For the second time in as many weeks, I’ll invoke the parent in you – and this time, it’s because director Ajay Devgn – venturing behind the camera for the second time – doesn’t give you any choice. For, Shivaay is all about a single parent and his daughter, and the former’s travails (a mild way of putting it, considering what he goes through) when their life’s disrupted rather rudely and violently. If you’re nodding Taken, you won’t be far from the cinematic truth – and I mean the first part only; the sequel, Taken 2, was like a faded déjà vu gone awry; and Taken 3 seemed like an extension of your dreaded chapter in Biology. But Shivaay’s mirror-path to the first part ends there.
Where the said English movie was a clipping exercise in loping a thriller with the precision of an assassin’s bullet using Liam Neeson’s considerable skills in playing an efficient killing machine, Shivaay tries to straddle the action and the emotional paths. Which isn’t a bad thing as a concept. For, nothing can quite grip your inner fear as much as the thought of imagining your offspring in danger. But before that, you must have a bridge of emotional empathy with the father-daughter pair of Shivaay (Ajay Devgn) and eight-year old Gaura (Abigail Eames), and this is ostensibly why writers Sandeep Srivastava and Robin Bhatt, with director Devgn spend some time leisurely telling you exactly how Gaura’s the love child of Shivaay and Olga (Erika Kaar). At first, their romantic story seems quite gooey and lovable, but as time passes (or doesn’t, depending on your romantic patience scale), you do wish they’d get it over with. But, just hang in there. For, beyond the ludicrous raison d’être for Shivaay – that gets long-winded and you almost lose your wind – is a superb first-half, waiting to suck you in with some unforgettable action sequences.
So, pop your corn and chew on your samosas as Gaura discovers her mother, Olga, is alive, and that her father, Shivaay, has lied about her mother and her existence in another part of the world. With some tantrums and well -aimed punches to her father’s gut, Gaura finds herself on a flight with her dad to meet her mother. And what happens next is worth the price of your movie ticket, with the duo landing in Sofia, Bulgaria, and pretty soon, Gaura kidnapped from a decadent roadside café. (One of the biggest reasons I’d want to settle in a place like Sofia – not to experience the horror of getting kidnapped – that wouldn’t look very bright on my LinkedIn profile – but to enjoy the quaint cafés.) And then, Ajay Devgn executes what is possibly one of the finest chase sequences I’ve ever seen in Indian cinema. Running over ten minutes through the streets of Sofia, this is one the highlights of the movie. Gasp and watch in awe as cinematographer Aseem Bajaj and the director along with the action director of photography, Axel Fischer crash cars, bounce bodies, and actor Devgn performs a spine-chilling jump off of a cab onto the van carrying his kidnapped daughter. There’s more thrills in this sequence, and it’s truly worth a watch.
There’s another sequence, and that’s when Shivaay escapes from the police vehicle (hoy sala, that happens there too, you wonder) – that is another mind-bogglingly shot and enacted action set. Post-interval, Shivaay escalates his efforts to find Gaura – there’s the 72-hour theory in kidnapping, akin to the five-second timer in dropping food to the floor and then eating it. Here, he’s joined by the Indian embassy officer Anushka (Sayesha Saigal) who’s convinced by her father (Girish Karnad) to help him; and an ethical hacker, Wahab (Vir Das), who’s smitten by Anushka and insists on mouthing words such as mohatarma, janaab, leading you to believe that if it wasn’t for Shivaay’s deadline, he’d much rather be writing lyrics for ghazals. So far, so good.
Shivaay ought to have ended with the wallop of the climactic fight that’s shot stunningly in snow-capped heights and ends with a precipitous fall that’s sure to take your breath away. Unfortunately, director Devgn insists on an emotional closure that leaves you fidgeting and wondering about Shivaay’s patience with Gaura and Olga.
Of the cast, Abigail Eames as Gaura is pretty good – especially when she’s traumatized and scared. Erika Kaar is effective, especially when you consider some of the soppy choices her character’s made to take in the movie. Saurabh Shukla is pretty much a good-gawd affair; Vir Das has a ball, absolutely enjoying his hacking scenes. Sayesha Saigal is also very good, with a firm screen presence. Girish Karnad has nothing much to do, except look forlorn and display a where-has-my-daughter-hidden-my-whisky demeanor – and so would you, if you had some tasteless soup for company.
However, Shivaay is Ajay Devgn’s vehicle, and he does an absolutely marvelous job. As a parent who’s forever looking out for his daughter, Devgn’s act is bold and matured without being brassy. Note the scene where, from out in the garden, he realizes that Gaura’s read a letter from her supposedly dead mother – his eyes and expression drop in a guilty look of panic and uncertainty. Or, in the scene where, after discovering that Ola’s pregnant, they reach home and she remains seated in the vehicle; when he loses it and shouts at her to get inside, he startles the cinema hall – you almost get up to obey him. And as usual, he sparkles in the action scenes, giving them a gritty punch as only he can – note how he uses the open handcuff as a lethal weapon – and that’s cause for a good, sharp hoot and whistle. Mithoon’s music score is pretty okay, though it’d have been nice if he’d let his electronic baton rest a while and allowed the drama and thrills to seep in on their own.
Shivaay has its moments and those are truly spectacular. With a seemingly juju-filled cinematography and those action sets, it could have been an edge-of-the-seat heart-stopper. Where it falters is in its focus on the melodrama and tears that drag the movie to a length that crosses the editor’s rubicon of smarts. But, your parental anxiety still hits a new high when Ajay Devgn opens up body bags to locate his daughter – he’s so good in that scene, you feel the bile rise as he does, and that is gut-retchingly high anxiety, even if it’s an extended, lengthy version.
Director Ajay Devgn Running Time 2h 49 min
Writers Sandeep Srivastava, Robin Bhatt
Stars Ajay Devgn, Vir Das, Sayesha Saigal, Erika Kaar, Abigail Eames
Genres Action, Adventure, Drama
Watch the trailer of Shivaay here: