Shaitan is the upgraded version of Anurag Kashyap?s debut film Paanch, which was banned in 2001 because the Censor Board deemed it too dark and destructive to the country?s moral fiber.
Paanch was about a group of hard-drinking, pot-smoking wannabe rockstars who attempt to make money by pretending to kidnap the richest kid among them. But the plan goes horrifically wrong and violence begets more violence until you reach a point where bodies are being chopped like wood and carried out in plastic bags.
The film started with a note that said: This film serves as a psychological revelation and a warning to the society in which urban ambitions and estrangement are ever on the rise.
In Shaitan, that estrangement is complete. The friends in this film come from wealthy but dysfunctional homes. The drug of choice is now cocaine and instead of banging drums, they speed through the streets of Mumbai in an expensive Hummer. The good times however don?t last. When they get into a mess, they try and raise money by pretending to kidnap their new buddy Amy, played by Kalki Koechlin.
As in Paanch, violence begets more violence and everything that can go wrong, does.
Debutant director Bejoy Nambiar has an impressive grip on the material and his relatively unknown cast. Like a composer conducting an orchestra, he expertly builds up the tension. There are some terrific sequences, including a car accident and an action sequence cut to the beat of a remixed Khoya Khoya Chand.
The film?s sound-track, which lists five composers including Ranjit Barot and Amar Mohile and a metal band, is superb.
Strangely however, Nambiar doesn?t allow us to emotionally invest in his characters ? just when you are in their grip, he throws you out with a too-clever-by-half flashback within flashback story.
The performances, especially by Neil Bhoopalam as Zubin, Gulshan Devaiya as Karan and Shiv Pandit as Dash, are strong. But their characters aren?t consistently gripping. As they go about their nasty business, you begin to wonder: why exactly am I spending this much time with these purposefully unhinged people? None match the manic charisma of Kay Kay Menon?s feral Luke in Paanch.
For me, the lynchpin of the entire exercise is Rajeev Khandelwal, who plays Inspector Mathur, a cop on permanent boil. His anger and fatigue is palpable. But Nambiar and co-writer Megha Ramaswamy aren?t able to fully integrate the many strands of the screenplay.
Slowly but surely Shaitan loses steam, becomes repetitive and ends in a whimper. Which is a shame because Nambiar has talent to burn. I?m going with three stars.