Subhash K Jha speaks about Phoonk


By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network

For no rhyme or reason I suddenly remembered that Sanjay Gupta, who's often compared with Ram Gopal Varma(RGV) for his dark despairing depiction of suburban dysfunctionalism, has made a film based on the trauma that child actor Ahsaas Channa has apparently suffered because her mother insisted on passing off the girl as a male child-actor for some years.

Ahsaas, fortunately, plays a girl in Phoonk. Though for half the film she remains severely traumatized as her engineer-father's snubbed colleagues take revenge on the man by doing black magic on the innocent little girl.

It's a vicious world out there. Kuch bhi ho sakta hai. Aur darna manaa hai. Phoonk goes into the never-never land of voodoo and black magic. Civilized society may frown at superstition and blind belief. But Varma's cinema functions by laws of its own.

A demented couple (played with delighted dementia by the talented Ashwini Kalsekar and Kenny Desai) stick pins into a voodoo doll while the little girl Raksha lies writhing in pain in the hospital as two doctors (one male and white-haired the other female and jet-black haired both trying to look suitably concerned and failing miserably) mull over her medical reports as though they were checking out the list of passengers on board a flight to la-la land.

Welcome to RGV's land of the dread. Anything can happen here. So be warmed. As in his best-known spook story Bhoot a majority of the playing-time goes into building a foreboding atmosphere. And Varma is very good at that. His restless cinematographer (Savita Singh) peers into the most innocuous corners to make every artifact look sinister. Lemons never seemed more dangerous. Characters pop lemon juice into their sinister mouths or run over the citric fruit with their vehicles with catastrophic consequences.

By the time the chronically -trembling multi-expression Amma of the household convinces her single-expression agnostic beta that the little girl is possessed to bhoot, we're sort of hooked to the frightfully high-octave trauma-terrain where artificial sounds, crows, fruits and paper calendars acquire a sinister life of their own.

Phoonk goes into a terrain occupied by little Linda Blair in The Exorcist 30 years ago. The little girl in Phoonk even hits the roof with some help from the devil within. Ceiling shots apart, the shock value is negligible here. The horror of watching a little girl speak in a man's voice is minimal. The special effects are not so special.The performances range from the strange to the strained.

Zakir Hussain as a pupil-hiding eye-ball-rolling fakir called in at the last moment to save the child from black magic pulls out all stops. Shivers don't run up the spine. They Ram up. No pun intended.