A picture of a smiling Terry-Thomas made an unanticipated cameo and scared this reviewer while watching the comedy-horror film Peechhay Tau Dekho (PTD).

When I was a child, Terry-Thomas made a scary imprint on my memory as the villain in George Pal’s 1958’s adaptation of Tom Thumb, which also starred Peter Sellers and Russ Tamblyn. Seeing Terry-Thomas’ smiling face out of the blue made me jump out of my seat.

It was the second (of maybe three) time that director Syed Atif Ali’s film was successful in making an effective jump scare. As far as genre comparisons go, PTD’s jump scares outdo Stree and Roohi — two films in a similar vein, but with much larger budgets and better storylines.

PTD’s director has previously directed the godawful Pari — a film that asks you to believe that a dead child can be demonically reincarnated back to life by her mother because she had a hard-cover demon book lying in a bookshelf of their house.

In Syed Atif Ali’s Peechhay Tau Dekho, the comedy works more often than not, but the story could use another rewrite

In comparison, PTD stands head and shoulders above Pari. The story — about two losers who beat down a local hoodlum’s brother-in-law after a late night cricket match in their alley, and take shelter in a haunted house — has a good enough idea with a healthy amount of near-impromptu sounding awami (masses) humour that harks back to the early Umar Sharif theatre era.

The comedy works more often than not. However, the story could use another rewrite.

Zulfi (Yasir Hussain) and Teepu (Aadi Adyel) are two good-for-nothings who have a penchant for bumping into ghouls and ghosts. Escaping a churrail (the spectre of a woman; not a witch) and then djinn in a laugh-out-loud pre-title sequence, the two trigger the ire of gangster Phool Maachi (Aamir Qureshi) and escape to a well-known haunted house in Hyderabad, Sindh (where the film takes place). The dwelling is known as the place “where people enter and corpses come out.” The house also has a secret treasure chest, but the plot forgets about that aspect entirely.

In this dark, forbidding house lives Rani (Waqar Hussain) — a transgender woman and the object of some very uncomfortable humour — who offers them sanctuary but forbids them to enter a room.

Being idiots who see spectres, their own doppelgangers, and are even told off by the old groundskeeper of the house, they enter the forbidden room and find, amongst dozens of clocks that run backwards, two girls dressed in white on a swing.

Not one to heed the red flags, Zulfi and Teepu fall for the girls who we learn are called Shabnam and Mumtaz (Sara Ali, Nawal Saeed).

Shabnam likes poetry and Mumtaz likes songs. They both carry an air of the ’70s, to which the film eventually flashbacks to, to introduce the actual plot. From a slapstick comedy-horror PTD now becomes a mystery about love, heartbreak and murder, involving a man called Nadeem (Junaid Akhter).

The transition from a happy-go-lucky comedy of bumbling idiots to a drama of misfortune is quite seamless. However, the seams come off in other areas.

The story needs a lot of tightening. Zulfi and Teepu’s shenanigans begin repeating themselves far too often in the first 30 minutes, and one expects the mystery aspect of the story to manifest itself sooner. The premise also needs a far more malicious omnipresence in the house as an actual antagonist.

At two hours, PTD is half an hour too long. A shorter run-time and a rewrite that would cut sequences and tie together loose story elements would have made the film a better experience.

As far as performances go, Yasir and Aadi should, in fact, star as the recurring leads of this horror-comedy franchise — if PTD is successful. They have the chemistry and the timing to make this work. Aamir Qureshi is fine, as is his character’s nephew played by Shariq Mehmood. The film, however, belongs to Waqar Hussain and his somewhat multi-layered performance as Rani.

If Zulfi and Teepu return for a sequel, they should bring Rani (and a tighter story) along as well. PTD could very well be a franchise, who knows.

Produced by Eveready Pictures in association with ScreenShots and 3H Vision Productions, Released by Eveready, Peechhay Tau Dekho is running in cinemas. Save a few jokes, and some unresolved story threads that have you scratching your head, there is nothing objectionable in the film

Published in Dawn, ICON, June 19th, 2022

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