1 Star (out of 4)
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As producer, director, and star of Shivaay, Ajay Devgn had the freedom to create exactly the film he wanted. Such a concentration of power meant there was no one to tell him when he was headed in the wrong direction. As a result, Devgn’s second directorial venture is dense and slow, with an undercurrent of hostility toward women.
Shivaay‘s titular hero is another rendition of the human instrument of divine justice Devgn regularly plays. The character’s slightly superhuman qualities are displayed in an early song sequence, with Shivaay speedily descending a mountain while lyrics proclaim that “Shiva is in all of us.” Godlike, Shivaay tells some soldiers he rescued, “I will be here whenever I am needed.”
Unlike Devgn’s iconic character — police officer Bajirao Singham, from the Singham films — Shivaay isn’t beholden to the rules of any professional organization. He defines his own morality, which conveniently allows him to destroy much of Bulgaria in his quest to free his daughter from child traffickers.
His daughter, Gaura (British child actor Abigail Eames), is the product of an affair between Shivaay and Olga (Polish actress Erika Kaar), a Bulgarian woman studying in India. They fall in love on one of Shivaay’s Himalayan treks, for which Olga inexplicably packs short-shorts and tank tops. He saves her from an avalanche, establishing a precedent for Shivaay to rescue dozens of other women in distress before the closing credits roll.
The sequence that accompanies the song “Darkhaast” had the potential to be an interesting take on traditional romantic numbers. Shivaay and Olga make love in a precariously positioned tent as they await rescue after the avalanche. Olga is frightened as the tent falls to a ledge below, but the song continues, as do Shivaay’s romantic overtures, assured as he is of their divine protection. The problem is that Olga has a broken leg. Ain’t no way she gonna be rollin’ about and climbing on him with a broken leg!
Olga convalesces at Shivaay’s house, reminding him that she has to return to Bulgaria soon because her mother and sister depend on her financially. When Olga accidentally gets pregnant, Shivaay ignores her pleas not to be forced to carry a child she doesn’t want and can’t afford to care for. “Please give me this child…and you go,” he tells her. She caves to his emotional blackmail and births Gaura, but returns to Bulgaria without so much as looking at her daughter. Gaura grows up, inheriting her mother’s fair complexion and her father’s love for mountain climbing.
Casting Eames is a mistake for a couple of reasons. In order to work around Eames’ British accent and presumable inability to speak Hindi, Gaura is mute. Gaura is also supposed to be eight years old, yet Eames was twelve when Shivaay was filmed and looks very much her age. The miscasting is particularly distracting when Gaura throws violent tantrums that would be considered immature enough for an actual eight-year-old, much less a tween.
Gaura finds evidence that her mother is not dead — as she’d been told — and she demands to meet Olga. Father and daughter travel to Bulgaria and immediately stumble upon a child trafficking ring. Shivaay liberates a little boy and exposes the criminals, who kidnap Gaura in retaliation. By this point, there’s been an avalanche, a love affair, childhood montages, and an international trip, and the movie is barely an hour into its two-and-a-half hour runtime.
The quest to rescue Gaura triggers several chase sequences that would be more exciting if they were half as long. Also, with Devgn in charge of everything, perhaps no one felt comfortable addressing his rigid, sluggish running form. Many members of the audience at my showing headed to the restroom or concession stand during the action sequences, which is a worse condemnation than anything I can write.
Years spent raising Gaura haven’t tempered Shivaay’s anger at Olga, and he unleashes a torrent of abuse at her when she comes forward to help find Gaura. Nevermind that Shivaay didn’t even try to contact Olga before heading to Bulgaria, which would’ve avoided this whole problem in the first place, yet again placing his own desires before hers.
Shivaay’s hostility toward Olga is part of a weird undercurrent in the film that seems to question women’s ability to love children. Note the absence of mothers from the movie. Shivaay himself grew up without a mother, as did Gaura. When Shivaay frees another woman from forced prostitution, she doesn’t mention her mom, only wondering why her father didn’t come to save her.
Then there’s Anu (Sayesha Saigal), an Indian embassy worker who lives with her elderly father (she’s motherless, too, apparently). When Anu tells Shivaay to stop acting like a criminal, he takes her hostage, all the while questioning her patriotism for daring to tell an Indian man what he can’t do. Anu’s father sides with Shivaay, explaining that he simply did what any father would do to save his child, and that Anu can’t possibly understand. By that logic, doesn’t that then obligate Anu’s dad to attack Shivaay for trying to harm Anu?
All the hostility toward women, combined with bad pacing and monotonous action scenes, make Shivaay a slog. The most amusing moment in the film is when a hacker played by Vir Das yells, “I’m being double hacked!” But that line’s not actually supposed to be funny. Give Shivaay a miss.