Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Apr 19, 2013, 06:38 PM IST
Diana is the name of this film’s daayan. The daddy (Pawan Malhotra) of two beautiful kids (wonderful child actors), it appears, has fallen for this daayan. This cannot be a good thing and could be avoided. But then again, all supernatural films start with the reckless sceptic who must discover the harsh truths of the netherworld first. This father’s holy son grows up to become a major magician. His magic tricks of course belong to the field of art and illusion. But he’s also known more than a thing or two about daayans and pishach from his childhood reading on the subject. It seems he’s seen a lot as well.
Most Indians would have heard of daayans from stories mostly set in villages where real, ordinary people are often ostracised as witches who bring bad luck to a family – “kha gayi pati ko” (ate her husband) – or commune with the dead. Also, there is no awareness about mental disorders in less educated societies. Quite often people suffering from schizophrenia and other psychiatric ailments get discarded as daayans from hell.
The daayan in this film looks real for sure. She has very specific attributes. She was born on February 29, a birthday that she shares with Superman then, and also former PM Morarji Desai, if you may. She works between midnight and 4 am, and her powers lie in her long hair that is tied into “choti” or knots. She’s the “raat ki rani”, female version of the pishach who’s “din ka raja” with all his strengths stored in his gardan or neck. I know “pishach” only from lyrics of Hanuman Chalisa: “Bhoot pishach nikat nahi aave, Mahavir jab sunave.” This is the talisman that’s supposed to sail you through a dark, empty alley or a loo that has no lights. There is hell of a lot of bhoot-pishach business going on in all religious traditions – the ghost being the opposite of god. This film avoids the religious mumbo-jumbo altogether. This is exceptional and rare for the genre.
The magician Bobo (Emraan Hashmi), despite his extraordinary profession, seems like a regular sort of person. So does his girlfriend (Huma Qureishi). They take care of a little child who lives in an orphanage. These aren’t exactly hero-heroine varieties, they’re urbane folks, who make love, meet new friends, hang out at coffee shops, party at home, and sing songs from a book of Gulzar’s lyrics! The closer this film, or any horror type flick, revolves around the
realm of the real, the scarier it gets. So does this picture, in certain parts. The daayan gives you goose bumps because she could be one of you. Konkana Sensharma plays this eerie role, and from her first shot onwards you realise how much we’ve missed her at the movies lately.
Ekta Kapoor has co-produced this film, which isn’t surprising. She got first known for television soaps where invariably a scary looking woman hamming it up in heavy make-up and striking bindi destroying a happy family would be the proverbial daayan of the household. Kapoor also entered films as producer with the horror genre: Kucch To Hai; Krishna Cottage.
Vishal Bhardwaj is her co-producer and he’s also written the screenplay, dialogue, and scored the film’s music. This isn’t surprising either. Bhardwaj’s directorial debut Makdee (2002) was a slightly haunting yet lovely children’s movie about little twins who get trapped in a dayan’s den. Okay, she was a chudail, same difference. That film was for non-believers. The witch – “sau saal ki bhookhi”, scary Shabana Azmi – turned out to be a bluff-master. This is a film for the believers of the bhoot.
What I find curious and cool is that the co-writer Mukul Sharma, on whose novel this movie is based, used to be India’s most popular maths/science columnist. People of my vintage will remember him best for the weekly “Mindsport” from the Sunday Times Of India. This is possibly the best screenplay of its genre for an Indian film. Which
may not be saying much, given that the main competition comes from old
Ramsay Bros. flicks or more recent Raaz, Raaz 2, Raaz 3.... Still, the film effectively manages to create a plausible, unholy alternate world of dayans and pishach without quite wholly discarding basic human logic. This means a lot for a supernatural subject that slips into full-on farce most easily.
The screen holds your attention. You do feel hungry for more chilling moments and effects that stun you into holding your breath. Sometimes the scale doesn’t match the film’s ambition. For the most part, I suppose, this will do. You know it, when it does. I hear two talkative bozos from the seats before me. Their non-stop jabber has been bothering me from the beginning of the show. They go quiet after a while. At one point I feel like leaning in and scaring them with a “boo” for a second. I resist the thought, fully sure that they’ll either fall off their seat, get a heart attack or have me thrown out of the theatre. That’s when you know a horror film is working its movie magic in a dark hall!