Saturday, June 14, 2003

a chill down the spine (WARNING: potential spoilers)

Finally, yes, finally I got to watch BHOOT [previous post in thread]. Albeit on a VHS copy of a rather poorly mastered DVD (how could you allow this to happen RGV?). But it was worth every minute of it. Apart from the merciful exclusion of songs, the film has a great ensemble of famous names adding their personas to fit the roles they handle. Urmila has improved since Kaun, her last turn at doing the whole "I'm nuts" deal. And the new hairstyle and deglam look work fine for her and everyone else. The tremendously effective makeup job also helps. No other role in the film is thankless, although Seema Biswas' character does a delicate tightrope between mystery and incredulity.

Friends who have seen and who saw it with me commented on the lack of surprise in the plot or the storyline. The Exorcist and Poltergeist were popular choices for the "yaar, this is a copy". But the arguments are futile. The themes in this film and these two "sources" are similar and common. These two films have been stellar examples in the genre, and hence are very powerful exemplars. It is thus natural for people to quote sources. I will, however, recommend BHOOT, both as a strong entry into the genre of desi scarefests (which has reaped both benefit and shame from the Ramsay Brothers) and as a great showcase of film technique.

The deceptively simple plot and story are enhanced by some stunningly effective camerawork and a gamut of lenses (I caught a couple of fish-eyes), including the surreal "surveillance camera" feel to the proceedings and a general sense of consuming claustrophobia enhanced by the restrictive indoor setting and the trappings of the house. Although this is admittedly geeky, I haven't found any article online detailing the lenses and apertures used. The film deserves a writeup like this. After all, it doesn't help to simply cut out the offensive comedy tracks and stay bang-on on the track to make a good horror film. You need to keep the chills coming, keep them there for just the right amount of time, and get your technical department beefed up to support your goals. RGV does all this. I just wrote about the camera. And it's not simply the views. There's the razor-sharp editing, which must owe some debt to The Exorcist. Every time there's a scare, you are pulled away before you can deal with what you just saw ... or thought you saw. The editing also helps to add an REM/deam-like quality to the "normal" events. The dream sequences are aptly paced and fervently edited. Gasps are assured. The shocks work as shocks, and not as gags.

A little note about the other characters: Victor Bannerjee's Dr Rajan is a strong counterpart to Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist. Nana Patekar's welcome return is a great turn as Inspector Liaqat Kureshi, who seems to have more issues to him than the length of the film will allow. Rekha, Tanuja and Fardeen make their brief parts meaningful, thanks to their star legacy in the industry.

A rave about the technique would be incomplete without crediting Salim-Suleiman for a marvellous soundscape. There is the background score, complete with a little catchy unnerving riff, a more respectable palette of sounds (instead of the mono creaking door sounds of yore), along with the augmented levels of everyday sounds: ambient music playing in the different houses, people talking, the sounds of the house, the silences. And who can forget the elevator? The seemingly extraneous repetitive intrusions of the elevator serve the unsettling tone of the film well.

Truth be told: RGV does lose it a bit in the second half (demarcated by the interval, mind you). But this is a minor aberration and unfortunate only because I had hoped that RGV would be immune to the SSH (Sagging Second Half) syndrome. But such complaints aside, this is a film that, if it doesn't shock you out of your wits, will at least leave you shifting about uneasily in your seat.

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