Cast: Emraan Hashmi,Konkona Sen Sharma,Kalki Koechlin,Huma Qureshi,Pavan Malhotra
Director: Kannan Iyer
The Indian Express rating: ***
The best supernatural movies are rooted in the real. Because thats where the dark things live. Because thats where the fears are. A benevolent glance switching to sudden,startling malevolence. An empty room with murderous corners. An eyeball turning dense black. Ek Thi Daayan starts so well that you are riveted. Just about everything in the first half,with its well-calibrated chills,is just as it should be. The second half is unravel time,and you are then left grasping at thin air. Quite appropriate,in a film about magic and apparitions,and witches,and,yes,daayans. The sharp slide wants to make you ask,what just happened here,did a black cat cross the path of the film?
Bobo (Hashmi) is a conjurer. He is in the middle of a show when something strange happens on stage,leaving him shaking. A visit to a shrink who has known him since childhood leads him back to his tragic past,in which his father and little sister died,the scars of which he hasnt managed to shake off. The cause,as we are shown through young Bobos eyes,is a daayan,who seduces his father (Malhotra,solid as ever),and befriends his little sister,for the express purpose of taking lives.
Now Bobo is older,and is finally ready to get rid of his ghastly memories. But daayans dont give up their prey so easily,it seems. The disturbing visions begin again. People close to him are threatened,and the daayan with the long plait which has all her strength and the arms longer than their bodies is back. The skill with which the story is built up,in a flat full of atmospherics,eschewing horror clichés helps us get past the hokeyness of the daayan premise. If daayans and their deeds are so entertaining,I said to myself at the interval,bring them on. The disappointment begins with a mehndi-shaadi song. Why,why? The writing becomes obvious,the surprises disappear,and the big reveal is such a mash-up of so many previous spookfests that Ek Thi Daayan becomes more ‘Kab Hogi Khatam’.
But while the going is good,so much about this film is so good. There really is no one like Vishal Bhardwaj (whos co-produced the film with Ekta Kapoor),who can paint such a natural picture of childhood; debutant director Kannan Iyer could easily have plucked the kids out of Bhardwajs imagination the children are real,their conversation is natural,and their fears are palpable. Konkona Sen Sharma resurfaces after a gap,and what a super act shes come up with. She crept me out nicely. Huma Qureshi has just a few good moments,but makes the most of them. Also,dear Bollywood leading ladies,please watch Kalki Koechlin strum a guitar and sing,to know how it is done: that Yaaram song is the only thing that kept the post-interval bit afloat. That,and Emraans consistency with his part: this is a performer who keeps getting better.
Ek Thi Daayan starts out as a well-acted,well-produced supernatural thriller,which could ,and should,have climaxed with a knock-out punch. To which end,somebody should have walked across the wrap with a deft pair of webbed feet.