Blending elements of creepy horror, psychological thriller, and black comedy, Ragini MMS director Pavan Kirpalani whips up a surprisingly potent cocktail in the form of Phobia. The film is smart and reasonably slick, and benefits considerably from a knockout performance by Radhika Apte, even if the script isn’t always on solid ground.
Apte plays Mehak, a promising artist who’s developed a debilitating fear of stepping out of the house, after a terrible incident returning home in a taxi late one night. It’s the sort of condition that induces panic attacks, leaving one breathless, sweating profusely, and often unable to speak.
So how do her sister and friend decide to help? Well, they move her out of the home she shares with her sister and nephew, and into an empty flat. Because that’s what one needs when one’s sick, right? To be alone, and largely unsupervised!
Now completely by herself in the new house, not counting routine visits from her concerned friend and sometime lover Shaan (an excellent Satyadeep Misra), Mehak becomes obsessed with the disappearance of the former tenant of the flat, and finds herself seeing things that may or may not exist.
Phobia succeeds where other thrillers peter out, on account of the sheer unpredictability in the manner that it unfolds. Kirpalani masterfully plays on the viewer’s inability to decide whether Mahek can be trusted or whether she’s simply hallucinating most of the time. He draws on our sense on suspicion and paranoia again while asking us to consider other characters like Shaan, the creepy neighbor Manu (Ankur Vikal), and Nikki (Yashaswini Dayama), the spirited young girl next door who befriends Mehak. The film has its share of tense moments, and some well-timed jump-in-your-seat scares… but frankly it’s about more than that.
I’ll hold off giving away any more about the film except to say that it rests completely on the shoulders of its leading lady, and that Radhika Apte is in top form. Alternately fragile and fierce, she chews into the part, at once embracing Mehak’s contradictions and humanizing her complexities. It’s a nicely nuanced performance and Apte makes it look urgent and spontaneous.
I found myself chuckling at the end of the film, which is not usually the response one tends to have to a thriller. But Phobia is no standard thriller. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five. Don’t miss it.