PARI (2018)

It has been ages since we got to experience a subtle yet uncanny psychological thriller in Bollywood. My last recollection of a film with that level of affectivity was of Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat. There is a scene in that film where Revathi’s character confesses to having killed another character. The manner in which this scene is dealt with sent shivers down my spine. She accepts the crime with a smiling face and childlike innocence. It was a scene that made me very uncomfortable. I felt the same kind of discomfort all throughout Prosit Roy’s Directorial debut, Pari. Here is a film that neither tries to be scary nor intriguing. It just wants to tell a story well and it does.

Arnav (Parambrata Chatterjee) is about to get married to Piyali (Ritabhari Chakraborty). On his way back from meeting Piyali and her parents, He lands up in an accident that ultimately leads him to meet Rukhsana (Anushka Sharma), a mysterious girl who is chained in her own house by her own mother who was incidentally the victim of the accident. Rukhsana soon finds refuge in Arnav’s house and things start getting creepy.

I was transfixed on the screen from the moment the film started and remained that way till the final credits rolled. When I thought about it after the film was over, I realized that it was not so much because of the story that the film had to tell. I had seen similar stories in great films like Omen, Let the Right One In and the mediocre Species and the story is not strictly speaking novel. However where the film scores heavily is in its treatment of the story. The look and feel of the film is so eerie and unnerving that I didn’t get a single breather in its 2 hours plus runtime. Also, the film felt extremely breezy. When the screen read “Interval” I felt as if only 15 minutes had passed. When I checked my watch I was well an hour and some minutes down. That’s how engrossing this film turned out to be.

This is Anushka Sharma’s best act since NH10. She is mighty impressive in a role that demanded a lot of subtlety and humility. We are scared when she is scared. We are pained when she endures pain and we as the viewer constantly pray that she doesn’t turn out to be a demon. That’s how haunting her act is. There are brief moments of respite when we see her give out a semblance of a smile and these are also the moments which make you fall in love with her character. Honestly speaking, she hasn’t looked and acted this good in years.

Parambrata is the perfect foil for her. He is a pro in Bengali films and has a long list of different characters to his credit. This one is right up his alley. Arnav is a held back, vulnerable and edgy. He has a good heart but doesn’t always have the courage to do what is right. All these factors are beautifully and believably brought out by Parambrata’s act. I didn’t doubt him for a second on the character that he was playing. This film should further his Bollywood dreams by miles.

Rajat Kapoor is one of my favorite character actors of recent times and here again he is electric. The way he carries himself and the aura that he brings to his character of a witch-hunting professor has to be seen to be believed. He reminded me in so many ways of father Merrin from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The only difference is that Rajat Kapoor is a better sculpted and sexier version of the man. What amuses me every time about his performances is the amount of naturality that he brings to the role. He becomes the character that he is playing every time and that’s exactly the case here.

It would be criminal not to mention the cinematography and editing as causative factors for the kind of effect that the film has on the audience overall. Apart from two-night scenes which I felt could have been shot better, the rest of the film is pitch perfect in terms of image quality, angles and feel. The color palate is effectively used to convey a washed out mood and even in that, the aesthetics are maintained wonderfully. The editing in many places helps to increase tension. If that is not what the editing does in a horror film then what is it for, right? Wrong. The editing here flawlessly blends the surprises as part of the film’s narrative and lucidly helps the sequences to flow. The shocks don’t come up as a result of sudden changes but as a part of the story that we are experiencing.

The sound design also contributes a lot in this regard. The background score is terrific and apart from two back-to-back jolt noises (that could have been avoided), the film steers clear of all clichés. It is extremely difficult for a Bollywood horror film to avoid these tried and tested formulae that have become essential ingredients of a horror staple not just here but in the west as well. But Pari is successful in avoiding these habits. That in turns also contributes to making the film stand apart from the others of its kind.

Pari is a splash on the status quo of the horror genre in this country. It is as different from the Bhatt-brand of horror (I love the Bhatt-brand of horror! Chuckle, Chuckle) as it can be and it works. It’s scary, it’s spooky and it’s affecting. It has a leading lady who is currently at the top of her game and who has dared into unknown territories before and knows what she is gunning for. Add to that terrific acts from Rajat Kapoor and Parambrata Chatterjee, unnerving setting, a decent story and technical finesse and you have a near perfect film at hands. This one is a must watch.

Rating : 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

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