Let me cut through it and tell you straight – Shaitan blew me away. I'm not used to desi films this good being released in our country where normally studios throw unwatchable formulaic twaddle and wait for Khan season to roll around again.
This movie had me alternating between a sugar-high and sheer awe. One minute, I struggled to keep my jaw closed, the next, I was jumping in my seat. Both extremes were equally pleasurable. Without a doubt, Shaitan is one of the boldest, most challenging Hindi films I've ever seen. It is also one of the most memorable. What a debut by Bejoy Nambiar; Park Chan-wook himself couldn't have directed a more feverishly thrilling bit of cinema.
Take a dash of Boyle’s electric fuzz and generous helpings of the mojo of Chan-wook, and you've got a slightly derivative, though maddeningly gripping film. Nambiar wastes no time in setting up the players in this story about a fivesome of wayward youngsters - Amy (Kalki Koechlin), Dash (Shiv Pandit), KC (Gulshan Devaiya), Zubin (Neil Bhoopalam) and Tanya (Kirti Kulhari) - who stage a kidnapping to pay off a slimy cop. The fact that these players are lacking any real depth or substance is actually of little consequence, for Nambiar drops them in a clever, complex caper that takes its share of mind blowing twists and turns.
There are the usual cross-section of characters with witty tongues involved in shady activities that get themselves into sticky situations in which no one survives unscathed. But despite the influences, Shaitan has an intensely authentic feel to it. And I know you're thinking Fadnavis, Bejoy Nambiar is an urban Indian, how could he not write an authentic "Urban Indian film"? Well, consider how many fake terrible ‘youth centric’ films written by Indian youths you’ve recently seen, and you’ll understand my sentiments. How did he do it? Well, the script is very smartly written, so you never think, "Desi youngsters don't talk like that" or "Kids would never do something like this". It's just the right mix of violence and humor with most of the intense bloodshed happening off-camera. Add to all of that a double helping of Nambiar’s even-handed directing complete with just the right amount of cool cinematography by R.Madhie.
Then the casting. Of the five leads, Pandit, Devaiya, Bhoopalam and Kulhari are absolutely marvelous playing insubordinate screw-ups with believable camaraderie and a kind of precarious charm. Rajeev Khandelwal is solid as a cop and Kalki is decent, but Udaan wonderboy Rajat Barmecha makes a hilarious, brilliant cameo. Shaitan is intricately edited by Sreekar Prasad. Not enough can be said about R.Madhie’s camerawork. Dominated by blue-orange tones and making frequent use of overcranked slow-motion shots and distancing low and high angles, Shaitan at times feels like a crazy, disturbing dream. The trippy effect is but emphasised by the incredible music, which combines close to a dozen genres. A remixed, souped-up version of ‘Khoya Khoya Chaand’ is set against the backdrop of a shootout and ‘Pintya’ is gloriously juxtaposed with a chase scene. Stunning stuff.
Beneath the visual and aural pizzazz, and the snazzy dialogue, Shaitan offers a sombre view of directionless, immoral Indian youth. There is something reactionary in the broad portrayal of young people as hopelessly self-centered, callous and insensitive, but the pessimism includes the adult characters too. There is no possibility of redemption for anyone, and social relationships here are just a web of rebellion, rejection and cruelty in which everyone is guilty. Hat tip to producer Anurag Kashyap for shepherding fresh, high quality stories - without him we'd still be living in the 90's pyaar-mohabbat deluded hogwash.
Shaitan is a marvelously crafted, stylish bit of filmmaking. It's a saucy thriller. It’s the perfect example of twisted perfection. You’d be a complete fool to miss such edgy entertainment.