Cast: Anushka Sharma, Parambrata Chatterjee, Rajat Kapoor, Ritabhari Chakraborty, Dibyendu Bhattacharya
Director: Prosit Roy
I’m a real sucker for horror films, but in Bollywood it’s a genre that hasn’t produced anything particularly memorable since Ramgopal Varma’s Bhoot came out 15 years ago.
It’s true that it’s hard to make a compelling scary movie today when distractions like mobile phones have all but killed the immersive movie-watching experience. But it’s also true that tacky special effects, recycled storylines, and over-the-top acting have turned what are intended as horror films into unintentional comedies.
Pari, co-produced by and starring Anushka Sharma, is a competently made film that’s rich in atmospherics. Set in Kolkata during the monsoon it’s bathed in blue-green hues, and uses sound design shrewdly, both to deliver jump-scares and to ratchet up a strong sense of foreboding. First-time director Prosit Roy does a good job with the look and feel of the film, for the most part opting for starkness to establish a mood of cold dread.
I’ll try to keep the details to a minimum, but I can tell you the plot is set in motion after a road accident on a rainy day leads to the discovery of a young woman named Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma), chained in a cottage in the woods. Evidently she’s had little contact with the outside world, easily frightened and suspicious of virtually everyone and everything. For reasons I won’t give away, a shy fellow named Arnab (Parambrata Chatterjee) feels obliged to take her in, even as a mysterious professor (Rajat Kapoor) arrives from Bangladesh in desperate search of her.
The script, by Roy and Abhishek Banerjee, invokes satanic cults, disfigured women in black robes, witch-hunters, and plenty mumbo jumbo. There are disturbing scenes of brutal violence against women and animals, and enough blood is spilled to make even those with relatively strong nerves feel queasy.
A big problem with the film is its length. Roy spends too much time on set-up, and it isn’t until the chilling intermission point that the haze begins to clear. It also doesn’t help that the film becomes progressively bizarre and positively silly as it inches towards the end, complete with a laughable love triangle and a flat-out ridiculous climax involving a scene of childbirth.
But there is some genuinely creepy imagery in the film including a shot of a fake eye floating in a beaker. Another involves a woman leaning over a bucket of water in a bathroom. There are also multiple nods to the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In. I’ll be honest, more than a few times I was startled in my seat. Roy uses these moments and a host of familiar tropes skillfully. There’s also Anushka Sharma, who’s in good form, making a meal of the part, clearly throwing herself into the paradox that is her character.
And yet Pari doesn’t come together in a coherent, satisfying way. There’s a lot going on in the film, including references to true historical events from the subcontinent, and an over-dependence on old wives’ tales about spirits and ‘ifrits’ and ‘jinns’. What starts out interestingly, ends in a mess. I’m going with two out of five.
Rating: 2 / 5