Directed by: Kannan Iyer
Starring: Emraan Hashmi, Konkona Sen Sharma, Huma Qureshi and Kalki Koechin.
All pictures courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com
I really enjoyed Ek Thi Daayan more than I had expected to. Much like the smoke and mirrors that the protagonist Bobo (surely the silliest name ever) uses when demonstrating his magic tricks, there are the usual thrills and spills that now come as standard with any Hindi film assigned to the horror genre. But as always, it is more about what the horror alludes to and in ETD‘s case, we have an interesting study of how superstition is fuelled by paranoia and in this particular case, becomes a basis for misogyny and a coping mechanism for a tragedy that disturbs especially as we never really learn the truth behind it.
There are a few wobbly moments, especially in the second half but when ETD gets it right, it is a compelling and absorbing watch. I liked the dark strand of humour running through the film – the script confidently casts a healthy and cynical dose of doubt on superstition only to tease one moments later by cheekily showing a scene that suggests the superstition is valid and throwing in a scary moment for good measure. There is also a bohemian sensibility that comes through in the look,feel and sound of the film that underlines the eeriness ETD has in abundance and adds to the menacing ambience. I also felt I genuinely didn’t know where the film was going to go next (in a good way) which makes for a satisfying watch.
Performance wise, Hashmi plays it by numbers but manages not to irritate and is genuinely better than he has been for a while. Kalki has little to do but enjoys her role and does what is needed. It is Sharma and Qureshi who steal the show here, with Sharma effortlessly dominating the first half with her femme fatale who never quite makes her intentions clear but intrigues and even adds an element of sympathy to her character. Similarly, Qureshi is fresh and natural, switching gears with apparent ease and demonstrating a confidence and charm that is a delight to watch.
I was pleased that ETD uses the motifs of witchcraft and superstition with a degree of restraint but even so, the accusations of showing women as witches is a risky proposition as there is always a chance it can be misconstrued and seen as propagating a negative stereotype. The resolution at the end also seems to wimp out from taking a stand which is at odds with the progressive tone of the rest of the film. But on the whole, ETD is worth a watch and is more thought provoking than scary, touching on issues that are very relevant for modern audiences and certainly making for a interesting addition to the Hindi film horror canon. Definitely worth a watch.