In 1992, Ram Gopal Varma wrote and directed a film called Raat which would go on to not only become a cult classic but would also define the horror genre in the years to come. I had not watched this film right up till now and now after watching it I find an uncanny resemblance of it with most of the Bhatt horror films that have come out over the years and made some decent moolah. Each of the Bhatt horror films follow a strict structure in which the first half takes us through the morbid routines or romances of the principal cast members, one of whom turn out to be the one to be possessed.
By the half way mark, the possession is complete. Through the second half, the film goes on to reveal how the soul is saved. This half also relates the background of the possessing spirit and also how the spirit came to be what it is. Each of the films invariably has an old man who works as the thread bearer for the narrative. He is most definitely the one to reveal the spirit and help the family or individual out with their miseries. This old man may or may not survive the narrative. Each film will also have an exorcism performed on the possessed which will have uncanny resemblance to each other.
If one closely looks at the narrative of Raat, each of these characteristics may be found with some uncanny references to the cult classic “The Exorcist”. The film narrates the story of a family of four who move into a house that is allegedly haunted. Manisha Sharma (Revathi) aka ‘Mini’ is a girl studying in college. Akash Khurana plays her father Mr. Sharma while Rohini Hattangadi plays her mother Shalini Sharma. Deepak (Kushant) is Mini’s classmate and boyfriend. From the day they move into the house, Mini starts experiencing strange visions which scare her. However she doesn’t give it much of a heed.
Mini’s nephew Bunty (Master Atit) finds a cat in the house basement. The cat has an eerie look on its face with its spot-staring eyes. One day the cat ventures behind the father’s car rear wheel and is killed accidentally while the car is reversed. The cat is buried in the backyard without the knowledge of Bunty. The inexplicable starts taking its toll on Mini when she is finally possessed by a spirit during a trip with her boyfriend. The spirit has a past of its own and makes Mini do some terrible things. Soon the family realizes that Mini is possessed and she starts proving to be a threat to her family members. Doctors are summoned but they are unable to decipher the puzzle.
An old neighbor advises Shalini to seek the services of Sharji (Om Puri) who lives in Falaknuma. Sharji first visits his “guru” who has taken Samadhi in the remote Falaknuma and gets fire power ashes as a weapon. Sharji then locates the ghost in Mini’s house basement underfloor and finds it to be that of the woman who was the previous owner’s keep and who was murdered brutally. The ghost is brilliantly played by Sunanda. After a brief horror flick involving the ghost trying to kill Deepak, Sharji finally neutralizes her with the help of holy chants and the ashes. The ghost finally leaves Mini’s body with a thundering flash. However towards the end of the film, we see Mini’s nephew carrying the same cat that had died previously pointing to an ominous future.
The film rides on some superb performances. By that I am in no way demeaning the story and editing and cinematography and direction which are all in place but in a film like this, the plot is dependent primarily on the believability of the story and that to a large extent is dependent on the performances of the cast members. Revathi is simply sensational. She doesn’t overact even for a fraction of a second, and just eases into the transformation of her character with uncanny ease. The scene that struck me the most was the one in which she speaks to a doctor and in a leisurely manner and accepts having committed the murder of her friend. The scene has to be seen to be believed in. Rohini Hattangadi is the next best thing. Playing a sane and strong mother, it is now left up to her to save her daughter and she brings out the emotions of a hapless mother to perfection.
The film moves at a brisk pace and never lets off. The thrills are aplenty and the songs virtually absent thus investing in the thrills more than the gimmick. Varma’s experiments with the camera angles had started by then and they are evident in the film. However, the experiments here are all for the best and the camera angles actually suck you into the particular frame unlike some of his later films where the jarring and shaking camera is a deterrent to the connection between the viewer and the narrative. The film has an eerie feel to it which you will not find in too many Bollywood horror films which I believe was one of the biggest reasons for its unprecedented success and cult status.
Overall, Raat is a superb watch even today almost 2 decades after it was made and released. It still holds a very contemporary feel to itself which is the trademark of a classic. The film was able to send shivers down my spine in more than one occasion which I believe is no mean feet as I am a regular viewer of the most recent and arguably scarier horror movies. Give it a watch and chances are you will be surprised for all the right reasons.