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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Siraj Syed reviews Shivaay: She: Vaay? He: Vaay not?

Siraj Syed reviews Shivaay: She: Vaay? He: Vaay not?

Shivaay is a balanced film, in a convoluted kind of way. There is a germ of a story and there is major plagiarism of tracks from both Hollywood and Indian films. There is breath-taking action and there are pointless stunts. There is high proficiency acting and there is insult to talent. There is a small component of genuine humour and a large dose of unintentionally silly moments. There is organic unity in the screenplay when you match the beginning with the end and there is disunity for a large part in between. Finally, there is obeisance to Lord Shiva, and trivialisation of his legacy.

Shivaay is the story of an extraordinary man in an extra-ordinary circumstance. Young, cool, contemporary, swift and foolish, Shivaay (Ajay Devgn), is a Himalayan trek guide, apparently an orphan. When asked by a Bulgarian trekker Olga (Erika Kaar) why he spells his name like he does (Om Namah Shivay/Shivaay is a chant, in praise of Lord Shiva), instead of the conventional ‘Shiva’, he replies, “Why not?” A Hindi-speaking Indophile, she proceeds to inquire what traits of Lord Shiva does he possess, like the snake and the trishul (trident)? He proceeds to expose parts of his neck, chest arms and back, which bear large tattoos of these figures. He also smokes weed.

A snowstorm/landslide gets Shivaay into hi-action mode, rescuing all the members of the 20,000 ft expedition that he is escorting, while the two romantic hopefuls find themselves together in an encapsulated tent, and precariously perched between collapsing snow-peaks. Now if that will not break the ice between the macho super-human and the pretty as a picture Bulgarian, what will? Passions get heated, and on the day of her departure for her native country, she discovers she is pregnant. He asks her to stay back, she refuses. Incredibly, Olga gives in to his pleas to stay back till the baby is born, leave the baby with him and then go her way. So she stays back a full nine months.

Born mute, Gaura (Abigail Eames) can hear, and dotes on her father, as he does on her. Until one day, when she is about 8, she discovers that her mother is alive, and insists on seeing her. Armed only with a years-old address, Shivaay decides to locate Olga. All hell is going to break loose within a day of his arrival in Bulgaria, but Shivaay is the kind of ‘everyman’ who is capable of transforming into a ‘mean destroyer’ when he needs to protect his family.

References to Taken (Liam Neeson starrer, written by Luc Besson) are a given, but hardly any of my reviewer colleagues have found similarities with Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which are spread in ample measure. A deaf girl and the protagonist (here a devotee of Lord Hanuman/Bajrang) out to trace her family in hostile Pakistan. Cut to a deaf girl and the protagonist (a devotee of Lord Shiva) out to trace the girl’s mother in strange Bulgaria, among child traffickers. Ajay Devgn takes credit for the story, which is divided in two main parts: the picturesque locales and love child happenings in India, and the mayhem let loose in Bulgaria. The latter gets the meaty portion, mainly on account of endless car chases and bullet fests. One and two are linked rather tenuously.

Screenplay and dialogue are the work of Sandeep Shrivastava  (Ab Tak Chhappan, Kabul Express, New York) and Robin Bhatt (Aakrosh, Golmaal 3, Krrish 3, Great Grand Masti). No wonder the Kabir Khan-like emotions surface so often (Kabul Express and New York were directed by Kabir Khan, who also directed Bajrangi Bhaijaan; BB was not written by Shrivastava).

Too many narrative glitches and corny dialogue spoil the narrative. Shivaay leaps across some seven mountain peaks, and 2,000 ft of terrain, just to meet some army-men below, from whom he has to collect money for services rendered. Indian Embassy staffer Anushka (Sayyeshaa Saigal) and Pakistani ace hacker Wahab (Vir Das)’s characters are ill-defined, with confused and contrived motivations. Olga says to Shivaay that he won’t be able to raise a child. His answer, “I raised myself, didn’t I?” Later, a paralysed Girish Karnad (Anushka’s father) tries to raise himself from his wheel-chair in a futile attempt to open the door to Shivaay, since Anushka is reluctant. She chides him, and he retorts, “Somebody has to rise.” (Ha and Haa).

Director Ajay Devgn (U Me Aur Hum) gets too indulgent for his own good. Whether it is the cyclical car chases, the mountain free-fall effects, the one-man killing machine, the use of hand-cuffs and climbing gear/pick-axes as weapons of mass destruction, the spraying of a million bullets that miss their targets, the protracted pounding Shivaay takes, with a glare for every blow, before catapulting into the Shiva-blessed human, he is happy to let the camera roll on. No wonder, after numerous leaps in story, the film is still all of 172 minutes long. (Bajrangi Bhaijaan was around 160 min). Aseem Bajaj’s competent lensing of some stunning visuals and cart-wheeling carriages would have suffered, but editor Dharmendra Sharma needed sharper scissors and a free-hand to reduce the duration by at least 30 minutes.

Dedication and intensity ooze from every pore of actor Ajay Devgn’s body, and those eyes....! Had he been a trained combatant, the character would have jelled. On the other hand, had he been a mere mortal, he would be even more convincing. By making him an understated super-hero, who gains extra strength when push comes to shove or punch comes to sledge-hammer blow, the script takes away sympathy. Yes, you do have a dilemma here: how do you show a trek-guide performing those souped-up caristhenics and looped-up peakrobatics, without giving him divine blessings? If not, how does he take on the police-infiltrated international Russian mafia single-handed?

Erika Karkuszewska (billed as the more easy-on-the tongue ‘Kaar’) is a Polish television actress who studied at the Warsaw School of Economics and got a master's degree. Later, she studied acting and dance at The Warsaw Academy of Theatre. After a BBC TV series, she makes a stunning large-screen debut in Shivaay, mouthing her lines in Hindi with the barest of accents. Wasted in the second half of the film, she stays with you much after the show is over. Welcome to India, Erika, gratulacje. And here comes Abigail Eames (Lawless, Harry and Paul's of 2s, Doctor Who, The Interceptor, Alleycats). In foreign lands, with foreign crews, playing a mute, this 12 (now 13) year-old prodigy joins hand with Erika to rescue the film from its lulls. Hail Abigail! However spontaneous and full-of-beans she might be, part of the credit must go to Devgn.

Daughter of actor-duo Sumeet Saigal and Shaheen (niece of yesteryear heroine Saira Banu), 19 year-old Sayyeshaa (a name as numerologically constructed as Shivaay) Saigal is a trained dancer and made her acting debut in the Telugu movie Akhil--The Power of Jua, last year. Shivaay is an okayish Hindi debut. Vir Das (Badmaash Company, Delhi Belly, Shaadi Ke Side Effects) oscillates between a nerd and a geek. Saurabh Shukla as the Indian Ambassador is out of sorts. Trying to be funny, he asks Gaura what she give him if he reunites her with her mother. Gaura, who is mute but can hear, offers him a chocolate. At which, he quips, sardonically, that she is prone to giving bribes, like all Hindustanis (Indians). In an ironical twist, the word “Hindustani” has been muted by the Central Board of Film Certification. An Indian Ambassador calling Indians corrupt?

Girish Karnad either walked on to the wrong set or is losing his sense of judgement while accepting parts. Markus Ertelt (German TV actor) is cast as Sgt. Nikolai, the policeman who runs the ghoulish racket. He has little else to do, besides the climactic slugfest. Swen Raschka, another German, plays Ivanovich, the eliminator glued to video games on his mobile phone. Raschka worked on Don 2 (fight choreographer) and was the stunt double for ShahRukh Khan. (He spells ShahRukh as Chahrukh on his website). Bijou Thaangjam (born Thangjam Biju Singh, seen in Mary Kom) is a self-taught Manipuri actor who plays Kancha (which means ‘boy’ in Nepali), a friend of the hero, passably well.

Mithoon has composed the film's score and sound-track, while British band The Vamps and composer Jasleen Royal are also a part of the music team. Bolo Har Har Har, the title track (Har Har Mahadev is another chant associated with Shiva) is written by Sandeep Shrivastava and sung by Mithoon, Mohit Chauhan, Sukhwinder Singh, Badshah, Megha Sriram Dalton and Anugrah. It recurs frequently, often at unduly high volumes. ‘Darquhaast’ (meaning ‘request’ in Urdu, written by Sayeed Quadri), is tender and innocuous. Arijit Singh and Sunidhi Chauhan are the singers. Some background music bits are delectable, mainly the Western orchestra stuff. Just like in some sound effects, here too, the decibels test your auditory membranes.

In the end, all things considered, my rating of Shivaay is very much like the film: a cliff-hanger. Neither down nor up.

Rating: ** ½



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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