In the first episode of the Telugu web series Shaitan―streaming on Disney + Hotstar―which has a runtime of hardly 30 minutes, the audience is reminded about the colour of blood. One of the initial scenes is at a butcher’s shop, where blood from a butchered animal splatters on to the face of Bali, the lead character. A few minutes later, blood is back, but this time on the face of his brother Gomthi, who kills a dog cruelly.
Before you recover from the bloodbath, the climax scene arrives: Bali severs the head of a police officer (Yaqub). Cut to blood-splattered Bali again. The audience is introduced to conventional and unconventional expletives, blood of different creatures, and also two sex scenes, all packed in one episode. Across nine episodes, you see three severed human heads.
This pretty much sums up the shock value of Shaitan, a nine-part series directed by Mahi V. Raghav. Going through the series, two observations are hard to miss. The first is the attempt to imitate some of the more successful Hindi crime OTT shows that are high on abuse and sex. The second is the desperation to rely on extreme scenes to keep the pot… sorry, plot, boiling.
Shaitan revolves around a family that sticks together; they turn into motivated criminals to survive the harsh realities of life that threaten to finish them. Bali (Rishi) is the son of Savitri (Shelly), a single mother, who allows a police officer, Yaqub, to sexually exploit her in return for financial support. Bali has two siblings―Jayaprada (Deviyani Sharma) and Gomthi (Jaffer Sadiq), who is a dwarf.
The social discrimination and acute poverty faced by the family form the fundamentals of the show. With time, Bali takes up the mantle of being a responsible son. He becomes a criminal to support his family. His aimless tryst with the Left-wing extremist movement makes up the rest of the story, in the backdrop is his pursuit of the home minister and a blossoming friendship with a cop.
Bali is the central character of the show, and Rishi has done an impressive job playing the role. A fearless and remorseless criminal, Bali wears a smile throughout the show, and his peculiarities stay with the viewers even after the show ends. This is a different take on the bond between a mother and children.
The script is not very tight, but it is engaging given the extreme situations showcased in the show. In a way, the show can be considered path-breaking as it clearly deviates from the clean language used in regular regional OTT shows. The makers seem to have taken the risk of alienating children and families from their audience, as it is impossible for a family to watch the show together. Shaitan will be talked about and watched by a section, but viewers will be forced to analyse and ask a question, “Had it not been for the gory scenes, would this show have turned out any better?”