A project that has come about mainly because of the demands of the pandemic, more than any real desire to tell a story, Kaun Banegi Shikharwati is an aggressively tiresome show that routinely subverts its serious themes with unending silliness.
God knows what talented actors possessed like Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Lara Dutta, Soha Ali Khan and the promising Anya Singh to sign up but you can’t shake the feeling that they are all wasted despite getting a lot of screen time. Like countless other Indian streaming projects, Kaun Banegi Shikharwati also makes the mistake of valuing plot over characters.
When an elderly Maharaja (played by Shah) is the target of tax evasion, he devises a brash plan with the help of his right-hand man (Yadav) to reunite his four estranged daughters. The plan? To take them through a series of desi Squid Games and hand over the family palace to the winner. Now that I’ve seen all 10 episodes, I’m still not quite sure if the Maharajah’s plan, at least initially, was to wash his hands of his troubles with the law by turning them over to someone of his own flesh and blood. . If so, how selfish of him.
Yet he sends his right-hand man, Mishra ji, to pick up the four women. More than fully fleshed out characters, the daughters are essentially a series of walking, talking characters. The eldest, Devyani, is a ruthless corporate type; Gayatri, the second oldest, is a neurotic dancer who does not seem to have reconciled her privilege; Kamini is a lame social media influencer; and Uma, the youngest, is an asthmatic game developer.
Conveniently, each of them discovers a sudden motivation to answer their father’s call when Mishra ji arrives with the summons. Devyani has debts to repay, Gayatri has children to care for, Kamini has a reputation to rebuild and Uma has to raise money. Their motivations, while purely intended to propel the plot, are apparently just as selfish as their father’s.
There’s a truly emotional story of alienation and grief buried deep, deep beneath the show’s stunningly dumb surface. But on the handful of times Kaun Banegi Shukharwati strikes gold, it recoils in shock and rushes off in the opposite direction, as if it had made a mistake.
Far too often, Kaun Banegi Shikharwati relies on nifty new developments to advance the story. It’s almost as if the characters are in the service of the plot – pawns that can be pushed in the direction that best suits the story – rather than the other way around. For example, when Devyani decides whether to join her father’s games, her husband chooses that exact moment to tell her they’re broke. She will have to go back.
The games, if you’re curious to know, are just that. Instead of executing his plan well and testing his daughters for traits that befit a leader, he takes them round after round in cooking, chess, table tennis, and stand-up comedy.
Later, in another game, he seizes items important to his daughters and makes them fight to get it back – it’s like Bigg Boss stealing the contestants’ makeup only to see them scurrying around desperately. So while influencer has Kritika taken her precious phone, the show comes perilously close to turning into Squid Games when it takes away the asthmatic Uma’s inhalers and forces her to deliver pranks to get them back. Wait a minute, wasn’t this supposed to be a battle for the palace? Why are lives suddenly at stake?
Dutta said in an interview that they aimed for Wes Anderson’s quirkiness with this show, but this is a classic example of someone studying Anderson’s work and learning all the wrong lessons. His films are more than a quirky visual style and quirky characters. That said, Dutta is fairly understated in her performance, which can’t be said of Kritika Kamra, who takes her thinly written character Kamini and somehow makes her an even bigger airhead. Shah, in Chamatkar mode right, is the only one who can strike a balance between the ridiculous and the relatable. Kaun Banegi Shikharwati uses it as a lifeline, at least more than three times, but ends up getting the wrong answer. goodbye.
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati Directors – Gauravv K Chawla, Ananya Banerjee
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati cast – Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Lara Dutta, Soha Ali Khan, Kritika Kamra, Anya Singh, Varun Thakur, Cyrus Sahukar
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati Review – 1.5/5