By Subhash K Jha, IANS
Fifteen years ago the one-man-army theme used to be much in vogue. By recreating the 'expected' experience from the past SHIVA comes up with a reasonably unexpected thrill of what used to be the expected not so long ago.
Remember Amitabh Bachchan making long lingering strides into the villain's den in ZANJEER to reduce his adversaries to pulp?
Welcome to the world of 'pulp friction'. The stakes are high. Saving the country, no less. Each time our super-cop walks into the feverish frames the soundtrack comes alive chanting his oath for induction into the police force. Illaiyaraja’s background music is flush with ominous chants and wails.
Blood-curdling? Sometimes. Mostly, just creating a specific ambience for the hero to male leonine leaps over time and space.
This police story has plenty of force; most of it generated from the way Varma cuts the old-as-the-hills material into a newly rejuvenated shape.
The editing (Nipun Gupta & Amit Parmar) is first… rather, fist-rate. Sound of slapping cheeks and cracking bones rent the soundtrack creating a reverberating sensation of retaliatory violence meant to combat malignant violence.
The action is swiftly and smoothly vindictive... Shiva in the den, Shiva in the departmental store, Shiva on a construction site, Shiva in a middleclass food-joint (run by cine-buff Ninad Kamath who corny does take-offs on Sanjay Dutt, Rajnikanth and what have you)...
The one-man-show-off idea gets its definition mainly from the fist.
Interestingly you seldom see Shiva combating evil with the gun. Bare hands are used to slap his adversaries to a groveling mass of terror… that's the way it works. The quieter moments shared with the journalist-gilrfriend Sandhya (Nisha Kothari, lips full of quivering indignation) are relatively less effective.
Each time the courtship happens you wait with an indulgent smile to let the high-octane action begin.
Interestingly the encounters with the main Arun Gawle-inspired gangster-turned-politician villain Bappu (Upendra Limaye) are all done-to-bludgeoning death, re-revivified by Varma's excellent command over the language of seething implosive rage (seen earlier to great advantage in his best works SATYA, COMPANY and SARKAR).
Mohit Ahlawat speaks little, fight frequently. His forte is reticent retribution. The real heroes are the action directors (twin brothers Ram Lakman who also play climactic parts in the film). The stunts are purely 1980s, with loads of new-millennium attitude thrown in.
You won't think much of the world-weary story. But there's a kind of old-world charm about this street-smart bone-cruncher which hits you in the solar-plexus with its message of a cleansing chemical.
At the end of it, you aren't looking at Shiva bringing down the crime graph in the city. You're looking instead at Varma's clenched narrative that sweeps across the concrete jungle in overt gestures of ruthless vindication.
The performers include Ramu's usual suspects like Zakir Hussain (Corrupt Cop), and Shereveer Vakil (Ruthless Goon). Dilip Prabhavalkar lately a hit as Gandhiji in LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI will shock you as a corrupt Home Minister. Actors often do that. They change characters.
But the real shocker is the old-fashioned narrative. You've seen the cop doing his deadly justice act to death. That doesn't stop Ram Gopal Varma for socking it in our face one more time. With velocity.