Shaitaan Haveli review: Varun Thakur's show could have been flawless but for its unnecessarily long run time

Utkarsh Srivastava

Jan,09 2018 12:44 42 IST

In the fourth instalment of let’s-get-comedians-to-make-TV-shows, Amazon has let Varun Thakur get behind the wheel. We have already had one bad, one decent and one good show from this experiment. How then, does Thakur’s offering Shaitaan Haveli fare?

As it turns out, surprisingly well.

By Thakur’s own admission, the show is an homage to '80s horror movies; which essentially means it is an homage to the Ramsay brothers, the pioneers of Indian horror-sex cinema. They had an audience which adored their work despite (or because of) the campiness, the low-budget feel and the bad acting. Thakur was one of such admirers. And with his brand of comedy (he plays a crass, sexist brat half of the time), he is actually pretty well suited for the project he has undertaken.

The poster of Shaitaan Haveli.

The show itself is meta – it is a horror story about a horror story. Hariman, a legendary director of B-grade horror cinema, has had an ill-fated venture with a family sex drama (Dilwale ka Dekh ke Dulhaniya ko Kuch Kuch Hota Hai) and is returning back to his roots. Determined to make a hit to recoup his losses, he packs up his cast and crew and arrives at the titular Shaitaan Haveli. He starts filming but something sinister is afoot and things quickly go awry.

The premise itself is hardly earth-shattering. However, as soon as you hit play on the first episode, the smart writing takes over. Characters are established quickly and the story moves along sharply. The show is engaging from the start and before you know it, you’ve binged half of it.

And that is when the problem starts.

Eight episodes!

A true artist, it is said, knows when to stop. Unfortunately, Thakur at the moment is not a true artist.

While the show impresses till around the fourth episode, after that it starts meandering. The story merited a six-episode run and had it ended there it might well have been one of the better things on Indian TV. It is not that the ending is especially bad but the middle bits randomly stretch for no reason. Eight episodes were absolutely unnecessary for the plot and towards the end you do kind of start to lose interest.

Mention must also be made here of the entire witch-master love angle which is ridiculously bad. It is not funny and almost embarrassing to watch. One can see the plot point it serves but surely the writers could have worked that in another way.

While Thakur is a big part of the show, the actual stars are director Hariman (Bhupesh Singh) and his assistant Gangu (Kanchan Pagare). The duo are a laugh-a-minute with peculiar mannerisms which are just flat out funny. Hemant Koumar also puts in a surprisingly good performance as Monty Khurana, a cross between Salman and Shahrukh. Indeed, he makes it seem as if he was born to play the role of a dumb muscled brat, which is a testament to the great work he has done here.

The female leads (Pippa Hughes and Neha Chauhan) put in solid performances as does Thakur himself. No one is winning Oscars for this, but they get the job done more than adequately.

Can something that is supposed to be bad be good?

The problem with trying to judge Shaitaan Haveli is that it already sets a pretty low bar. It is taking after a genre of cinema which was known for bad acting, iffy continuity and scripts which were more holes than plots. How do you assess a show which is supposed to be kitschy? What is the metric to use? What are the questions to ask?

For me, there seems to be only parameter to judge the show: was it entertaining?

The answer to that is: it definitely was. Sure the plot is as leaky as a chawl in a Bombay monsoon and there is clear overuse of drone shots for practically no reason. And the show does drop off after the fourth episode and some of the jokes are extremely bad. And it does telegraph some of its plot revelations about a million years in advance.

Despite it all, it was fun to watch, plain and simple. It was a quirky premise with decent actors and bunch of fun references (Game of Thrones, Andaz Apna Apna). It is binge-worthyish and while there is better stuff out there, there is enough in this show to recommend it.

PS: In the interests of full disclosure, I must mention here that if Hariman ever gives Dilwale ka Dekh ke Dulhaniya ko Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (D3K2H2) the pan-India release it deserves, I’ll be the first in line for tickets. #IndiaKaNolain

Published Date: Jan 09, 2018 12:44 PM | Updated Date: Jan 09, 2018 12:44 PM