While interviewing Bejoy Nambiar, I asked him, “Why a film like Shaitan? Why not a love story or masala action fare for your first attempt at cinema?”, to which he replied, “Let me ask you, why not a movie like Shaitan? Because this is what I strongly feel I as a person would love to see in the cinema halls when I go to watch a film.” This very statement of his shot my curiosity level to watch this film way up there, right in the upper rungs, reserved mainly for a Mani Ratnam, Anurag Kashyap or Aamir Khan film, which is where this film qualifies, being a Kashyap production, but instead helmed by a Ratnam protégé.
Now let me get back to the type of films made in cinema in today’s times. There are films that are character-centric, and which may or may not have a story, and mostly focus on the journey of each character. And then there are story-centric films, which mostly focuses on a track, without paying much attention to the character development in the course of the film’s narrative, thus either making the characters decent enough to watch, or maybe not. And then there are films that are a beautiful merger of the character-centric and story-centric, thus paying explicit detail to each and every part of the film, thereby making it a fulfilling cinematic experience. Each character has his or her own backstory, emotions, nuances, vices, virtues, vulnerabilities and inner demons, but despite the zany lifestyles forming a part of the sub-plots in the film, the story remains of central focus.
Set in modern Mumbai (named after the goddess Mumbadevi, who, according to one of the main protagonists, Amrita “Amy” Jaishankar, looks “so pretty”), the movie talks about the lives of seven people – Amy (Kalki Koechlin), with a traumatic childhood, Dushyant “Dash” Sahu (Shiv Pandit) who has a penchant for drugs and bigger penchant for living life on the edge, Zubin (Neil Bhoopalam), a tech geek with issues of sexual frustration, Tanya Sharma (Kirti Kulhari), a disturbed and irritated woman who’s trying to find her own individual voice in the midst of all the noise in her personal life, and Karan “KC” Chaudhary (Gulshan Devaiah), who lives in the moment, and doesn’t have any control over his emotions, be it sex or anger, Inspector Arvind Mathur (Rajeev Khandelwal), whose tumultuous personal life has driven him to suspension due to anger management issues, and police officer Malwankar (Raj Kumar Yadav), who is torn between his duty and the temptation of money – and their journey down the road of no rules, where one incident changes everyone’s lives, putting everyone of them in a wild, wild frenzy to get back to safer shores, by hook or by crook.
From its very core you can see that Nambiar has worked very hard on each aspect of the movie’s concept and characters. Right from Amy’s intensely written and researched on character to Malwankar’s vulnerable side to Mathur’s angry side, to Dash’s venomous inner demon he keeps as pet, you get so absorbed in the storyline so much so that it’s difficult for you not to feel any of the inner emotions each character’s mind is swirling through. Each character has been paid equal attention onto, so that none of them give you any sort of question mark in your head for any moment in the film where the character reacts in a certain way. It’s in their nuances, in their habits, their swagger. And you just cannot complain with their highly erratic behavior they’ve got seeped inside of them like salt in saltwater. The movie is, in its soul, an international film, with each emotion acting like an intense Nolan scene, each frame reaching up there to David Fincher’s standards, and each part of the character’s psychedelia overdrive bringing out the Tarantino in Nambiar. On its own vague surface it acts out a thriller, but deep inside, you know the movie’s not just that, and classifying it’s genre as thriller will be an outright insult to the film, which is more about the deranged demon inside everyone: you, me, the person sitting beside you in the cinema hall you’re in, the person you might be talking to – anyone. And you can relate to the howsoever-delinquent stuff they do; drugs, sex, theft and robbery, bunking classes, and the fast life; no holds barred.