'Shaitan' isn't a comfortable film to watch. Yes, there is humour, a lot of it actually, especially in the first half. However you know that somewhere down there in a dark corner, there is danger lurking around. There may be laughs here and there but this is certainly no Riverdale. This isn't an extreme dark alley in a slum either. It is an upmarket setting but just like it happens in a Ram Gopal Varma film where a cosy surrounding could suddenly lead to a bloody setting, the same is pretty much the case in 'Shaitan' as well where it takes just one incident to turn around the mood of the film, and in the process bring out the 'shaitan' in you.
At the face value, the storyline of 'Shaitan' is pretty simple. Five youngsters - Kalki Koechlin, Gulshan Devaiya, Neil Bhoopalam, Shiv Pandit and Kirti Kulhari, are living the kind of life which is made of booze, drugs, love and sex with no place for 'dhokha'. Though there are no 'janmon-nama ki kasam' between any of them, a mutual understanding is for all to stick together in thick and thin. Well, until an accident changes it all. In their heart they want to be together but their mind plays around 'shaitani' games that ends up challenges their resolve for good.
This is apparent in the very opening sequence of the film where all characters are introduced as the opening credits start rolling. Watch it for it's pace, shot taking and an overall cutting edge appeal. This isn't where the fun ends. Watch out for the extended sequence where all youngsters get into a road rage and the incident that follows next. The entire Raj Kumar Gupta (playing a junior cop) episode is well laid out too while the series of events that convert an accident (followed by a kidnapping episode) into a high profile case is narrated extremely well as well.
The second half is good as well but misses the crispness of the narrative in the first half. The film starts taking the route of a slasher thriller where you know that one after another, most of the characters would be dumped. The 'Kaante' hangover looms large as well where you know that difficult situations would lead to protagonists ending up betraying each other.
Not that the film is bereft of any striking moments in this half. The pre-climax and climax are well laid out as well where Pawan Malhotra (playing a Police Commissioner and natural to the core) has a couple of 'true' conversations with cop Rajeev Khandelwal (who is asked to solve the kidnapping case) explaining the dilemma of the department. However the entire episode involving Rajeev and his wife is completely unwarranted. Yes, their scene in the Court does bring on some laughter but in the bigger scheme of things, the relationship here was best left on the editing table.
What works as a superb ally is music with 'The Sound Of Shaitan', 'Josh', 'O Yaara' and 'Fareeda' accentuating the narrative further. Amongst actors, the ones who stand out are Kalki and Gulshan. Rest assured, they would be seen in many more films from here. Shiv is just okay in a role where he could have done wonders. Neil is good though he was better in 'No One Killed Jessica'. Kirti shows vast improvement over her 'Khichdi - The Movie' debut. Rajeev deserved a few more meaty scenes to justify his presence. Rajat Barmecha (of 'Udaan' fame) is 'oh-so-loveable' in a cameo and shows what he is made of.
To think of it, the basic plot isn't the most innovative of all. In a different shape, format and plot with a similar conflict, films like 'Kaante', 'Plan', 'Agyaat' and at least half a dozen more films in recent times have followed the same thread. The kind where friends are together to begin with but are willing to opt out if it makes for a better life ahead. This is where first time director Bijoy Nambiar comes into picture. He creates the kind of atmosphere that lends a unique feel to 'Shaitan'. He makes good use of the technology made available to him and ensures that coupled with an innovative story telling technique, he has a winner in hands.