Review: ‘Shaitaan’ (2024), starring Ajay Devgn, R. Madhavan, Janki Bodiwala, Jyothika and Anngad Raaj

March 22, 2024

by Carla Hay

R. Madhavan in “Shaitaan” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

“Shaitaan” (2024)

Directed by Vikas Bahl

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Dehradun, India, the horror film “Shaitaan” (a remake of the 2023 horror film “Vash”) features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A family of four people are the targets of a demonic stranger, who casts a spell on the family’s teenage girl to do whatever he tells her to do. 

Culture Audience: “Shaitaan” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and horror movies that have overly long and repetitive scenes that can’t hide plot holes.

Janki Bodiwala, Jyothika and Ajay Devgn in “Shaitaan” (Photo courtesy of FunAsia Films)

“Shaitaan” is a bloated and bombastic horror movie that becomes increasingly ridiculous as the plot careens into a pathetic pit of stupidity. The movie’s villain wants to take over the world, but there’s no logic in how he goes about it in this lousy story. Horror movies generally aren’t known for being logical, but as soon as viewers find out what the villain wants to do, it becomes clear that at least 85% of what’s in the movie did not need to exist.

Directed by Vikas Bahl and written by Aamil Keeyan Khan, “Shaitaan” is a Hindi-language remake of director Krishnadev Yagnik’s 2023 horror movie “Vash,” a Gujarati-language film. Both movies are about a family of four people who go on vacation and become targets of a mysterious villain, who places the teenage girl in the family under his spell to do whatever he tells her to do. “Shaitaan” (which means “devil” in Hindi) shows that the stranger has demonic powers, but the movie never bothers to show or tell the stranger’s origin story.

In “Shaitaan,” Kabir Rishi (played by Vikas Bahl) is an accountant who lives with his wife Jyoti Rishi (played by Jyothika) and their two children in Dehradun, India. The couple’s daughter Janvi (played by Janki Bodiwala), who is about 17 or 18 years old, is outspoken and wants more independence from her parents. The couple’s son Dhruv (played by Anngad Raaj), who is about 12 or 13 years old, is a friendly and obedient child.

An early scene in the movie shows Kabir and Dhruv in a car parked outside of Janvi’s high school. Kabir is there to give Janvi a car ride home from school. Kabir is curious and concerned when he sees Janvi canoodling with a male student whom Kabir does not know. It bothers Kabir that Janvi has not told him anything about this apparent boyfriend. Kabir asks Dhruv if he knows who Janvi’s male companion is, but Dhruv doesn’t know either.

Janvi wants to go on an unchaperoned vacation trip with 10 friends. She thinks she’s old enough for this trip without any parental supervision, but she gets some resistance from her protective parents. After some arguing and negotiation, Janvi’s parents agree to let her go on the trip, as long as they can keep track of her location via a phone app.

These early scenes of Janvi trying to assert her independence, in order to prove that she has a mind of her own, are supposed to contrast with how Janvi is for most of the movie, when she has lost her mind to a demonic sorcerer who casts a “black magic” spell on her. These “possession” scenes become extremely long-winded and repetitive. After a while, they don’t advance the story but just make the story drag, like a car spinning its wheels while stuck in a ditch.

With the family conflict resolved over Janvi’s trip, the Rishi family decides to go on a short weekend vacation trip to what they call their “farmhouse,” but it’s really a mansion in a (horror movie cliché alert) remote wooded area. On the road trip to their vacation home, the family stops to have lunch at a cafe. A stranger approaches the Rishis and gives them some chai tea that he has bought for them.

The stranger introduces himself as Vanraj (played by R. Madhavan) and says that they look like they are visiting travelers, so he offers to help if they need directions. To put them at ease, Vanraj shows a photo of someone he says is his teenage daughter. Kabir thanks Vanraj for the tea and says they don’t need directions because they are going to their vacation house. Kabir invites Vanraj to join them at the table for the family meal.

Janvi says she doesn’t drink this type of tea, but Jyoti scolds Janvi and tells her not to be rude. As soon as Janvi drinks the tea, the movie’s soundtrack starts playing very ominous music, as Janvi stares strangely at Vanraj. Meanwhile, Vanraj smirks at Janvi, as if he knows exactly what’s going to happen. After the meal ends and the family is about drive off, Vanraj gives Janvi a packet of biscuits and tells her to eat the biscuits when she gets to the house.

At the house, Janvi eats the biscuits. And it isn’t long before Jyoti notices that Vanraj is lurking outside the house’s front gates. An alarmed Jyoti immediately tells Kabir, who goes outside and asks what Vanraj is doing there. Jyoti is frightened and angry because no one in the family told Vanraj the address of the house, so she thinks that Vanraj is stalking the family. Kabir is willing to give Vanraj the benefit of the doubt.

Vanraj doesn’t explain how he found the house, but he says he needs to come inside to charge his phone battery. Kabir lets him inside. And that’s when the terror starts. It doesn’t take long for Vanraj to reveal that he has put Janvi under his spell and she will do anything he tells her to do.

At first, her parents don’t believe it. But then, Vanraj makes Janvi do several violent and disturbing things under his orders, such as slap herself in the face repeatedly and bash Dhruv’s head onto a staircase newel. Dhruv gets more than one serious head injury during the movie, which shows if he lives or dies.

Kabir and Jyoti try to get rid of Vanraj, of course. However, Vanraj’s spell has made Janvi his ruthless enforcer/bodyguard. One of the first things that he has Janvi do is destroy all the cell phones, phone lines and Internet connections that can be found in the house. Something happened soon after the family arrived at the house that’s a big clue that not all communication in the house is going to be cut off from the outside world.

“Shaitaan” becomes an elongated series of torture scenes during this home invasion. And it’s not just the Rishi family being tortured. Viewers watching this dreck will feel some kind of torture in how the movie drags on without an explanation for why all of this is happening to the Rishi family. Of course, patriarchal Kabir wants to rescue his family. But how?

In one of the movie’s many plot holes and gaps in logic, Vanraj foolishly forgot to make sure that the Rishi parents couldn’t use the car they drove to the house. Observant viewers will notice this plot hole immediately, but it takes more than half of the movie before this plot hole is glaringly obvious. “Shaitaan” has even more mindless things that won’t be revealed in this review.

A trailer for “Shaitaan” already reveals that in this wooded area, Vanraj has hidden numerous teenage girls and young women, who are all under his spell. About two-thirds of the way into the movie, Vanraj yells that he wants to take over the world. But he has an odd and idiotic way of doing it. If he has mind control over Janvi, why not just tell her to secretly go to the hideaway place, instead of wasting time torturing her family members, who are potential witnesses?

It also doesn’t make sense that Vanraj only puts powerless teenage girls and young women under his spell. Why doesn’t he put powerful leaders under his spell, if he wants to take over the world? And why weren’t all of the Rishi family members put under Vanraj’s spell if Vanraj thought the family would get in the way? Do the filmmakers of “Shaitaan” honestly expect viewers to believe all the garbage being shoveled in this cinematic trash heap? Apparently so.

All of the performances in “Shaitaan” are mediocre, except for Madhavan’s awfully hammy villain performance, which because increasingly tacky and laughable. A plot twist at the very end of the movie just raises more questions that “Shaitaan” never bothers to answer. One of those questions is: “When will filmmakers learn that inferior and unnecessary movie remakes are a turnoff?”

FunAsia Films released “Shaitaan” in select U.S. cinemas on March 8, 2024, the same date the movie was released in India.

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