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Front seat: The witch’s way

April 28, 2013

When a film produced jointly by two disparate individuals of the Indian film industry — Ekta Kapoor and Vishal Bhardwaj — arrives, expectations are somewhat high. Both are known for making off-beat films. If Vishal made Omkara, Maqbool, Kaminey, Saat Khoon Maaf, etc., Ekta helmed Love Sex Aur Dhoka, Ragini MMS, Shootout at Lokhandwala, The Dirty Picture, etc. So naturally, Ek Thi Daayan was expected to sizzle up the screens.

It seems debutant director Kannan Iyer got bogged down by the enormity of the subject he had taken up to handle, as the film fails to reach that ultimate zenith of a horror film — a genre pioneered by Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, etc.), John Moore’s The Omen series or even films made back home, namely Woh Kaun Thi, Bees Saal Baad and several others.

Probably ETD would have done better, if the producer duo had let off their commercial considerations.

Iyer shows tremendous potential in the film’s first half. When Bobo (Emraan Hashmi), a world-renowned magician, while consulting a hypnotherapist Dr Ranjan Palit (Rajatava Dutta) asks in a deadpan look and eerie expression, “Dr, aap daayan churailoon mein vishwas karate hain?” (Do you believe in witches and evil spirits?)

Or in another shot where he is pencil-sketching a portrait of a daayan (witch) murmuring, “…unke paon ulte aur haat sharir se bhi lambe hote hain. Prachin vidwanon ka kahena hai ki dayaan ke shakti unke ghani choti mein bandhi rahti hai.” (Their feet are turned back and their arms are longer than their bodies. Wise/holy men say that a witch’s power lies in their thick, braided hair). And right then, on screen appears a thick choti swinging on the back of a sari-choli clad woman. For a moment you are gripped with fear and also excited, expecting a real horror-cum-occult flick.

While you are sitting on the edge of the seat in comes a typical shot of an Emraan film, and he starts talking to his girlfriend Tamara (Huma Qureshi), saying, “I’m a tiger in bed.” And this is followed with some really steamy scenes. Plus, the tense scenes get interspersed with a couple of songs. I guess when one of the producers of the film is also a composer (Vishal) and it being a typical Indian film, song and dance can’t be far away.

But if these usual, commercial factors were not taken care of, then in his post-release media interaction, Kannan Iyer wouldn’t have needed to make a statement like: “Maybe commercial considerations coloured the second movement of the storytelling. I was not interested in the horror or the supernatural elements per se. It was the inherent drama in the theme that interested me. It’s always the drama that grips me.”

ETD is the story of Bejoy Charan Mathur, known in the world of magicians as Bobo, and his childhood. He performs big stunts on stage but unknown to him or even to Tamara, he starts hallucinating. He feels that he is being stalked by someone. Things become so bad that he decides to consult a hypnotherapist who puts him on regression hypnosis by taking him back to his childhood days. And here the terrifying story of a dark supernatural power in the form of a daayan emerges, who destroys Bobo’s family — both his father (Pawan Malhotra) and sister die and the daayan vows to return.

The best scenes in the film are the ones by Konkana Sen Sharma (in the role of Diana), governess turned step-mom of 11-year-old Bobo — played by child star Vishesh Tiwari — and his six-year-old sister Misha (Sara Arjun)). As the scary governess (or daayan as young Bobo thinks of her), Konkana is superb. She makes her biological father, Mukul Sharma, also the writer of the film, proud. The entire first half of the film comprises of such scenes with Konkana which are really scary.

Once Konkana leaves and Kalki Koechlin (Lisa Dutt) enters the life of a grown-up Bobo, the film loses its grip. Though everyone loves her, Bobo sees Lisa as his childhood daayan. With the typical Ramsay Brother film effects like creaking doors, windy sounds, tables or lamps falling on their own, Iyer doesn’t know what to do with the film. The final scene is the last nail in the coffin.

Of the cast, Emraan is okay. After seeing him excel in Shanghai and The Dirty Picture, expectations were running really high. Kalki has been doing the foreigner girl in so many films that by now she doesn’t need to be directed. Even the music by Vishal Bhardwaj is passe. The song Yaaram rendered by Sunidhi Chauhan and Clinton Cerejo has shades of a song from Amitabh Bachchan’s film, Aks.

If Ek Thi Daayan has got the footfalls, it is because it’s vacation time in India in schools and colleges with no major releases. The censor board has also given it a U/A certificate which, according to Emraan, “is a big boost in increasing attendance in theatres.”