Shivaay Review: A soulless vanity-action flick

Ajay Devgn’s extravagant yet boring action film personifies all that’s wrong with commercial cinema across the globe.

Director: Ajay Devgn

Cast: Ajay Devgn, Erika Kaar, Abigail Eames, Sayyeshaa

Rating: 1.5 stars

I don’t remember the last time a Hindi-language action ‘entertainer’ remotely cared about moments that don’t involve action. Everything else – the plot, the concept of emotions, the supporting roles, female leads, the corny laughs, the entire tedious buildup to money shots, crashing cars and flying bodies – seems like a clumsy afterthought.

More recently, Ajay Devgn solo-hero sagas are akin to watching a stubborn kid reluctantly eating his boring vegetables only for permission to play late-night video games. He endures, instead of performing, to reach his favourite hulk-smash mode. He forever looks pained, drowsy, drugged and angry, in no particular order. He screams with a whispery twang that hasn’t changed since 1997.

Ajay Devgn solo-hero sagas are akin to watching a stubborn kid reluctantly eating his boring vegetables only for permission to play late-night video games.

Actors who’ve done it the hard way (flourishing through the 1990s) tend to carry around that outdated last-action-hero aura. Devgn, in particular, is Liam-Neeson-level intense, often to a crippling fault. Only, back then, the action as well as the drama around it were equally campy. This consistency made it easy to tolerate; it still felt like one film. Lately, digital technology has aided the conception and choreography of high-octane action scenes. The sky’s the limit. They rarely look tacky or cobbled together, thanks to the slick limitless resources at hand. But the rest of the film, at least intellectually and tonally, is still stuck in the dark ages.

Take Shivaay for example. An absolute fossil of a Singham-meets-chillum picture. This chap (Devgn) is supposed to be some sort of freakish “freestyle” Himalayan climber, the types who smoke ganja topless on top of a snowy cliff. The industry insists on calling these protagonists the ‘single-screen’ types. Basically, nonsense – but on a larger scale. Huge nonsense.

This chap (Devgn) is supposed to be some sort of freakish “freestyle” Himalayan climber, the types who smoke ganja topless on top of a snowy cliff. The industry insists on calling these protagonists the ‘single-screen’ types. Basically, nonsense – but on a larger scale. Huge nonsense.

Anyway, for the first thirty minutes, when Shivaay proves what a badass daredevil he is, I could hear the thud of a thousand pro-climbers and sherpas committing suicide. He renders their entire skill-set null and void. The most technical term used is “summit”. Every time he leaps into thin air with the demeanor of a man on his commode, a puppy on the sets of Vertical Limit and Meru dies. This representation of rock-climbing belongs to one of those internet ‘what friends think I do’ job memes. A dubiously rehashed devotional song, which also serves as the title theme, assaults our ears. So far, so mainstream.

The problems begin when the heroine, a Polish actress playing a Bulgarian woman named Olga, flirts with him in an accent reminiscent of a snarky Russian girl imitating Katrina Kaif. She sleeps with him because he has exotic Shiva tattoos. She speaks Hindi and studies at DU. And then she is supposed to be rescued by him from the slowest-moving avalanche in the history of avalanches.

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Eight people are zip-lined across to another cliff while this geriatric avalanche trudges towards them. The couple soon tumbles down in a colourful tent, suspended precariously for an entire night, where a romantic song scores this surreal phase. All this while, the tent serves as some sort of dreamy LSD-laced bubble of soft porn.

The next lengthy action sequence occurs almost an hour later. This thing called a ‘story’ takes over till then: Olga gets pregnant, blames him, gives birth, leaves forever, and this becomes a father-and-daughter story. His little girl, named Gaura, is mute. This, I suspect, is down to the producers realizing how impossible it is to find a Hindi-speaking white-skinned kid on this planet. They dine in the snow under a tree; the cupcakes and juice look so catered that only the brands were missing.

His little girl, named Gaura, is mute. This, I suspect, is down to the producers realizing how impossible it is to find a Hindi-speaking white-skinned kid on this planet.

Shivaay, being duh-Shivaay, decides to take his 8-year-old girl to Bulgaria (I curse Dilwale for this) to meet her heartless mother. There, he decides to rescue prostitutes and children from evil flesh traders. He isn’t your usual Indian tourist. Gaura will pay the price of his unwarranted heroism. Soon, even logic treks to the top of Everest and jumps. Every Bulgarian hereafter is shown to be a child-trafficker, pedophile, traitor or all-around idiot. It won’t be long before the Bulgarian government realizes that their generous film-production subsidies aren’t exactly going as planned with Indian scriptwriters.

There are around three long-drawn Die Hard chase sequences. Each of them lasts an eternity, with three acts of their own, boring the viewer senseless with a skull-blasting orgy of sound and destruction. It’s almost as if the makers decided to stretch every drop of their (astronomical) budget out of their footage. In between, even the melodrama begins to slow down – both literally and figuratively.

There are around three long-drawn Die Hard chase sequences. Each of them lasts an eternity, with three acts of their own, boring the viewer senseless with a skull-blasting orgy of sound and destruction.

Vir Das plays a Muslim ethical hacker from the country that must not be mentioned, and Sayyeshaa plays Shivaay’s head-nodding damsel from the Indian embassy. Hers is a bizarre character; at one point, in a stylish smoky bathtub, aroused by ‘criminal’ Shivaay’s fatherly dedication, she thinks of her own once-young dad (Girish Karnad).

Karnad, this wheelchair-clad father, serves as her comically out-of-place voice of reason, as if written by a man hastily ticking off boxes in the masala-movie excel document. The villain, who serves the same purpose as Tahir Raj Bhasin in Mardaani, looks like a malnourished Lance Armstrong. Not to mention the daughter, who is abnormally violent to poor Shivaay. Hard to feel sorry the brat was kidnapped. Her ‘pretty’ doll, too, is more of the horror-movie variety, begging to be decapitated.

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In short, it’s all very long. Very silly. Very futile. Very loud, much in the misguided spirit of Diwali. I can think of better things to do with three hours of my life. There will come a day when single-screen audiences wake up and retaliate for being used as an excuse by filmmakers. Or maybe not.

When Shivaay proves what a badass daredevil he is, I could hear the thud of a thousand pro-climbers and sherpas committing suicide. He renders their entire skill-set null and void.

They go to the movies to escape, and rightly so. Everyone needs a break from reality. Some of us prefer alternate reality on screen. Some prefer dreams and goofy fluff. But everyone deserves a better world than this to escape to – a kind of place that doesn’t disrespect their intelligence, a kind of language that doesn’t predetermine their sensibilities, a kind of grammar that doesn’t equate thinking with entertainment and accessibility. Shivaay personifies all that’s wrong with commercial cinema across the globe. And then some more.

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