Director: Prosit Roy

Cast: Anushka Sharma, Parambrata Chatterjee, Rajat Kapoor

Pari is an odd film. It’s horror, romance, emotional drama and even a female bonding saga all rolled into one. There are jinns, a devil-worshipping cult, women in chains, references to events in Bangladesh and several murdered animals. There are echoes of horror classics like Rosemary’s Baby, Let the Right One In and the full 180 degree head turn from The Exorcist. The influences are lofty but director and co-writer Prosit Roy creates an undercooked and confusing film that only works in spurts. Through most of it, you’ll be scratching your head and saying, what just happened?

My hypothesis is that the Hindi film form makes it hard to make a good horror film. How do you create sustained fear when you have to bung in songs, love and an interval? Pari is proof of this.

Roy starts out well enough with an accident on a rainy day that leads to the discovery of a chained woman who seems to have had little contact with the outside world.  Rukhsana is like an animal – she sniffs new things, she’s never seen a television, even the way she chews suggests a life spent far away from civilization. She has no family and no where to go. So she ends up living in an apartment with Arnab, played by Parambrata Chatterjee who looks as bewildered as we feel. Arnab teaches her how to brush her teeth and eat food off a plate.

Meanwhile, a damaged but determined professor, played by Rajat Kapoor, is talking about a powerful jinn named Ifrit. Babies are being beheaded and a woman with a rotting face, keeps appearing and disappearing. To make things even more confusing, there’s also the girl Arnab is marrying. Her backstory also comes in flashes.

Some of this is genuinely terrifying. We’ve explored the old world textures of Kolkata in films like PikuMeri Pyari BinduDetective Byomkesh Bakshy!Kahaani and Barfi. But this is one of the rare films that imbues the city with horror. DOP Jishnu Bhattacharjee finds the gloom in the narrow lanes and decrepit buildings. Water is a recurrent motif – it rains almost incessantly in the film. There are bathtubs, ponds, puddles. Windows bang, lightbulbs flicker, lightning flashes. The tropes are not new but they are used effectively. There are scenes in which I closed my eyes.

Ultimately however, the scatter-brained story by Roy and Abhishek Banerjee doesn’t hold. The second half tries to explain what we’ve seen so far. But the plot doesn’t work even within the logic of the film. It gets more and more bizarre and finally culminates in a climax that redefines the word Sisterhood. If I told you what it is, you’d say I’m joking.

The best thing about Pari is leading lady Anushka Sharma. She is at once, scary, strange and strong. In some scenes she is achingly vulnerable. In others, she is horrifying. It’s great that as a producer Anushka is making such unconventional choices – NH 10Phillauri and now Pari – but the quality is too erratic.

Pari asks the big question – are human beings in fact the biggest monsters? I say the biggest horror is a lame script.

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