You walk in not quite knowing what to expect. A genre film more often than not plays out along familiar lines, letting the audience always stay a step ahead of the action. Ek Thi Daayan, at least its first half, doesn?t.
Not only does it defy most preconceived notions that you might have until the lights go out and the supernatural drama begins to unfold, it also leaves you so befuddled by the end of it all that you don?t really know what to make of the film.
Pretty much like its male protagonist, Bobo the Baffler, the film plays tricks that are at times beyond easy comprehension but you still go along with the flow.
What really is Ek This Daayan: an out-and-out horror film, a creepy paranormal thriller or a twisted psychological drama?
It actually blends elements from all three genres and weaves around them the anguished love story of a man whose obsession with the occult gets the better of him.
By the time the film winds down, it also throws in a moralistic good demon-bad demon twist.
The names of the principal characters ? Bobo, Diana, Tamara, Lisa ? are all drawn from the Gothic space, while the central yarn about evil witches and malefic spirits has been yanked out of hoary indigenous grandma?s tales.
Ek Thi Daayan is saved from outright damnation by its multi-layered storyline and the unusual manner in which debutant director Kannan Iyer orchestrates the narrative. Both have a touch of novelty.
But that?s about it. Take the surface gloss away from Ek Thi Daayan and all you have is a rather muddled film that meanders into a tame denouement that borders on the risible.
The director overplays his hand and puts all his cards on the table a tad too quickly. Once the element of shock and surprise are out of the equation in the first half, the film falls into a predictable pattern.
The taut first half plays out in dimly lit spaces ? an old apartment building, corridors wrapped in darkness, and a spooky elevator that leads to a nether world.
Fear and foreboding hang heavy over this portion of the film and the jolts are delivered to great effect.
The second half is different in terms of both pacing and texture. The lighting brightens up, a wedding takes place, and a love ditty is sung at a party, but, in the bargain, the film loses some of its grip.
A star magician, who is at the peak of his prowess, is shaken by frightening hallucinations and begins to make embarrassing mistakes on the stage.
Turns out he was hounded by a witch when he was an 11-year-old.
Many years later, the ghost of the past has returned to haunt the illusionist. His girlfriend tries to help him out, but he needs psychiatric help.
Enter a family shrink who resorts to hypnosis to draw the magician out of his shell.
But the question is: are his fears merely imagined or are they for real, triggered off by the presence of the women around him ? a stepmother, a lover and a mysterious fan who flies in from Canada to sow more doubts in his mind?
By the time the answer is worked out by the screenplay and the strange occurrences begin to make some sense, Ek This Daayan runs out of steam.
It settles for a rather predictable climax that is at variance with the attempts Iyer makes up to this point to invest the narrative with stray jabs at logic.
The performances are first-rate. Emraan Hashmi, an actor who is often not given his due, gives the character of the haunted magician just that ? a haunted feel that is just apt.
Each of the three actresses in the cast ? Konkona Sen Sharma, Kalki Koechlin and Huma Qureshi ? is as good as the other, bringing a distinct, palpable psychological shade to the table with natural ease.
The Ek This Daayan soundtrack is embellished with Gulzar?s lyrics and Vishal Bhardwaj?s musical compositions. So at least on one front the film belongs to absolutely the top drawer.
Phurrr kar ke tote udd gaye isn?t an average wedding number, nor is Yaaram just another romantic song.
The rest of the film, barring a few moments that spring out of nowhere to deliver a shock or two, struggles to measure up.
Ek This Daayan is passable fare as a scary movie ? the dark, spooky mood is sustained with the aid of dark, shadowy interiors and an effective and unobtrusive background score.
It might have helped had the film not been given to quite as much thematic obfuscation.
Is it intriguing enough to sustain audience interest over two hours and a bit? Most certainly. Is it a true spine-chiller? Only occasionally.
The riveting parts of Ek This Daayan are far outnumbered by the limp moments. Yet it is worth a watch owing to the idiosyncratic treatment of a done-to-death genre.