More than 25 years after he first made his debut in "Phool Aur Kaante", Ajay Devgn directs himself in "Shivaay" and if the 172-minute evidence is anything to go by, it would seem he was looking for a Bollywood relaunch.
Because that's what "Shivaay" feels like. A three-hour tribute to Devgn and his myriad talents, an unrelenting showcase of his many qualities and a chance for everyone else in the cast to pronounce - at random moments in the film - how wonderful, upright and "hot and sexy" he is.
From the very first scene, in which he leaps across craggy mountains for seemingly no reason, we are given to believe Shivaay is a man of action, not words. He ostensibly works as a trekking guide, but also helps the Indian army in covert operations and rescues people from catastrophic landslides.
He falls in love with Olga (Erika Kaar), a Bulgarian student who goes on a trek with him. When she gets pregnant, Shivaay forces her to go through with it. "Give me the baby and leave", he tells her, choice be damned.
When his daughter Gaura grows up and asks about her mother, Shivaay is forced to take her to Bulgaria. But Gaura is kidnapped by a gang of traffickers before she can meet her. The rest of the film is dedicated to car chases, in which our hero escapes from life-threatening situations without so much as a scratch but kills trained assassins with a flick of his hand.
This is not the only problem with "Shivaay". For a film that promises lots of action, we get some lazily executed sequences. The intrigue is non-existent and Devgn's insistence on drawing out every second scene in slow motion only makes it more of a drag. The plot is barely even a plot. We are given to believe that Shivaay ends all of Bulgaria's trafficking crime in one day and that the rescued women meet their long-lost families over one Skype phone call.
There's also the curious case of the Oedipus complex, a running theme in the film illustrated in the most bizarre manner by newcomer Sayyeshaa Saigal. She plays Anushka, a helpful embassy worker and Girish Karnad essays the role of her father. In a strange dream sequence, immediately after having been threatened by Shivaay, Anushka sees her father in his youth, an image that then morphs into that of Shivaay. Later, she tells him that women who have good fathers find it difficult to find love. Intentional or not, Devgn cannot pull off this bit of Freudian psychoanalysis.
Of the cast, Saigal tries hard and looks the part of the smitten young girl. Kaar is reduced to little more than a stereotype and Karnad probably did this role to ensure the health of his retirement fund. Devgn is in every frame, and by the time the 172 minutes are up, you are likely to be tired of the two-and-a-half expressions he can muster during all the jumping and diving.
Like the snow-covered mountains that form a backdrop to much of "Shivaay", the film may have been meant to inspire awe, but the end result leaves you stone cold.