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.

Review: ‘Ram Setu,’ starring Akshay Kumar, Jacqueline Fernandez, Nushrratt Bharuccha and Satya Dev

October 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Akshay Kumar in “Ram Setu” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Ram Setu”

Directed by Abhishek Sharma

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the action film “Ram Setu” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An archaeologist gets caught in the middle of protests over a developer’s plans to demolish Ram Setu, a chain of limestone shoals connecting India and Sri Lanka,and the archaeologist is ordered to provide evidence that Ram Setu is a natural formation, not a man-made structure.

Culture Audience: “Ram Setu” will appeal primarily to fans of star Akshay Kumar and archeaological adventure stories with religious overtones, but the movie’s flimsy and dull plot will be a turn-off to viewers who are expecting a more interesting film.

Akshay Kumar in “Ram Setu” (Photo courtesy of Zee Studios)

“Ram Setu” is an example of a movie that thinks it can coast by on some eye-catching cinematography without having a good story. The tedious plot developments are poorly conceived, the performances are mediocre, and the action scenes look very fake. This very disappointing adventure movie throws in some religious preaching, which the filmmakers know could be problematic, because a disclaimer toward the end of the movie reminds viewers that “Ram Setu” is a work of fiction.

Written and directed by Abhishek Sharma, “Ram Setu” aims to rewrite history or make people think differently about the history of the real-life Ram Setu, a chain of limestone shoals connecting India and Sri Lanka. In the beginning of the film, archaeologist Dr. Aryan Kulshrestha (played by Akshay Kumar), who is from India, is leading a desert expedition in Pakistan, where he and his colleagues uncover a buried trunk of precious coins. As soon as these coins discovered, several Jeeps carrying Taliban soldiers swoop in and attack the archaeologist group to steal the coins. Did the Taliban have hidden cameras in the desert for these soldiers to know the exact moment that these coins were found?

After shootouts and explosions, Aryan and his trusty sidekick Anjani Putra, also known as AP (played by Satya Dev, whose real name is Satyadev Kancharana), run away with the trunk of coins and fall down a shaft that leads them to a hidden cave. (It’s one of the movie’s many phony-looking action scenes.) Inside the cave, Aryan and AP find a giant statue of a reclining Buddha. The statue is an extremely rare archaeological treasure.

The first major sign that “Ram Setu” is a sloppily edited film is after Aryan and AP find this statue, the movie never shows how they managed to get out of the cave and elude the Taliban attackers. The next scene cuts to a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, where Aryan is getting praised for discovering this statue. A reporter at the press conference asks Aryan if Aryan thinks that because the statue represents Buddhism, the statue should be returned to India instead of staying in a Muslim-majority country such as Pakistan. Aryan makes a diplomatic answer by saying that he doesn’t get involved in government politics of which country should own archaeological findings.

Whether he likes it or not, Aryan is about to get involved in some divisive issues regarding politics, business and religion. Soon after his major discovery of the Buddhist statue, Aryan returns to India, where he is promoted to lord-general of the Archaelogical Society of India. Aryan thinks his life is going smoothly until he gets caught in the middle of a big controversy that is dividing India’s people.

The Indian government’s Sethusamudram Project wants to demolish Ram Setu, in order to make way for a man-made shipping route. It’s this movie’s reference to the real-life Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, which involves the creation of a long deep-water channel linking the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar, for a length of about 51.7 miles or 83.2 kilometers. In real life, the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project was approved by the Indian government in 2005, under a plan that would not destroy Ram Setu.

In the “Ram Setu” movie, the project has not yet been approved. People have been protesting the project because they believe that Hindu deity Lord Shri Rama built Ram Setu, and therefore Ram Setu should not be demolished. In other words, the protesters believe destroying Ram Setu is a sacrilegious act.

Aryan is happily married to a fellow scientist named Professor Gayatri Kulshrestha (played by Nushrratt Bharuccha), who isn’t afraid to disagree with him. Aryan privately comments to Gayatri about the Ram Setu controversy, by saying that he thinks this matter is a land dispute. Gayatri sassily responds that it’s a matter of faith and says, “Your job is to dig up graves, not questioning the faith of people.”

Aryan’s refusal to take the side of the protesters makes him very unpopular with many members of the public who want to label Aryan as immoral, so he gets suspended from the Archaeology Society of India. (It’s a very unrealistic aspect of the plot.) His reputation takes a nosedive to the point where his career could be permanently damaged.

Aryan also gets roughed up by unidentified men outside of a hotel where Aryan had a speaking engagement. The face makeup depicting Ayan’s facial injuries is absolutely horrible and amateur-looking. Instead of bruises, it looks like black shoe polish was smeared on his face. The film’s continuity is also sloppy because the facial injuries look very different in scenes that are only supposed to take place a few hours apart.

Aryan’s unpopularity has a negative effect on Kabir Kulshreshtha (played by Anngad Raaj), the son of Aryan and Gayatri. Kabir, who’s about 8 or 9 years old, gets verbally taunted at school by another boy, who insults Kabir about Aryan. This conflict leads to Kabir getting into a physical fight with the boy. An emergency meeting in held with school officials, the boys and their parents. Kabir is told by the school principal that if he gets into this type of trouble again, he will be expelled.

The dispute over Ram Setu eventually reaches India’s judicial system. In a courthouse scene, a judge declares that the government must provide proof that Ram Setu is a natural formation, not a man-made structure, in order for the Sethusamudram Project to be approved by the court. Shortly after this ruling, Aryan is contacted by a wealthy mogul named Indrakant Varma (played by Nassar), who is the leader of Pushpak Shipping, a company that stands to benefit if Ram Setu is demolished by the Sethusamudram Project. Indrakant wants to hire Aryan to prove that Ram Setu is a natural structure, but Aryan declines the offer.

But Aryan get is coerced into working for Indrakant anyway on a sea station called the Pushpak Alpha Floating Lab. It’s a futuristic operation headed by project manager named Mr. Bali (played by Pravesh Rana), who introduces Aryan to the rest of the crew. Aryan’s new colleagues include Dr. Chandra (played by Ramakant Dayma), Dr. Sandra Rebello (played by Jacqueline Fernandez), Professor Andrew (played by Zachary Coffin) and Dr. Gabrielle (played by Jeniffer Piccinato).

Aryan gets a hi-tech underwater suit called Makar, which has robot hands that look like leftovers from the robot in the original “Lost in Space” series. Mr. Bali says to Aryan about putting on the Makar suit: “You’ll be flying underwater like Iron Man.” To its credit, “Ram Setu” has some underwater scenes that look visually appealing.

However, people with basic knowledge of deep sea diving will be cringing at how the movie portrays these explorers being in a ship underwater without wearing underwater suits or oxygen tanks and with no realistic references to underwater pressure that increases the deeper someone goes underwater. Haven’t these people heard of getting decompression sickness? And when Aryan goes diving in the Makar suit, his head looks like a computer-generated visual effect that was inserted, not a real person in the suit. In other words, the science fiction in “Ram Setu” is unconvincing.

The scientists at the Pushpak Alpha Floating Lab quickly determine that if they can prove that Ram Setu is more than 7,000 years old (before Lord Rama existed), then it would prove that Lord Rama did not create Ram Setu. The movie has a bunch of nonsense about a yellow rock that is supposed to be proof of Ram Setu’s age. AP eventually comes along for the ride. And people with various agendas end up chasing this group of Pushpak explorers.

“Ram Setu” has some references to British colonialism’s erasure of Indian history and has some obvious messages about Indians needing to reclaim Indian history from a Eurocentric point of view. (Ram Setu is also known as Adam’s Bridge.) But all this messaging about Indian historical pride is cheapened when the movie is so badly constructed, it insults viewers’ intelligence.

Some of the chase scenes have tension, but what happens in between this action is often dreadfully dull. The acting performances from all of the cast members are unremarkable or forgettable. “Ram Setu” makes a sharp detour toward the end that is supposed to have a deep religious meaning. But this “reveal” in the movie’s last scene is ultimately just like the rest of “Ram Setu”—a lot of ideas thrown together in disjointed ways and resulting in an unimpressive story.

Zee Studios released “Ram Setu” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on October 25, 2022.

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