Kaun Banegi Shikharwati
Directors: Gauravv K Chawla, Ananya Banerjee
Writers: Ananya Banerjee, Simran Sahni
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Raghubir Yadav, Lara Dutta, Soha Ali Khan, Kritika Kamra, Anya Singh
Streaming on: ZEE5
I hadn’t watched the trailer of Kaun Banegi Shikharwati; and dived directly into watching the series. Seeing Applause Entertainment (Sameer Nair) and Emmay Entertainment (Nikkhil Advani) in the credits was intriguing as well as alerting. Both production companies have produced films and series which are polar opposites of their own previous creations. Applause has spectacular Scam 1992 and a tacky Call My Agent: Bollywood to their credits whereas Emmay produced probably the best series of 2021 Mumbai Diaries 26/11 and the worst film of 2021 Satyamev Jayate 2.
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati starts off well as a goofy entertainer. There’s an old king Mrutyunjay Shikharwat (Naseeruddin Shah) trying to hold onto his crumbling royalty, an apparently 200-room Haveli in a small village in Rajasthan where only 120 villagers reside. Most of the craftsmen have moved to Mewar for work opportunities. The king has to pay a 32 crore wealth tax backlog. He doesn’t have any money left on him. He comes with a ‘genius’ plan along with his trusted advisor (Raghubir Yadav). The plan is to pass on the debt to his four estranged daughters. The king announces to his daughters that he is dying and wants to choose his successor through a 9-stage ‘Royal Games’ which the daughters used to compete against each other since childhood.
Also read: ’Naseer sir treated me as an equal!’: Anya Singh on working with Naseeruddin Shah in Kaun Banegi Shikharwati
The four daughters are: First is Devayani (Lara Dutta) living a successful life, who comes to know about her husband’s shady business deals with a don. Second one is Gayatri (Soha Ali Khan, who in real hails from a Royal family), a spiritual person who has adopted two kids and is seeking validation from her Guru Amma to become the next Guru. The third is Kaamini (Kritika Kamra) a ditzy social media influencer whose virtual world and fame collapses after she unintentionally (read stupid) says derogatory things about poor people. The fourth one is Uma (Anya Singh) is an introverted video game creator (her video game is titled Rajkumari Rescues). All of them are in desperate need of money and validation.
I decided to suspend my disbelief that women at the given stages of their lives will participate in a circus of these Royal Games of cooking, performing on stage, horse riding, a haunted room etc. The 9 levels of Royal Games are determined by the Navrasas – hasya (laughter), bhayanak (horror), veer (bravery) etc. By the end of the second episode, I realize each Rasa (thus the level) is going to get one episode. And what started out as a light family entertainer turned into a laborious watch. This goofy narrative could have worked best in a 2-hour feature film. But the 10 episode stretch is too much to be patient.
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The silver lining is the casting and acting. All the actors from the greats Naseeruddin Shah and Raghubir Yadav to Lara, Soha, Kritika, Anya are decent in their acts. They give their best to the characters which are created with broad strokes. Dysfunctional family is one of my most favorite sub-genres: Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited, Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, Shakun Batra’s Kapoor & Sons (Since 1921) and in fact Naseer Sahab starrer Amazon Prime Video series Bandish Bandits. Kaun Banegi Shikharwati starts off with a great promise of an entertaining dysfunctional family caper but goes on to become a royal rambling.