Director: Rohit Dhawan
Writers: Rohit Dhawan (screenplay), Trivikram Srinivas (story)
Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Kriti Sanon, Paresh Rawal, Ronit Bose Roy, Manisha Koirala, Sachin Khedekar and others
This is not a spoiler-free review, but then there is no way anyone can further spoil this movie for you. The director has taken care of that already. Shehzada is a remake of Allu Arjun’s 2020 Telugu movie, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. It hardly changes anything from the original except chopping off one of its most interesting scenes.
A middle-class clerk of a millionaire, Valmiki (Paresh Rawal), swaps his son with his employer, Randeep Nanda’s (Ronit Bose Roy), at birth in order to give him a better life. But more so to exact revenge on a man who had started his career with him at his level but has gone on to marry a millionaire industrialist, Aditya Jindal’s (Sachin Khedekar) daughter and become a partner in his empire (this bit might remind one of Monica, O My Darling). Bachcha Badlu Valmiki names the child he takes home, Bantu (Kartik Aaryan). Now, apparently, Bantu in Telugu translates to ‘a servant; a pawn at chess’, and hence the naamkaran might have worked in the original, but in the Hindi remake, it translates to nothing—a classic case of lost in translation (that’s not the only thing lost in this translation, but I digress). The Jindal scion is named Raj (Ankur Rathee), because…raja beta raj karega duh!
Bantu goes through severe emotional abuse at the hands of Valmiki but turns out to be a chirpy young lad with a toothy grin perennially pasted on his face (maybe that is his coping mechanism…or just a default setting, he smiles even when he is sleeping). Meanwhile, Raj is a pampered, good-for-nothing rich kid. But he is not a brat. Instead, he drives to his dining table on a toy car, dances like a bird on his sprawling lawn, and drinks chocolate milkshakes.
One fine day, the truth of this child swapping is revealed to Bantu. He realises that he is the real shehzada of the Jindal empire. He promptly schemes his way into the Jindal mansion, not to claim hissa in the property but to solve his ‘real’ family’s problems (this part of the story might remind you of another Raj, that of DDLJ and his efforts to win the hearts of Simran’s family members, or of the old Hrishikesh Mukherjee film Bawarchi). But Bantu of course gets a heroine to romance. Samara (Kriti Sanon) is a successful lawyer but the only claim to fame the writers allow her is her long legs. Sanon looks gorgeous (that’s the sole purpose of the character in this movie) and has a crackling chemistry with Kartik but her stint in the movie is shorter than her short skirts. There is also a menacing villain (how else will Shehzada become a hero?) Sarang, played by Sunny Hinduja who tries hard to ape a Joaquin Phoenix vibe. He is after Jindal industries because it has revoked his contract to transport his soft toys after it was found that he was trafficking drugs through those (What the police and the legal system are doing to stop him? Why he can’t find another collaborator who is more willing to be his partner in crime? Why Sarang walking with an ugly umbrella never raises any suspicion? Logic has left the building; rather, it never entered this one).
Kartik Aaryan, the current shehzada of Bollywood, is let down miserably by the director here. His toothy grin is so overused that after a point you feel like shaking him vigorously to relieve him from that default expression. But, Aaryan isn’t bad in the movie. He is sincere and his conviction shows. But when you are doing a remake of a movie that sold solely on the swag of its hero (Allu Arjun), you have big shoes to fill. It doesn’t help when your director chooses to depend only on slow-motion shots without exploring the actor’s potential, to recreate that swag. The way he shoots Kartik does little to project the actor as a superstar, something that was crucial to this character. He is given his trademark monologue but again, the writing has no punch and hence it fails to create an impact.
Paresh Rawal as Valmiki does his bit but there is no spark in his performance. Sachin Khedekar as Aditya Jindal is better than his Radhe Shyam act. Manisha Koirala as Yashoda Nanda does her bit, you can’t fault her acting but she needed a better script to shine. Kriti Sanon is treated almost like a pretty piece of furniture, something heroines in the ’90s would have no qualm playing, but in 2023, and post a movie like Mimi, this is shameful. Rakesh Bedi is cute, especially in his first scene. Ankur Rathee as Raj Nanda does his job well but the character is set in the mould of the ’90s stereotype of a pansy man. Rajpal Yadav as Inspector Satish Yadav is the only actor who is a whiff of fresh air but it is almost a brief cameo and the fresh air only gives you a false promise of a gasp of life. There are actors like Ali Asgar, Kunal Vijaykar, and Ashwin Mushran, who play characters that were incorporated to add some funny moments but none of the jokes land and they end up just roaming around doing random jobs. Bantu has a sister as well who serves the purpose to get eve-teased and thereby creating an opportunity for Bantu to prove his ‘action hero’ credentials and promptly disappears thereafter.
When you have a movie where even Ronit Bose Roy fails to make an impact, you know there is something really wrong with it which is beyond how good or bad the actors are.
The blame for Shehzada turning out to be this royal mess squarely lies with Rohit Dhawan, the director, and scriptwriter of this shipwreck of a movie. The writing is full of plot holes and oscillates between illogical and asinine. Neither the emotional scenes nor the jokes land. There is a rather emotional moment between Manisha and Ronit—a scene that should have moistened your eyes but instead, you find your lips breaking into an involuntary smile of amusement. It is not their acting but how the scene is created, with Mr Jindal strolling behind and giving a live commentary to Bantu over the phone.
Dialogues by Hussain Dalal (of Shivaaaaaaaaaa … Brahmāstra fame) at times are almost witty, but never quite. There is a dialogue where Bantu asks Raj which country he wants to settle down in and he replies ‘anywhere but Yuhan’. Not only is it in bad taste but also what was contextual in 2020, isn’t in 2023. In another scene, Bantu and Jindal see a Rolls-Royce and spotting the RR logo, quip it must be a Rajamouli production (because he made RRR…meh). Such smart repartees are peppered all through the movie. There are multiple hat-tips to Shah Rukh Khan and his movies, but even those fail to give a wow moment. There are continuity issues, scenes cut between Gurugram and BKC and 6 pm looks like a sunny afternoon. Logic is comatose through the major part of the movie just as the nurse who reluctantly helps Valmiki swap the children. A top industrialist’s office has zero security. The employees don’t do anything when their boss is left dying. They don’t even call his family to inform them about the incident. But maybe the millionaire’s office had no phone network. Because instead of calling the emergency services or even a helicopter, Bantu carries Randeep Nanda and uses a window cleaning crane to bring him down from his office when the villain jams the lift and locks the staircase door. But probably the lamest, and one which totally puts you off, is the scene when after the truth about his birth is revealed, Bantu finally confronts Valmiki, the man he has known all his life as his dad. He slaps him across his face but then miraculously slips into a comedic mood. One wonders in which alternate reality can a person, abused for 25 years, who has finally gotten to know such a horrible and life-changing truth, be so calm and casual. The movie in fact never touches an emotional chord. Like Mr Jindal says that he is waiting to see Raj lose his temper once and get out of his placid mode, as an audience, you want the movie to do the same. Raj fares better. In fact, the scene where he does so is one of the movie’s rare moments of poignancy.
What is maybe worse than the writing is the choreography that banks entirely on Kartik’s footwork and in the process gives him steps that he is clearly ill at ease with. Also, one of his hands always slips into his pocket whenever he dances reminding one of Mohnish Behl’s character in Hum Saath-Saath Hain.
The action scenes were the highlight of the original. But here Kartik lacks the swag of Allu and instead the director chooses to shoot everything in slow motion to create an impact. And the impact is that of a slowwwww badly-choreographed action piece.
The CGI-enhanced set reminds you of the sets of Cirkus. The Jindal house is supposed to be a swarg of sorts and hence it is a vision in white and also a vision that looks computer generated. Even B. R. Chopra’s Mahabharat had more realistic sets. One hopes and prays these kinds of sets don’t become a trend.
The original film’s soundtrack was composed by S. Thaman and with viral superhit songs such as Butta Bomma and Ramuloo Ramulaa, it became the first Indian feature film soundtrack to hit 1 billion views on YouTube. It is difficult to surpass that but this Pritam album has not a single song that you would end up humming. In fact, while Kartik Aaryan was dancing to the Diwali song I found myself humming Amit Trivedi’s Shaam Shandaar in my head.
Also, before breaking into the song why did he come down the stairs inside the house when he was coming from his house and should have entered from the main door? Well…these are questions you don’t ask in a movie like this but even ‘mindless entertainment’ needs to be at least entertaining. Shehzada is not.
Just when you thought things are finally looking up for Hindi cinema, comes Shehzada—a bad remake of a mediocre film. The performance by the cast range between mediocre and bad, the screenplay is lame and illogical, the scenes are too long and not edited well, the songs are too many and none make any impact, and the direction is weak and often rudderless.
At times the campy humour of the dialogues works, but those instances are few and far between. The action is sporadically cool but depends solely on slow motion, instead of the choreography or the hero, for its swag. Kriti Sanon looks hot and doesn’t get the screen time to build a sizzle.
Give it up for Shehzada… the prodigal prince of the land of bad Bollywood movies has arrived.