“This film is a work of fiction and doesn’t stereotype women as witches.” What a curious disclaimer in a movie whose hero – Bobo (Emraan Hashmi), aka “Indiaka sabse bada jaadugar” – sees witches in every feminine form he encounters. He subscribes to the lore that their power lies in their tightly pleated braids, and darned if he doesn’t spend half his waking hours charging at long-haired women with a cutting implement. At some point, it becomes funny – and funny is not what you want in something that wants to scare your pants off. Kannan Iyer’s Ek Thi Daayan is an odd beast – part purveyor of unintended schlock-laughs (see above), part flat-out horror movie, and part Freudian mystery, hinging on buried childhood secrets that rise, elevator-like, from deep, dark recesses. That it doesn’t work all that well isn’t perhaps a surprise – what movie with this mix could? – but for a while, you think you’re in for something special.
At the least, Iyer gets the atmospherics right. From the opening credits – waving tendrils of hair framing cityscapes bathed in ghostly green light – we are thrust into a lushly creepy world. We meet Bobo during a stage show, and his props are prescient. The elevator he makes his appearance in – isn’t that like the one he rode in with his sister? The rope in The Great Indian Rope Trick – isn’t that like a braid? The double who impersonates his assistant – isn’t she a mirror of the doubled-up women at the end? While performing an act with this assistant, Bobo experiences a hallucination, and a visit to a hypnotherapist reveals to him (and to us) his past, which he has presumably suppressed. Iyer delights in odd little details, like Bobo, the budding magician, having for a father a professor, a rationalist. And then, a voice from the irrational whispers to him: “Main aa gayi hoon.” Is the new governess, the cunningly named Diana (Konkona Sen Sharma), a daayan?
Until the end of this flashback, we are in sure hands. The performances are good, the children’s world wonderful. As with Rosemary’s Baby (which finds more than a few echoes here), we are never sure if Diana is really a witch or if, as the psychiatrist suggests, these aspersions are simply Bobo’s attempt to deny the woman his father has come to fancy. Talk about psychological horror! But the problem arises as the plot progresses and we keep trying to put the whole thing together in our heads. We think back to Tamara (Huma Qureshi) backstage, smiling as Bobo pulls off another dazzling feat. We think back to the deliberately named Lisa Dutt (Kalki Koechlin) and her earrings. We think back to Diana’s pleas to the young Bobo (the child actor looks uncannily like Daisy Irani). We think back to the feet turned the wrong way. And it all doesn’t really add up. And the bits about reincarnation and Bobo’s affiliation with the realm of the supernatural aren’t worked in convincingly either. If only half the power in that braid had worked its way into the script!
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