THE WOMAN IN DREAD
Kangana Ranaut is possessed by a spirit in an efficient eco-horror film that’s also an effective morality tale.
JAN 25, 2009 – IF A BUTTERFLY FLAPS ITS WINGS, will the message of tolerance embedded in a Kabir couplet resonate in a horror movie? The answer, going by Mohit Suri’s Raaz – The Mystery Continues, is the affirmative. The film opens with the renowned doha that goes Bura jo dekhan main chala, which stresses that before we point a finger at others, we look within ourselves (or, put slightly differently, people in glass houses, etc.), and a little later, Nandita (Kangana Ranaut, once again playing a fashion model prone to catwalk calamities) muses about chaos theory and the long-ranging implications of apparently insignificant actions. (Needless to say, she remains silent about the not-quite-insignificant action of titling a film along the lines of an earlier horror hit, with the long-ranging hopes of luring the audiences that flocked to the former.)
From the point of view of the horror-film viewer, the return on investment in a movie ticket is determined by the number of times you leap out of your seat – and by that yardstick, Raaz delivers a reasonably high quotient of boo! moments. But paisa-vasool considerations apart, what’s impressive in this eco-horror story – about the what-why-how of Nandita’s possession by a spirit – is how Suri chooses to focus as much on the person as her predicament. The standard horror film dispenses with characterisation in a few hurried brush strokes, but Raaz – thanks largely to Ranaut’s empathetic portrayal of a damsel in ghastly distress – registers almost as much as a Faustian morality play enacted in today’s greed-is-good universe (whereby the connection to Kabir and chaos theory).
If I’ve made this unapologetic (and delectably mounted) B-movie sound loftier than it is, that isn’t my intention – and I certainly didn’t buy Suri’s attempts at aggrandising his material with a slew of high-minded religious references. (At one point, he invokes Yada yada hi dharmasya and the Bhagavad Gita. Elsewhere, we see aghori ascetics and a madman with a bloody Om carved on his chest.) At least some of this loftiness, you feel, could have been sacrificed at the altar of character development. When Nandita discovers she’s pregnant – Yash, the father, is played by Adhyayan Suman with the physical grace of a stick of chalk – and when she loses the child, she doesn’t seem at all affected. Is this bad writing, or are we witnessing her selfish relief that her career remains unhindered?
But the story threads come together satisfyingly. When Yash hands Nandita the keys to their new, tastefully appointed home, during a song sequence, it appears to be just another romantic moment, and when Yash is revealed to be the brains behind a television show that debunks superstition, I was worried that we’d be in for some heavy-duty irony. (As in: Look, he doesn’t believe in ghosts, and there, right before his eyes, she’s possessed by one!) But these developments are dovetailed nicely into the mystery behind Nandita’s plight. I wished that the character played by Emraan Hashmi – a boozy artist with premonitions about Nandita – had induced fewer giggles, what with his electroshock hair and furrowed-brow attempts at actorly gravity, but aren‘t unintended laughs an inextricable part of the horror tradition too?
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