A Daayan (witch) by any other name would still devour your soul.
Before the dastardly, self-inflicting, third act of Vishal Bharadwaj and Mukul Sharma’s screenplay happens in Ek Thi Daayan (English translation: ‘Once there was a witch’– directed by the debutant Kannan Iyer and produced and distributed by Balaji Telefilms – there is an inquisitive and effectively prolonged second act about two young siblings who believe Konkona Sen Sharma to be a daayan who rode up from the underworld in a dead elevator.
Ms. Sen, who plays Diana, is a sudden entrant into their motherless lives when Bobo (initially played by Vishesh Tiwari), punches 666 in the elevator and finds himself in a grimy, water-leaked basement with a lonesome flickering tube-light that’s supposed to be hell.
Like the reality-inspired devil’s pit, Ms. Sen, who may or may not be a demon – and the film’s general take on the supernatural, is linked to what is facilely imaginable.
Bobo, who has a book about the unearthly, sees the apparentness of the daayan’s signs and Ms. Sen, with her big eerie eyes, is directed to reinforce suspicions: A ‘daayan’ will devour the soul of a child on the night of the blood-moon every 29th of February; she will also woo and bed your single parent (Bobo’s dad is played by a bespectacled Pawan Malhotra).
Despite the set-up like most of Mr. Bharadwaj’s current works (the film is a dense mimic of Mr. Bharadwaj’s visual palette); the story meanders along unnecessarily, falling flat-faced by the farcical climax.
Bobo, when Daayan opens, is Emraan Hashmi, a big-name magician who sees dead people. He is romantically involved with his producer Tamara, (Huma Qureishi)). They’re also attached to a lonesome orphan (Bhavesh Balchandani) – whose relevance adds little (if anything) to the film.
One day, post Daayan’s intermission break – after we’ve been formally introduced to the title character of the film – one of Bobo’s stage acts turns 360, when an enthusiastic audience member jumps to the chance of volunteering. She is Lisa Dutt (Kalki Koechlin), an expat turned teacher who broke up “a four year affair” after watching Bobo’s act on YouTube.
The obviousness of Ms. Koechlin’s given dialogues leave little to imagination; we know she’s the reincarnated demon and the character layout stops at that.
Mr. Hashmi, who I’ve learned to respect in recent years, has perhaps the least dimension in all of the film’s players, regardless of being the drawing power of Daayan’s initial box-office – which I believe will falter soon (the film is budgeted at Rs. 20 Crores and has so far grossed 17).
Daayan is, again, a stake-holder in the constantly changing Bollywood; it shows visual panache, but stumbles by the awkwardness of its own steps.
Directed by Kannan Iyer. Produced by Ekta Kapoor, Shobha Kapoor, Vishal Bhardwaj, Rekha Bhardwaj. Written by Mukul Sharma and Mr.Bhardwaj. Music by Mr. Bharadwaj with Lyrics by Gulzar. Cinematography by Saurabh Goswami. Editing by Sreekar Prasad. Distributed by ALT Entertainment and Balaji Telefilms. The film features one off-kilter, devilishly addictive song “Yaaram”, and a whole lot of spoon-fed apparentness.