When the best thing about the last film you directed was Akshay Kumar in a ponytail and floral shorts, then one can’t really go into Shehzada with any, forget little, expectations. Rohit Dhawan — whose Dishoom had Saqib Saleem playing a kidnapped Virat Kohli, with his debut film Desi Boyz only remaining memorable for Subah hone na de (oh, was it from that film?!) — goes down the south Indian remake route for his third film.
To be honest, Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo (okay, let me pick up my fallen dentures while you attempt to pronounce this) seems like the perfect film for Rohit to adapt. After all, his dad David Dhawan packed the ‘90s with films which crammed multiple genres into a two-hour watch. Drama, comedy, action, slapstick and song ‘n’ dance often meshed together. So much so that one became indistinguishable from the other, but it was the winning combination of David and Govinda, often supported by Kader Khan and Shakti Kapoor/ Paresh Rawal, that made these films fun, at least in the moment. Even today, we watch them, purely for the sake of nostalgia.
Paresh Rawal stars in Shehzada too, with Kartik Aaryan slipping into the rather large shoes of Allu Arjun who made Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo a huge blockbuster three years ago. The story, with shades of Judwaa without having any twins, revolves around a switcheroo, with Bantu (Kartik) only coming to know years later that he is actually the scion of a wealthy family, led by his real dad Randeep Jindal (Ronit Roy).
Bantu, a down-on-his-luck young man with a tendency to shoot off both his mouth and his fists, has been brought up by Valmiki (Rawal), with whom he has the maximum verbal pow-wow. The rest of the film, as expected, revolves around Bantu’s journey of discovering his real identity and reuniting with his biological family.
No one is going to walk into Shehzada expecting it to be Citizen Kane and when it comes to delivering on its promise of bargain-basement laughs and action, the film stays true to its genre. Well, just about.
Shehzada, however, fails to embrace the all-out absurdity that came with Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo. Thankfully, the objectification and sexist commentary that came under criticism in the Telugu original is done away with, but what films in this genre, even staying within the limits of engaging storytelling, demand is a tongue-in-cheek selfawareness that Shehzada lacks.
In fact, everything seems so manufactured in the film that after a point, even Manisha Koirala, playing Bantu’s mother here, whose natural beauty has stood the test of both time and illness, starts looking artificial. Kriti Sanon, playing Bantu’s boss, hardly sees the inside of a courtroom, but pops up every now and then to show off her dopamine wardrobe and dance to some largely forgettable songs. The only actor who comes out of Shehzada with a shred of dignity is Ronit Roy, but maybe that’s saying too much.
Shehzada relies on Kartik, who has an arresting screen presence, to carry it over the finish line. The young actor, whose popularity is on the rise, does well within the range of his limited acting capability and gets the memo when it comes to his punches and punchlines. He has to do a bit of a Bawarchi here, and Kartik’s beguiling charm is just about enough to help him sail through.
Shehzada postponed its release by a week, given the Pathaan blitzkrieg at the box office. Given that the Shah Rukh Khan blockbuster is still going super strong and has now slashed ticket rates, there is even little chance now that Shehzada — I watched it with a grand total of four others in the audi — will be able to leave a mark. Which just goes to show that when there’s competition from a Khan, an Aaryan has little chance