We’ve indeed come a long way from the saas belonging to the ilk of Shashi Kala, Lalita Pawar and Bindoo had a vocabulary limited to ‘Kultaa’ ‘Kalmuhi’ and ‘Daayan’ when it came to addressing their bahus. The ‘daayan’ has finally found a pride of place where she actually deserves to be – horror film genre (she did a debut in Children’s film ‘Makdee’ directed by Vishal Bhardwaj). Interestingly, it’s the pioneer of saas-bahu saga, Ekta Kapoor who’s giving the devil or rather daayan its due with the film, Ek Thi Daayan.
While the womaniyaas (Huma Qureshi, Kalki Koechlin, Konkona Sensharma) are busy playing ‘guess who’s the daayan’,Emraan Hashmi, as ‘Bobo – The Baffler’ reprises the ‘legendary’ jaadugars we’ve been watching right from good ol’ PC Sarkar, K. Laal, Amitabh Bachchan as Goga in Jaadugar and as Shyam in Toofan, Hritik Roshan as Ethan Mascarenhas in Guzaarish (‘inspired’ by Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, ‘The Prestige’ and ‘lifted’ from ‘The Sea Inside’).
The film, through a contrived hypnosis therapy (thank god there were no lines like ‘ab tumhein neend aa rahi hain, ab tum so rahe ho…’ etc. as made popular by the hypnotherapists from 70s and 80s) takes us to the inner world of Bobo – The Baffler, a guy obsessed by magic and witchcraft since the time he was a kid. For a change, it’s the kid who gets to mouth words like ‘daayan’, rather than a scheming and screaming saas.
Writers Mukul Sharma and Vishal Bhardwaj steer away from the stereotypes generally associated with horror flicks, and come up with something which we can safely term as a cocktail of ‘Bhoot’ and ‘Raaz’. While the first half treads the path of Ram Gopal Varma (who taught us that bhoots have upgraded to apartments and no longer prefer the puraani havelis), the second half sadly resorts to the obligatory good v/s evil faceoff as made famous by Vikram Bhatt in the Raaz series.
Nevertheless, Ek Thi Daayan, based on a short story by Mukul Sharma surely scores over other horror films churned out every year, purely because of its well-written backstory where we watch two kids (essayed by Sara Arjun as Misha and Vishesh Tiwari as the young Bobo). Cinematographer Saurabh Goswami spares us from weird angles and toys appearing like zombies in the dead of the night and paints the film’s canvas with charcoal of the night, often lighting up with the sun of torch and moon of i-Phone flash.
Vishesh Tiwari, as the younger Bobo packs enough punch to make the character believable and compels you to root for him, especially when he sets out to unveil the dark secrets of his stepmom and warn his father (played to perfection by Pawan Malhotra). Like it always happens in every horror film, the father doesn’t believe him and takes him to a psychiatrist-cum-hypnotherapist (excellent performance by Rajatava Dutta). Dutta’s character seems to have replaced the mandatory taantrik and padre and hence faces the same fate as they do in all horror films right from Ramsay to RGV.
Emraan Hashmi plays Bobo-The Baffler with a commendable conviction (yes, he does live up to his image but proves that he’s much more than a serial-kisser). Huma Qureshi comes across as a welcome change from the assembly line of model-like actresses we’re subjected to in every other film. She does complete justice to her character and employs complete restraint at points where any other actor would have gone overboard. Kalki plays what she knows best – playing NRI and is no different as Lisa Dutt, but what stands out here is her well-written role exuding charm of a bohemian whom you’d be compelled to view with an eye of suspicion. The song ‘Yaaram’ is perhaps one of the few Hindi songs which create the perfect ambience of a jamming session or a musical coterie (apart from ‘Shaam’ composed by Amit Trivedi in Aisha). The icing on the cake of this song is a tribute to Gulzar saab by showing Emraan Hashmi reading out lyrics from his poetry collection called Neglected Poems (of course the song doesn’t feature in the book but that’s what we call creative liberty).
Apart from Yaaram, the only thing that lingers over your mind is undoubtedly Konkana Sensharma. So much so that you’d have no qualms proclaiming her role as Diana (a give-away name indeed) to be her role of a lifetime (apart from Mr. & Mrs Iyer). Well, there’s another Iyer who should take a bow – Kannan Iyer as a promising director all set to exorcise the clichés of bhootbusters, yet sadly falling prey to them. With the end clearly promising a sequel, we hope Iyer evolves as a filmmaker as much as we evolve as film-watchers. Till then, all we can say is Ek Tha Darwin.