Kaun Banegi Shikharwati review: Naseeruddin Shah, Lara Dutta, Soha Ali Khan's Zee5 show is silly to a fault
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati never quite fulfils its promise of being a charming, lighthearted entertainer
If Naseeruddin Shah is the beacon of the estranged father in Hindi cinema, then Zee5’s Kaun Banegi Shikharwati doubles (or even quadruples) down on that persona. Created by Ananya Banerjee, the Zee5 series showcases Shah as the tongue-tied father of four daughters unable to process the passing of his wife. As a means for his own coping, something he also reasons might help his daughters rise from the grief of losing their mother, he makes them take part in ‘royal games’. Competing against one another, they soon begin to resent their father and leave.
Shah plays a bumbling ‘King’ of a tiny village in Rajasthan called Shikharwati, who is shown to start his days whimsically aiming for melons (and sometimes lemons) on top of the heads of his subjects. Unable to cope with the grief of his wife’s untimely passing, and the estrangement of his four daughters — Shah plays Raja Mrityunjay like a Shakespearean fool. His aide – Mishraji (Raghubir Yadav), who the King refers to as ‘friend’ — cajoles him like a child.
After learning the estate of Shikharwati owes the government Rs 32 crore in wealth tax arrears, the King sees it as an opportunity to not only restore the lost sheen of his ‘kingdom’, but also takes it upon himself to reunite his daughters. It’s a time-tested premise, something we also saw in last year’s films like Ramprasad Ki Terhvi (also starring Shah as the patriarch) and Pagglait, where the Indian family is forced to reunite under dire circumstances and confront demons from the past. And when you add tasks to this in the most Squid Game fashion, it’s a concoction that *could* have worked. Unfortunately, the writing by Banerjee is clearly insipid to even explore anything beyond the superficial level. Particularly given how the daughters are written here.
Devyani (Lara Dutta) is a stickler perfectionist, who according to her husband (Cyrus Sahukar) can even find flaws in a Picasso painting. Gayatri (Soha Ali Khan cast as a member of the royal family for obvious reasons) is the demure sibling, who happens to be mindful about animal rights and organic ways of life. Kamini (Kritika Kamra) plays a social media influencer, clearly based on something like Alexis Rose from Schitt’s Creek. Uma (Anya Singh) is an introverted gamer, who develops allergies because of outdoor activities or public speaking. These are all neatly boxed-in character traits, neither of which are subverted at any point.
Credit to Banerjee where it’s due, she tries to have fun with India’s monarchical mindset. “A king of what?” is a question often posed to Raja Mrityunjay. Also, the use of ‘king’ in a gender-neutral manner, where he asks his daughters - “Do you have what it takes to be king?” is refreshing. However, lip service to progressive values is the bare minimum we can expect from a show in 2022.
The challenges, rather whimsically chosen from the navrasa (the nine emotions), whose significance is never brought up during the show. Each task is designed in a way to match up to the skills of one of the daughters, hence, keeping it evenly competitive. Unfortunately, for the viewer, it’s also painfully clear who is going to win the round, even before it begins. There’s a roast in here too, which could have been interesting especially after a daughter takes it upon herself to ‘roast’ the king in front of her subjects, something that could have been used to great effect. Unfortunately, it’s a tiny spark in a show that largely exists in creative darkness.
There’s an unnecessary, unfunny track about hidden jewellery in the palace, a royal suitor and the modern-day equivalent of a ‘stable boy’ falling in love with a princess. Stand-up comedian Varun Thakur plays Roop Singh, the heir of the Mewar royal household, who spends a majority of his time without the laughs or even anything significant to do. Cyrus Sahukar is excellent, even when he’s doing something as nervously breathing at a dining table.
Ultimately, a lot of the responsibility of reviving the show falls on the two veterans in the middle: Naseeruddin Shah and Raghubir Yadav. Shah has rarely looked this disinterested, almost like he gave up halfway. Yadav seems rather up for a challenge to rise above the material presented to him, but isn’t given too many dimensions beyond the obvious. Kaun Banegi Shikharwati never quite fulfils its promise of being a charming, lighthearted entertainer probably along the lines of Schitt’s Creek. Let this be the last time Shah has ‘the talk’ with an estranged adult offspring. Like Shikharwati, we need to move on.
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati is available on ZEE5
Watch the trailer here
Tatsam Mukherjee has been working as a film journalist since 2016. He is based out of Delhi NCR.
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