THERE ARE a few sizeable moments in Shivaay before interval when the film soars to the thrilling heights of a big commercial blockbuster. These moments belong to the kinetic, death-defying, vroom-vroom chases on the streets of Bulgaria that ensue the moment Shivaay (Ajay Devgan) spots his little daughter being kidnapped by evil goras.
These men, wearing creepy clay masks, intend to either push his eight-year-old Gaura (Abigail Eames) into prostitution or cut her up and sell her organs. Scary prospects, both.
These chases, where papa Shivaay, desperate and mighty angry, involve all kinds of stunts — from multiple car crashes to lunging from one moving object to another, from jumping out of a truck that’s hurtling down a high bridge, to being dragged for a long time on a highway. And they are all conducted, acted and captured with the finesse and love for grandiosity we usually associate with Hollywood films.
These moments are what make Shivaay worth a watch and that, in no small measure, is what the power of an action star like Ajay Devgn is all about.
WHAT, ACCORDING to you, makes a star?
There are the usual trappings, of course: the way the camera, films mythologise some actors, the roles they are repeatedly given, etc, etc.
But take Irrfan Khan, for example. Undoubtedly a great actor. But let some goons snatch his little daughter and drive away.
What does that moment bring to your head?
I foresee a hassled man running from police station to police station, engaging us in an aam aadmi’s depressing, desperate pursuit for justice. Moving and meaningful.
Now, let’s say, as is the case here, Ajay Devgn’s daughter is sitting at an open air restaurant, busy filling in colour with crayons, when a big, black van pulls up and drags her in. Just as it’s driving away, Devgn spots them.
What does this moment bring?
It brings excitement, anticipation. It’s the moment when, in your gut, you feel thrill and are ready for an epic battle between good and evil. Meaningless but engaging.
Stars can project big, primal emotions and convey the core of their character with clarity without a word being uttered. And because they can do this repeatedly, we keep returning to be treated to that moment again and again, when we straighten up in our seat excitedly, thinking, ab shuru hui hai film.
That’s what makes a star. And those are the moments commercial cinema is made of. Same is the case with Shivaay.
Alas, in a film that’s almost three hours long, the soaring, thrilling moments are too few and far between.
AJAY DEVGN’S Shivaay plays out in flashback. The story, chronologically, begins in the Himalayas.
He, Shivaay, is conducting a trek, while she, Olga (Erika Kaar), is getting besotted by this man who smokes a chillum.
Olga is a hottie and Shivaay has the hots for her.
And the Himalayas, smelling their horny hormones, connive to give them some privacy for carnal activity.
An avalanche, after establishing Shivaay’s daredevilry, isolates them from others. There’s lusty snogging and romantic making-out in a little tent that hangs precariously in a setting that’s majestic and mythical.
The romance continues overground and soon she’s preggers. But Olga, who has a life and a family in Bulgaria, doesn’t want the child. But he does. So he insists, persists, even trying the old “tumhare andar ki maa” nonsense.
Feminist, free Olga relents, but only on humanitarian grounds. She’s clear that she’ll leave the moment the gynaecologist takes off her coat.
Years pass and Gaura, who looks like her mother (thank god!), grows up climbing mountains and generally being a spoilt brat. Like her cute predecessor Munni from Bajrangi Bhaijaan, she can’t speak. But she can hear.
Shivaay dotes on her and so, when she reads a letter written by her mother and throws her first really annoying fit, they are off to Bulgaria to look for mummy.
Almost immediately upon landing, Shivaay sees something disturbing that involves a child and intervenes, thus irritating Bulgaria’s underbelly that thrives on child prostitution.
They pay him back in kind.
Shivaay finds that apart from the Russian mafia, the Bulgarian police is also after him. And that the Indian embassy people — a jovial ambassador who spoke of gandharv vivaah and apsara, and minion Anushka (Sayyeshaa) — are useless.
Finding his daughter seems too daunting a task in an alien land, but nothing that years of working with Rohit Shetty can’t resolve.
We spend long stretches of time watching a creepy man listen to opera, or Anushka and her invalid daddy debating the powers of the daddy-daughter relationship before the never-ending pursuit of the bad guys settles on Changez, the real kingpin, and the myth of Shiv finally rears its head for stunning annihilation of the evil one. This scene is the film’s legit climax. And yet the film goes on, to subject us to Anushka’s weepy lecture on Electra complex — how all Indian girls look for their daddies in the men they marry — and yet another tantrum by Gaura.
ACTOR AJAY DEVGN does big, primal emotions well. Small and subtle not so much. He thinks looking morose covers all things small.
The same is the case with his direction.
When Shivaay is in action mode, the film is fun and fabulous. When it’s in personal, emotional situations, it’s too infantile and idiotic.
That’s one reason why Shivaay needed to be shorter and pacy. And if it was going to be the length that it is, then the screenplay needed more drama, twists and tension.
Since that’s not the case, we suffer long periods of nothingness with dull Anushka, her daddy, or her hacker pal (Vir Das), till the next action sequence. And then it dips to dreary lows, and then soars for a bit…
Another issue I have with Shivaay is that the myth of Shiv that Ajay Devgn’s character promises conjures up more drama in our head than on screen.
The Shiv connect is at best nebulous. Apart from giving the hero an icy abode, a chillum, and making him frisky with ladies after some intended innuendo talk, it amounts to little.
Fact is, even if Ajay Devgn were playing Bittu from Bulandshahar, he would have done the same smashing of skulls. No difference.
I was looking forward to basking in the joy of the silly, big budget film with the inevitable, grand climax. But I didn’t get that. Neither did I get the internal rage and destruction I had expected. Choreographed car stunts can’t make up for the dance of destruction.
Sayyeshaa and Vir Das render their badly written parts with idiot acting, but the little one, though very spoilt, holds her expression for long shots and is good.