Agencies: Shivaay is a man of the mountains, fully alive only in their icy reaches. Then one day, love strikes, and everything changes. Ajay Devgn’s second directorial outing, in which he plays the In and As eponymous hero, sweeps us up on to craggy cliffs and down into deep crevasses, both in the Himalayas and in Bulgaria, and then leaves us high and dry.
Well-made, this could have been a cross-continental film about filial love and romantic betrayal, but ‘Shivaay’ is a monumental near-three hour long drag, giving you too much empty time to wonder just how much lower it can sink, and the next thing you know, it slips a few more notches.
Devgn has played father to a little girl before, and done a serviceable job of it ( ‘Main Aisa Hi Hoon’). He is, in fact, quite good around kids generally (‘Raju Chacha’). His first film as director tried exploring the thorny path those afflicted with Alzheimer’s have to tread: it may not have been all the way successful, but it was a brave choice of subject. And he is one star who’s never been afraid of underplaying, because that’s how real actors roll.
Here he abandons all actorly pretences and dons a dull superhero garb. He shares screen time with his speech impaired eight-year-old daughter (Abigail Eames) as he travels from a little hill town in India to Bulgaria in search of a woman (Erika Kaar) who abandoned them both. A clunky sub-plot involving violent child traffickers wearing creepy masks and a creepier old man come in the way, but Devgn is invincible and will brook no resistance.
And that’s where the problem lies. Devgn employs all his too-familiar tricks (slo-mo walk, slit eyes, scything arms and legs) from his one man army south remakes, and makes us forget that he is trying for a character. All we see is a grim, unsmiling visage, with no hint of the vulnerability or humour that he has been capable of in his best parts. He may be kitted out as Shivaay but he is still in ‘Singham’ mode.
When Devgn steps off the screen, which is not for too long, on come a bunch of clueless people: an unintentionally hilarious `ethical hacker’ (Vir Das, having the most fun in the film), a corpulent diplomat who delivers lectures on the virtues of being a Bihari (Saurabh Shukla), a middle-aged man in a wheelchair (Girish Karnad, not quite sure what he is meant to do), and a pretty girl (Sayyeshaa Saigal) whose sole job description is to look upon the hero in wide-eyed adoration, when not thinking deeply in a bath-tub.