‘Shaitaan’: Grips with a Sinister Atmosphere and Stellar Performances

By Dhaval Roy

Story: When a family lets a stranger into their farmhouse, the man mysteriously controls the teenage daughter. She does every bizarre and life-threatening thing he commands her to. What dark secret does the stranger possess, and can this desperate family escape his twisted game?

Review: A good supernatural thriller typically relies on elements of horror and suspense to keep the viewer hooked. Even if it skimps on jump scares but provides an unsettling experience, it’s a job well done. In that sense, director Vikas Bahl has got it right with Shaitaan.

The movie introduces one to Kabir’s (Ajay Devgn) happy family, which includes his wife Jyoti (Jyotika), teenage daughter Jahnavi (Janki Bodiwala), and nerdy son Dhruv (Anngad Raaj). The film quickly builds a sense of unease, as a stranger, Vanraj Kashyap (R Madhavan), enters their lives. He mysteriously gains complete control of Jahnavi, so much so that she obeys every command he gives. Unease soon turns to dread as Vanraj’s orders become increasingly awful and dangerous to Jahnavi herself and her family members. The rest of the story unravels the mystery behind what makes Vanraj powerful, his motive, and if the family will escape his torment.

Shaitaan’s appeal lies in the atmosphere it creates, especially without the use of CGI. It mostly hinges on the antagonist’s sinister intentions and games, which leave you with an unsettling feeling. Written by Aamir Keeyan Khan and Krishnadev Yagnik, the film sidesteps usual horror tropes. But it does touch upon the ageold supernatural versus science debate and human crudity that makes the species as basic as malevolent forces.

The narrative maintains a good pace and the treatment makes the movie gripping for the most part, although things gets a tad monotonous in the second half. Albeit not too suspenseful, the buildup is unnerving. The story has some unconvincing elements, and one scene gives away a pivotal plot point, which makes the climax predictable. Cinematographer Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti excels in creating an atmosphere of dread and darkness, further enhanced by Amit Trivedi’s music.

Madhavan is outstanding as the malevolent figure and pulls off every sinister deed perfectly. Ajay Devgn delivers a powerful performance as a helpless but determined father. Jyotika stands her might, too. Janki Bodiwala deserves to be lauded for her pitch-perfect performance as the young girl under a devious spell. She laughs, cries, dances, and attacks on cue in immediate succession perfectly. Anngad Raaj as the son performs well, too.

Even though Shaitaan’s narrative stumbles at times, the masterful use of atmosphere and top-notch acting elevate it into an unsettling experience worth having. — Times of India