Ajay Devgn has given himself the perfect gift for the Diwali season – a movie in which he stars as a human avatar of the god Shiva, an action hero who can slide down treacherous mountain slopes without a scratch, a fierce father who single-handedly takes down a trafficking ring in faraway Bulgaria that has kidnapped his daughter, and a female magnet.
To ensure that there are no obstacles to the mythologising, the aptly titled Shivaay has also been directed and produced by the actor and packed with new faces. The female leads are first-time Polish actress Erika Kaar and newcomer Sayyeshaa. Girish Karnad, Vir Das and Saurabh Shukla have small roles that are designed to ensure that the attention never wavers from our smouldering ubermensch.
Shivaay (Devgn) is an ace mountaineer who treats the slopes of Uttarakhand as mortals would an anthill. Shivaay’s dexterity at shimmying up and down the slopes attracts the attention of Bulgarian hiker Olga (Kaar). An avalanche lands them both in a tent suspended above a sheer drop, and rather than scrambling for help like a good mountaineer would, Shivaay uses the opportunity to consummate his relationship with Olga. Her leg has been broken by the avalanche – a minor hindrance when it comes to the more urgent business at hand.
The result of the sexual union is a beautiful mute daughter Gaura (Abigail Eames), who stays with Shivaay in India after Olga returns home. The doting father takes Gaura to Bulgaria to be reunited with her mother after she turns eight, and runs smack into a Russian trafficking ring that harvests organs and sells girls to prostitution rings.
So far, so Taken: the Bulgaria portions are derivative of American action films set in European capitals, especially the Liam Neeson hit, but at the least, they prove that Hollywood is not the only film industry in the world that can stage car chases, gunbattles and reckless action sequences in which a lone man reduces his adversaries to pulp.
Ever so often, the frequently violent movie takes a break to regard Devgn’s weathered face – close-ups of his bloodshot eyes also abound – and celebrate his boundless magnetism, expressed in such plain terms as “He’s so hot and sexy!”, “If you are Shivaay, you don’t need to be anybody else”, “You have a way with the fair sex” and “He is a human form of Shiva.”
One shot depicts our hero as Rodin’s thinker, lost in contemplation against an icy backdrop of the mountains from which he emerged and where he will wage the final climactic battle against the Russian head trafficker, Changez (German actor Markus Ertelt).
Not surprisingly, the adult female characters get short shrift. There's barely enough heat between Devgn and Kaar to melt the snow, while Anushka (Sayesha), an employee of the Indian Embassy who develops feelings for Shivaay, is left hanging around only so that she can bear witness to Shivaay’s awesome ability to break the ribs of assorted Bulgarians.
The best female in the cast is the girl in whose name Shivaay opens his mythical third eye. Abigail Eames, an American child actor, is marvellously expressive and the best directed in the cast. Since her character is speech-impaired, she is wisely spared the trouble of affecting a Hindi accent like Erika Kaar, and her subtle reactions and expressions are in stark contrast to Devgn’s grimaces. Since Shivaay is not only an action hero but also the world’s best father, there are plenty of occasions for Devgn to act out, and he doesn’t miss a single one.
Action, romance, emotion, and even smatterings of comedy: Shivaay works hard to justify its 172-minute duration. There’s a decent Hollywood-style lone-wolf- on-the-prowl action thriller hidden inside this long feature, but it is sacrificed to Devgn’s indulgence. The sentimental scenes stretch on, and Sandeep Srivastava’s screenplay and dialogue do not produce enough punchy lines or memorable scenes to scale the desired peaks. The action is nasty and efficiently choreographed, but Shivaay does not have the power of Taken, which never wavers from its blunt tagline, “They took his daughter. He'll take their lives.”