Synopsis – Siblings Natasha and Kabir Merchant investigate an allegedly haunted mirror in their parents’ home.
My Take – We all know that Bollywood does not do horror films well. Despite the certain progression in matter of storytelling & genre exploration, horror sadly remains one of the most overlooked genres in Bollywood with most films they offer consisting of whatever forgetful, nigh on ridiculous plot line an overzealous teenager might have cooked up to scare of his friends. While, admittedly there are a few gems that make it through as watchable and give us hope, yet it seems like Bollywood producers & directors are still more interested in finding the right formula to create an impact as strong as Hollywood films do on a global level, rather than just focusing on doing their own thing. This one, an official remake of the 2014 American psychological horror thriller Oculus, an excellent film from director Mike Flanagan (with an executive producer title on this one) seems to be made as an answer to end this long running dry spell, unfortunately, I think we need to continue waiting. In the same year as Ram Gopal Varma‘s Bhoot, in 2003, director Prawaal Raman bought us interesting anthology of short stories titled Darna Mana Hai (produced by RGV), & has somehow found himself stuck to the genre i.e. horror/fantasy, with interesting films like Darna Zaroori Hai, Gayab, 404: Error Not Found & Main Aur Charles under his belt, however, here, unlike the English version which was quite engaging, he burdens the film with a self-imposed history, a verbose script and a badly mounted screenplay loaded with ghost-induced hallucination and flash backs, herby making the viewing distractedly confusing, and far from what it was flaunted to be. Most importantly, despite being touted as horror, this film is quite dull, forgettable and exhausting, also, it’s not actually scary which sort of defeats the purpose a bit, right?
Oscillating between events that took place years ago and the present, the story follows Merchant siblings Natasha (Huma Qureshi) and Kabir (Saqib Saleem). Natasha believes that tragedy that befell on their family 11 years earlier was caused by a haunted mirror that possessed their father, the artist Alex Merchant (Adil Hussain). Natasha and Kabir were children when the police found them in their home in the English countryside, a gun in Kabir’s hand while Alex lay dead from a gunshot wound and the mother Lisa Merchant (Lisa Ray) in another part of the house. Both siblings claimed that Kabir was innocent in the matter. However, after a decade of therapy, Kabir has emerged in the real world, & is convinced that the ghostly happenings in their home were a figment of his and Natasha’s imagination, and that their parents’ deaths were a result of a marriage that had fallen apart because their Dad was possibly having an affair with one of his models, yet, Natasha remains convinced otherwise. After years of research & preparations, Natasha has found the mirror and brought it back to their former childhood home, where she has set up different kinds of electronic gadgets along with cameras, in order to record evidence and to prove that the framed mirror which their father had purchased as an art collection, in reality is the residence of a supernatural force that caused their parents’ death, thus citing that Kabir and their father are innocent of all the horrific violence that occurred years ago. Though skeptical of the entire incident, Kabir decides to help his sister in her ‘crazy’ quest and help her destroy the mirror once & for all, not keeping in count that the mirror knows how to protect itself & has been doing so for centuries. There is no doubt that the film makes a sincere effort to raise the bar of Bollywood films & also a step up from director Raman’s earlier works. Unlike usual horror features, this film stays away from gore and the usual creepy panning of the camera or unnecessary jump scares to complement the plot. Instead of the usual scared vengeful spirit we have a gorgeous entity called Ana (Madalina Bellariu) who uses the art of seduction to turn Alex Merchant against his family. What also makes the film a cut above the rest is the way it shifts between flashbacks, the present and the unreal, the result of which you are constantly feeling the doubt along with the onscreen characters. While you want to believe Natasha’s theory that the so called mirror is possessed, you are thrown off guard by Kabir’s logical reasoning to all that Natasha is making us believe! The film continues steadily till the middle, with the entire incident being played out as a misconception in the minds of the two siblings. However, it is after the interval that the ‘spirit’ does make an appearance. For those who have seen Oculus, the lengthy explanation leading to the eventual activity is dampening & the director’s screenplay which goes into explaining every action undertaken by the protagonists turns the whole suspense just redundant. I get it, the film is not supposed to be a full-fledged horror, and be more on the lines of psychological thriller, and to some extend it even succeeds, but keeping in mind the material on which this one is based, the original kept us more occupied.
Director Prawaal Raman bids his time and while cinematographer Anuj Dhawan’s camera manages to get the eerie vibe just right, the actual hair raising moments are far and fewer in between, and as we near the climax, some really creepy scenes do get us to sit straight but there is just not enough meat to let the horror genre buffs to sink their teeth and nails into. The film has virtually nothing happening in the pre-interval portion except some boring conversations between the siblings, and post-interval, when matters do finally speed up, it is too late. As the scares improve in the second half, with ghost-induced hallucinations dominating the action, the past and present start to overlap & even though these sequences are executed well but aren’t backed by good direction or acting. Scenes like Natasha eating a bulb instead of an apple, Alex dancing donning a mask, are a few that will make you bite your nails in anticipation. The whole segment of running on the film on multiple tracks, inter-cutting between Natasha and Kabir’s childhood and present, and their differing viewpoints should have been fascinating and suspenseful, but the film just fails to recover from the absolute lack of energy that sets in the first hour. Besides, everything seems so pointless when Natasha, who set up all those cameras with such fanfare, does not bother to check the recorded footage at any point – as a result, we do not at any point get to see the difference between what she and Kabir think happened to them and what actually did. There are times when some scenes look too stretched and you feel things are going overboard. Sometimes you fail to understand why the actors wouldn’t just leave the haunted spot and sometimes they just look too chilled and relaxed. The trouble with remaking a popular film is in the ability to make a difference without losing the original effect! Oculus was hugely successful owing to the screenplay that unveiled the truth behind the murder that broke the family, while constantly shifting the timelines to keep the audience riveted. Here, director Raman manages the second part quite ably with red herrings all over. He sticks religiously to the original script, which makes the film appear very predictable. Even otherwise, haunted mirrors, remote castle-like houses where serial murders occur, heroes seeking revenge caught in the mental trap are very clichéd tropes. What’s more the poor editing from Hakeem Azeez and Nipun Gupta does the film no favors. If you look at the bare bones of the story (written by Mike Flanagan & Jeff Howard) there’s actually a lot of genuinely interesting and great material to work with, such as a young man finally coming to terms with what he believes is his deranged psychosis only to have his sister undo all his progress and make him believe once again that it was, in fact, a spirit that possessed his father. It all makes for what could have been a tense, taut psychological thriller which leads me to believe that Oculus might be a film well worth checking out a second time. Casting real life siblings as on screen off springs was a genius decision, especially considering how Huma Qureshi and Saqib Saleem have proven themselves to be capable performers in past films. However here, the scenes featuring just the two of them being among the film’s most tepid and dull. Qureshi tries hard to deliver a restrained performance, but doesn’t succeed. Saleem is likeable and shines in a few scenes, but his earnest performance doesn’t salvage the film. Lisa Ray looks beautiful and does justice to her role as the worried, emotional and helpless mother and wife. Adil Hussain as the possessed Alex Merchant is phenomenal and convincingly takes us through his transformation from a doting dad to the violent father. Rhea Chakraborty is wasted. Child actors Rysa Saujani and Abhishek Singh are decent in their parts, while Madalina Bellariu looks gorgeous & is terrific. On the whole, ‘Dobaara: See Your Evil’ manages to bring in some bone-chilling moments but is let down by its lethargic writing, direction and editing.
Directed – Prawaal Raman
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 106 minutes