Gaslight (2023) Review!!

Synopsis – Misha returns to her royal family estate after 15 years to visit her estranged father, only to find him missing.

My Take – Comparatively, writer-director Pavan Kirpalani has done some commendable work in the Hindi horror genre. Though he found critical and commercial success with Ragini MMS (2011), failure with Darr @ the Mall (2014), and immense appreciation with Phobia (2016), it was the immensely likable Disney+ Hotstar release, Bhoot Police (2021), where he experimented with CGI and the much in demand comedy horror that put Kirpalani on the map as a filmmaker.

His latest, another Disney+ Hotstar release, also seemed to have all the ingredients that could make for an engaging thriller with horror vibes, from spooky palaces and a lonely girl to notorious family members and buried truth, and yet, the film is a letdown.

Considering the talent involved, this should’ve been a slam dunk, but sadly, the subpar writing and the direction keeps the film from rising above whatever little chills and thrills it offers.

However, the biggest challenge the film poses is its inability to let us view anything clearly, forcing us to squint throughout its 111-minute runtime to actually see what’s going on. It always looks like someone has turned the brightness down to zero, be it on land, during the daytime, at night, in an exterior setting, or in an interior setting.

Yet, despite all these odds, if you like the genre, and are a fan of Sara Ali Khan or Vikrant Massey, feel free to give this one a shot.

The story follows Meesha (Sara Ali Khan), a wheel-chair bound girl, who lost the ability to walk after an accident, and is now heading back to her royal estate after 15 years, after receiving a letter from her estranged father, Ratan Singh Gaikwad (Shataf Figar), requesting her return.

Though she is warmly welcomed by her stepmother Rukmani (Chitrangada Singh) and Ratan’s employees, including Kapil (Vikrant Massey), the estate manager, what especially strikes odd to Meesha is the absence of her father and everyone inability to speak about his whereabouts.

However, matters take a turn for the worse when only Meesha starts to see and feel Ratan’s presence in the halls of the palace. With her distant cousin, Rana (Akshay Oberoi), and SP Ashok (Rahul Dev), also seemingly having ties to the whole situation, Meesha is convinced that something larger, probably supernatural, is in play.

Devoid of songs, the film, as the title suggests, does make certain characters question their sanity using psychological means. The camerawork works in favor of the atmospheric tension of the narrative, as it lingers on almost all the corners of the mansion, especially some demonic and devilish paintings on the wall. With some jolting shots and jump scare moments, the film begins to veer into the territory of horror after what seemed merely a thriller.

The sound in particular deserves praise as footsteps on a wooden floor, fire crackling, creaking doors, books slamming shut, pages fluttering set a nervous tone perfectly. Dimly lit old palace and its empty rooms speak a language of their own. Atmospheric and gloomy, the setting is ideal and unlike most Indian thrillers fear is not chaotic but quiet.

Even the protracted sessions about her father’s whereabouts undoubtedly produce stress and suspense. Yet despite being expertly shot, the film is significantly flawed, mainly as it is driven by vague material.

The mind games that the female protagonist is subjected to, regardless of their initial hit of the paranormal, quickly run out of the element of astonishment. That leaves the film without much steam and tension. The biggest problem is that one can see the film’s big reveal from a mile and a half away. And with an effort to show how they want to step ahead of the audience, director Pavan Kirpalani and co-writer Neha Sharma throw in another twist that seems more inconsequential than imaginative.

Plus, it seems like the film wants to make a statement about the fake benevolence of upper-caste and upper-class people and how that can scar the lives of people from minority communities. But, given how they spend a majority of the film’s plot on red herrings and then dump the caste-ism aspect of the narrative on the characters at the last moment, it fails to be impactful in any way.

But most importantly, the film desperately needed some form of light. As majority of the sequences are shot in the night, as most films in the horror-thriller genre, it takes quite an effort to see anything. The night scenes are shot in such poor light that most of the scene will have one guessing about the goings-on. It is disappointing considering the efforts the talent puts into the source material.

Performance wise, Sara Ali Khan brings in an earnest turn. Though the film is uneven throughout, she sticks to her character of a tormented young woman effortlessly. Vikrant Massey once again proved his mettle as a performer.  Though he isn’t the only one to have layers to his character, his transition is so smooth that you’ll barely notice, in spite of expecting it from the very start.

Chitrangada Singh is also quite good and looks drop dead gorgeous in every frame. Though he is marred with an underwritten supporting role, Akshay Oberoi manages to stand out. In other roles, Rahul Dev, Shishir Sharma, Vinod Kumar Sharma, Ashmita Jaggi and Shataf Figar are efficient. On the whole, ‘Gaslight’ is an uneven mystery thriller that is driven by its vague material and is barely visible.

Directed –

Starring – Sara Ali Khan, Vikrant Massey, Chitrangda Singh

Rated – PG13

Run Time – 111 minutes

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