Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Mar 22, 2013, 04:03 PM IST
You can tell if a horror film is working for its audience by merely registering the noises in a theatre. It doesn’t matter if the film is good or terrible – the audience laughs. It’s supposed to. What you have to detect though is the tone in that laugh: Does it indicate that they’re shit scared and sniggering to release anxiety? Think Bhoot (2003). Or are you hearing guffaws, because after all a terrible horror flick is instantly great comedy? Think Bhoot Returns (2012).
In the fairly packed theatre that I was at (it was a press preview), I could hear far more people just laughing out loud for the sheer fun rather than suppressing any kind of fear. This ain’t good news for your host, the ghost, on the screen, or well, not on the screen.
Either way, he hasn’t been too effective at his job, mostly working the graveyard shift. He shows up to spook a female school teacher once. It is rather odd for her for to be sitting alone correcting papers late into the night in the classroom when the school is completely deserted. I thought teachers usually took their work home – tough luck, I guess. She can see the ghost in the mirror. Like Mr India, we can also see him sometimes under a red light. He can make crank calls on the phone and embed himself on computer screen. Despite these casual appearances, it’s hard to accurately list his powers or general modus operandi. All characters in life and literature have a motive behind what they do. So must ghosts.
The one here (Nawazuddin) is particularly annoyed because a divorce settlement separated him from his only child. While he was alive, he was a shakki sort of wife-beater, fairly rustic for an upper middleclass husband, with no background to his psychotic behaviour. Now that he’s dead, he possesses people and is possessive about his kid. The wife (Bipasha Basu) gets nightmares. While she can see him in the bathroom, her friend calls up to say, “Mein tumhare nightmares ke baare mein soch rahi thi. Ek sharp object apne takiye ke neeche rakhdo, nahi aayenge. (I was thinking about your nightmares. Keep a sharp object under your pillow, they’ll stop coming).” This is when knives start dancing in the air. Come on, you’re in the audience, you will crack up.
A series of deaths take place. The same serious looking cop comes in to investigate each murder. He has a curious frown on his face. You smile. Besides the psychiatrist, the other usual suspect, the spiritual guru, enters from stage-left to hear the matter and grimly suggests, “Mein Haridwar jaa raha hoon. Wahan guruji se iske baare mein poochoonga (I’m going to Haridwar, will ask the guruji about this).” You snigger, I guess.
Religion and horror stories are a wedded couple. It’s redundant to intellectualise either phenomenon. You believe. Or you don’t. God knows pretty much everyone in the Indian countrysides has met a ghost. The Ramsay Brothers (Veerana, Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche etc) used to make low-budget grind house flicks to suit this audience. This picture is carefully lit with beautiful home decor and slick photography. I don’t know if that dulls the mood. It certainly doesn’t stroke guilty pleasures in the same way that cheap horror does.
The kid is a helpful trick still. There is nothing more chilling than something sinister brewing in the fuzzy head of an innocent looking child. Poltergeist (1982) probably provided the template for this sub-genre. The demented kiddo here refuses to believe that her dad is no more, is responsible for a bloodbath, she continues to talk to her imagined dad and by the end of it deserves a rap in the knuckle instead of constant petting and pampering. She sees dead people. I see dumb people – in the picture, of course.