting and lilting remixed version of ‘Khoya Khoya Chand’ being played in the background while the action happens in slow-motion is what Shaitan will be remembered for.

Shaitan’s poster, with its acid-trip-induced portraits of the lead characters and its catch line—“Unleash Your Inner Shaitan”—can lure you into the trap of watching the film. Just a word of caution: be prepared, not to face your inner demons, but for one of the most average narratives to come from Anurag Kashyap’s oeuvre. But yes, Shaitan does have a scintillating soundtrack. If you don’t mind spending on tickets and everything else that contributes to the movie-going experience, just to listen to the music, then by all means, go ahead and enjoy the gig. Don’t forget to munch on your popcorn while listening.

Shaheen Ahmed has dabbled with various forms of mass media, but her first love stays writing. She is an avid bibliophile and, when not reading, likes discussing and criticising films, sitcoms, politics, the weather, transport, infrastructure, and just about everything else

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The City Speaks #18

The City Speaks #18

By Jai Undurti and Harsho Mohan Chattoraj
The City Speaks #18