Two years in a row have brought unexpected gifts from Indian cinema for the national masochists club. Last year we heard of dybbuk and ruchim from Jewish folklore via the Mollywood production Ezra. 2017 also gave us the Tamil venture Aval (simultaneously made by the same director in Hindi as The House Next Door), which tapped into our anxieties about what lies outside our windows in the still of the night. Now, in the first quarter of 2018, has come the discovery of ifrit and peri from Middle Eastern mythology courtesy Bollywood.
I learnt about these beings – the former demonic, the latter more ambiguous, says the Goddess Google – as I sat cowering in my seat with my scarf covering my mouth and nose and inching towards my eyes throughout the press preview of the film Pari: Not A Fairytale last night.
Irrespective of what the rest of this review says, know this: Pari is scary as hell and heaven and every imaginable eerie space in between.
Director Prosit Roy’s supernatural thriller stars Anushka Sharma as a mysterious creature of preternatural origins and curious intentions. Her worldly name is Rukhsana, but she appears to be not of this world. Why did her mother (played by Preeti Sharma) keep her tied up in a hole in the woods and in a filthy condition no beast deserves?
The question is answered, though not entirely so, when Rukhsana latches on to a man called Arnab (Parambrata Chattopadhyay), an employee at a printing press in Kolkata. Their connection is that her mother dies in an accident involving his car.
Seeing the daughter’s pitiable condition, Arnab decides to do what every regular follower of the horror genre knows he should not: shelter her till he can make alternative arrangements.
Elsewhere in the region, a one-eyed man (Rajat Kapoor) searches for Rukhsana, and a medical professional (Ritabhari Chakraborty) wonders about the elusiveness of the fellow she loves.
Pari is not without its weaknesses. Among other things, some of the information about Rukhsana’s background remains fuzzy right till the end, and Kapoor’s character uses the words pari and peri interchangeably but with different pronunciations within the span of two sentences in one scene.
There is also a conversation between Arnab and his fiancée that flirts with a needless intellectualisation of the goings-on in the film. Fortunately, that exchange is so brief as to barely matter. It is unnecessary anyway, since by then Pari is well on its way to fulfilling its goal of frightening the living daylights out of the viewer.
This is not to say that Pari is unintelligent – no horror film is, if it is effective in being terrifying.
Writer-director Prosit Roy and his co-writer Abhishek Banerjee are aware of the wave of Islamophobia sweeping across today’s India, prevailing prejudices against spinsters and the assumptions made about women who have undergone abortions. They use these to raise our expectations in one direction while Pari heads off in another.
(Spoiler alert) The same tactic is employed with the usual clichés that makers of fearfests tend to resort to. When you are expecting a manipulative screeching sound in the background, it does not come. When you are expecting an old man to repeat an action with a glass eye, he does not. That first scene featuring that artificial appendage and a cleansing routine sickened me because it felt gratuitous, but in the end, when the eye came back to haunt us, I realised that the director was having a spot of fun with us, knowing well that many Indian viewers tend to have low expectations while watching home-grown paranormal films because our film industries do not do the genre well.
In Pari’s bloodiest portion, while the colour red screams off the screen, as disturbing as the visible gore is the expectation of how much more we will see being spilled (but do not). (Spoiler alert ends)
The director’s job is made easier by one of the best casts assembled for a spook flick. Anushka Sharma is the perfect combination of innocent and enigmatic, frail and fearsome as Rukhsana. She delivers an image-defying performance that is designed to elicit pity and dread in equal measure, from the audience and from Arnab. The fact that the star has chosen to produce this shockathon (she is one of the few female actors in Bollywood to turn producer) speaks volumes about the risk-taking streak she has brought to her career so far.
Parambrata Chattopadhyay’s filmography is dominated by Bengali cinema. He made his Bollywood debut with an endearing performance in the Vidya Balan-starrer Kahaani (2012) and brings the same quality to his well-meaning but ultimately flawed Arnab.
These two central artistes have solid backing from veteran Rajat Kapoor, who is utterly chilling, and his shadowy gang, and from newcomers Preeti Sharma and Ritabhari Chakraborty.
Everything in Pari – from its art design to the background score and sound design (refreshingly non-grating considering the traditions of the genre in Bollywood), even the sketches accompanying the credits – works towards sustaining our sense of foreboding about what is to come in that next shot, around that next corner, behind that next door, beyond that next street, after that final name rolls off the screen.
Greater clarity in Rukhsana’s back story would have helped, but for now, I am too busy trying to recover from that petrifying passage in Pari when I finally shut my eyes for a moment because I coulFd take it no more.
Source by firstpost…