The lonely, broke Sovereign of Shikharwati Raja Mrityunjay (Naseeruddin Shah)
lives alone in his decaying palace with his many idiosyncrasies and a trusted advisor
Mishraji (Raghubir Yadav). The show opens when the stubborn eccentric ‘King’
finds himself in a pressing problem. He has evaded government notices for 6 years,
and is now facing eviction if he does not pay up a whopping 32 crores of wealth tax.
Living in denial as he has been ever since his wife’s death 15 years ago, he refuses
to pay heed this time either. The wise and pragmatic Mishraji is desperate to save
the palace - the only home he’s ever known. To knock sense into his Raja, he spins
an elaborate con and invites the King’s estranged daughters to participate in a royal
contest and compete for the throne and an apparent (and non-existent) prize of 200
crores. The daughters, who hate each other and their father, are each going through
a tough time personally, and wouldn’t mind winning 200 crores (who wouldn’t!). And
thus begin the seemingly goofy games to announce “Kaun Banegi Shikharwati”.
On the face of it, KBS is a dramedy. But scratch just beneath its glossy surface, and
what emerges is the heartwarming tale of a broken family re-uniting, of daughters
forgiving a lonely father, of sisterhood and its many shades, of wistful memories and
visceral characters, who must finally learn to live with a hole in the heart that can
never be filled – the deceased Rani.
Lara Dutta is perfect as Devyani Shikharwat, the King’s oldest daughter - a
bristling perfectionist and a subconscious bully, in search of the utopian perfect life.
Soha Ali Khan plays the charismatic and graceful Gayatri Shikharwat, the second
daughter – a vulnerable isolationist hiding a deep secret. Kritika Kamra is sparkling
in her portrayal of Kaamini Shikharwat, the third daughter – an endearing social
media influencer who is in reality a direction-less insensitive extrovert. The fresh
Anya Singh plays Uma Shikharwat, the youngest daughter – an underdog and a
fearful introvert chasing a rainbow, forever pretending to be stronger than she is. The
sisters who were once best of friends are now the fiercest of foes. Just as every
family, the Shikharwati family too is a unit made of its parts, each one incomplete
without the other. At the centre is the deceased Rani Mrinalini (Charu Shankar),
who was the love of the King’s life, and her daughters’ friend, philosopher and guide.
After her death, King had made a feeble attempt at single-parenthood, but it
backfired. The Rani now stands as a tall statue in the palace garden, watching over
her torn family as it slowly glues itself back into shape.
Steering clear of being an indulgent tragedy or a farcical comedy, KBS seems to be
consciously defying the boundaries of genre. In a crumbling palace where rooms are
named by emotion (Gussa Ghar, Saheliyon ka Bagaan, Sajjan Baug) and
outlandish games are played - deep-seated secrets are revealed, painful memories
addressed, life-lessons learnt.
Interwoven into the narrative, is a remarkable multiparity of worlds. Parallel to the
nutty drama unfolding in the palace, is also a story of a decadent royalty, living in
fantasy among palace charades, while the villagers suffer from

unemployment. The crumbling aristocracy chooses to play games rather than
effectively take command of its responsibilities to the people. The King has in fact,
not stepped out of the palace for 6 years. The palace itself is stuck in time -
newspapers are a rarity, democracy is an unknown word. There is a lot to take away
from the track of Veer Singh (Anurag Sinha), a conscientious villager who is a
constant voice of reason holding a mirror up to the royalty (and perhaps to the urban
viewer) that has made a habit of stereotyping village-folk and their aspirations,
assuming them to be simpletons removed from modernity. ‘Nalayak’, the villagers
call the King. And not without reason. In this Shatranj ke Khiladi Redux of sorts, Raja
Mrityunjay Singh Shikharwat too must come of age in more ways than one.
Casting is one of its strongest calling cards. Along with the 4 women, the chemistry
between Naseeruddin Shah and Raghubir Yadav is a delight to watch. Shah never
fails to deliver, and 39 years after the famous Mahabharat scene from Jaane Bhi do
Yaaron, he is once again seen as a fumbling royal, only this time in track suits and a
(fake) rifle to replace the sword. Raghubir Yadav as Mishraji is the perfect Birbal to
this Raja – indulging and scolding him alike. Varun Thakur playing a prince of the
neighbouring village, brings with him a touch of the oft heard palace intrigue and is a
refreshing addition to the entourage. The wobbly old Chief Attendant as a shadow
to the King, is representative of the old world, a time long-gone. Add to this mix, an
over-eager Royal Announcer, Gayatri’s psychic daughter Padma, her son Dhanur
who doesn’t speak at all, and a dog named Avocado, and you have a world full of
crazy that you don’t want to stop watching. The conversation about cast is
incomplete without mentioning Cyrus Sahukar. As Devyani’s broke husband Harsh
Goel, he superbly plays a (highly relatable) son-in-law trying to impress his wife’s
father, with a (highly unrelatable) problem (he owes 22 crores to a Dubai ka Don).
It is this swinging pendulum between relatable people in unrelatable settings that
makes KBS an extremely fresh and engaging watch. The relationships will tug at
your heart, bring a tear to your eye; the humour, a smile to your lips. As eccentric as
the King may be, his struggles as a single parent are painfully relatable. As bizarre
as the sisters may seem, they are evidently incomplete without each other. Slowly
but steadily as the gap between the characters bridges, squint, and you will wistfully
witness a very different coming-of-age story, where each one overcomes their
personal and interpersonal failures.
Debutante writer and Co-Director Ananya Banerjee manages to create lovable
characters and give us quotable idiomatic life-quotes like “Samajhdaar ko samajhne
ke liye bhi samajhdaar hona padta hai”, “problem aapke look mein nahin, outlook
mein hain”, “agar tum normal hoti, toh boring hoti” – being some among many. The
show touches upon themes like “a common enemy can unite the unlikeliest of
adversaries” and “a lonely broken heart is the deadliest yet most common of
ailments”. Costumes by Natasha Dilip Charak are LIT (as Princess KAA would put
it). Production Design by Priya Suhas expertly portrays the opulence, scale and
detailing of the world the story is set in. Directors Gauravv Chawla and Ananya
Banerjee manage to pull out impressive performances from the expert cast, all of
them looking well in synergy with the world and each other. The glitzy look
(Cinematography by Linesh and Srijan) is in compelling contrast with the dusty
relationships. Both narratively and musically (Music by Anurag Saikia), KBS is a
perfect balance of ‘Heart’ and ‘Funny’, never compromising one for the other.

At a time when the pandemic has taken a toll and a half on all of us, Kaun Banegi
Shikharwati, A ZEE5 Original, produced by Applause Entertainment, in
association with Emmay Entertainment,is perhaps just the waltz the doctor ordered
for the merry start of the new year.

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