Shehzada Movie Review: A bland, tone-deaf masala entertainer

Shehzada Movie Review: A bland, tone-deaf masala entertainer

Even Kartik Aaryan’s shenanigans can’t save this insincere remake of Allu Arjun’s Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo
Rating:(1.5 / 5)

Shehzada is a confused film. Even though it has a monologue against nepotism (it is headlined by Kartik Aaryan), it slyly sells the idea of “rich gene” and “poor gene”. Directed by filmmaker David Dhawan’s son Rohit Dhawan, the film doesn’t quite know what to say, where to go and what to do. If I understood correctly, it wishes to convey that the only middle-class character in the film is evil and vengeful, his biological son is daft and the born rich are necessarily born benevolent.

Starring: Kartik Aaryan, Paresh Rawal, Kriti Sanon, Manisha Koirala, Ronit Roy, Ankur Rathee and Sunny Hinduja

Directed by: Rohit Dhawan

The film opens with a rainy night. Paresh Rawal is evil and named Valmiki. He gurgles his scooter behind a Mercedes, parked outside a hospital. He eyes the car with envy. Two infants are being born in the maternity ward: scion of the Jindal business family and its employee Valmiki’s son. If you have had a regular dose of 70s Hindi cinema, you know what is coming. The titular Shehzada Bantu (Kartik Aaryan) grows up in Valmiki’s home in purani dilli (if you confused it for some other small town, there is a sprawling Jama Masjid in almost all scenes to steer you in the right direction), while Valmiki’s biological son Raj frolics inside the Jindal family bungalow in a ride-on toy car. Bantu yearns for the love of a family but is constantly put down by his foster father. Meanwhile, trouble is looming over his biological family in the form of an umbrella wielding toy-cum-drugs businessman. Although he takes the entire first half, the prodigal son does return and saves the day.

A mindless, masala film has only entertainment going for it. Shehzada fares poorly on that. Save for a few chuckles, the plot runs in a straight line, like on an electrocardiogram of a dead narrative. The gags aren’t witty and the action feels less physical and more camera work. A scene-by-scene remake of the 2020 Telugu film Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, it has inconsequential changes in the name of adaptation, like Kriti Sanon’s Samara works for a law firm (‘Legal Eagle’, seriously?) while in the original, Pooja Hegde bossed around at a travel company. Nit-picking aside, with all its sermons on consent and female empowerment, the film wastes Kriti as just an eye candy. It’s not just her, even Ronit Roy and Manisha Koirala’s characters can only be described as “rich, sad people”. Kartik Aaryan, as always, tries it all. He spreads his arms like Shah Rukh during a fight sequence, wells up while exiting a party like Ranbir Kapoor, and smiles, a big, toothy one, in almost every frame, but  is unable to shoulder this mess. Paresh Rawal’s Valmiki reminded me of his character Bally from the 2011 film Ready, just that both that film and that role were more entertaining.

If at all Shehzada has something to say, it is a bit problematic. Middle-class Valmiki is one-note and won’t shy away from murder to ensure a good-life for his offspring. The Jindals, on the other hand, are all bright, spot white and nice. Valmiki’s son Raj (Ankur Rathee) waits for an intervention by Bantu to grow a personality. The film is devoid of any nuances on class differences, plight of the underprivileged and exploitation by the rich. As a peace gesture in the end, Bantu gifts Valmiki a new scooter. Apparently, that’s all it takes.

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