A king, his estranged daughters and the subject of inheritance – ‘Kaun Banegi Shikharwati’ has all the makings of a King Lear-esque plot turned on its head to create good comedy. Especially since Naseeruddin Shah plays the King, who comically retains his illusions of grandeur in spite of his debilitating kingdom. Lara Dutta, Soha Ali Khan, Kritika Kamra and Anya Singh play his daughters and heirs to the Shikharwati palace as princesses who stand to inherit the royal estate. While the concept and casting promise a nuanced series about family and loss backed by stellar performances, the show royally ignores these potential themes and focuses on having a silly, fun time.
In Kaun Banegi Shikharwati, Naseeruddin Shah plays King Mirthyunjay of a small kingdom that’s past its glory days. One fine day, while he’s shooting melons placed on his employees’ heads (a regular thing for him) his aide and friend Mishraji (played by Raghubir Yadav), reminds him of the debt he owes the government in the form of wealth tax. With no income and a palace to maintain, he comes up with the brilliant idea of seeking help from his daughters who left home some years after the demise of their mother. He does this by promising to hand over the palace to one worthy heir. While getting rid of debt is on the agenda, his ultimate goal seems to be to reconnect with his kids and cope with their mutual grief.
Lara Dutta, Naseeruddin Shah, Soha Ali Khan and more deliver elite performances in a show that frankly doesn’t deserve them.
Ahead of the family reunion, we’re introduced to the four princeses – eldest daughter Devyani (played by Lara Dutta) a perfectionist with the ability to critique anything, Gayatri (played by Soha Ali Khan) who lives as a saadhvi in training to be a guru someday, Kamini (played by Kritika Kamra), an influencer who has followers of her own kind, 2 million on social media to be precise and youngest daughter Uma (played by Anya Singh), a game designer and coder with crippling allergies who’s on a quest to sell her game ‘Rajkumari Rescues’. So far so good. Each character has a claim to the throne as the King sets up a series of competitions (a family tradition) to choose the next “King” which is used as a gender-neutral term, hats off to that. And so begin the challenges based on the Navrasa. Highly competitive and skilled from their childhood experiences, the four clash in battles that are tedious to watch if I’m being mild. This is especially frustrating since the games that have major Squid Game recall, take place over 10 largely unfunny episodes.
Let’s skip to the good part here. If there are any pros to be found in the show, it’s in the towering acts of a few stars. Naseeruddin Shah is expectedly good in bringing out the ridiculous yet endearing qualities of a monarch so out of touch with reality that even he clocks in his kingdom are set according to his schedule. As a father too he capably brings out a range of emotions with his paternal and often poignant act. Then there’s Lara Dutta who is finally getting roles that allow her to shine and show off her acting chops on digital platforms, something Bollywood denied her between Kaal and Housefull. Dutta has always been a queen and it’s a joy to witness her playing Devyani. And of course, Soha Ali Khan is playing a royal *wink wink* who has given up the luxuries of royal life and adapted to minimalism and nurturing her two kids (played by Alisha Khare and Norshang Tamang, young actors with an amazing talent for deadpan comedy). But in spite of these elements on script, Kaun Banegi Shikarwati is too patchy to entertain. It’s easy to see the weak spots in the convenient plot and lacklustre sequences. Sadly, even Naseeruddin Shah can’t distract from the gaping holes in the screenplay.
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati is too silly to recognise its own potential for a dramedy about loss and grief.
The show is essentially a tale of a family that hasn’t quite recovered from its loss. The Queen held them together and things really began to fall apart after she passed away. As ill-adjusted grownups, the family members are unable to offer support or even express themselves in a healthy manner. These complexities that arise from dealing with grief provide some great opportunities for dramedy. But the series busies its characters in silly games and bargains away some of the bigger plot points. The result is a bunch of arcs filled with awkward exchanges that add nothing in terms of depth or entertainment.
In spite of its cast and promises made in its premiere episode, Kaun Banegi Shikharwati is a show that is almost good but not quite. If only the makers had hit pause on playing silly games, they’d have a much better chance at engaging audiences. Is it a royal dud? Not exactly. It is a skippable series? Most definitely.
Kaun Banegi Shikharwati is currently streaming on ZEE5.
Cover image: Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India