Friday, January 9, 2009

Sadly, Phoonk's no Bhoot

Ever since I got the DVD of Phoonk in the mail (Ram Gopal Varma's 2008 horror release), we've been bopping our kitties on the nose and saying "Phoonk!" It's totally onomatopeic, although really, of course it means "an incantation," and has no intrinsic connection to nose-bopping.

Now that I've watched the movie, I can say that it wasn't bad: it was competently made, and contains some spooky visuals. I've seen a lot worse. (Well, if you either know more personally, or have ever read my blog, that goes without saying). But I'm relieved that it flopped. If it had been a hit, I might have worried about the implications, since Phoonk's main drawback was: it's just like an American movie, in a bad way.

For one thing, it's so straightforward, we know exactly who the villains are even before they do anything villainous. Directly from point A to point B, and then, that's it! Dudes, I'm already in a country with a multibillion dollar entertainment industry utterly dedicated to simplification. That's not something that needs to be imitated!

Our protagonist is a rational modern businessman, opposed to religion, but when his daughter is cursed, he learns there's more in heaven and earth, etc. When the construction workers he hires dig up a Ganesha head, he refuses to let them waste time building a shrine on the site. Later on, he's so adamant about this that he wants to fire them. Eventually, with his daughter acting possessed and catatonic by turns, he goes to another magician for help in fighting the unknown (but sadly obvious) evil (uncovered in a "eureka! It's them!" moment). His mind expanded, he allows the shrine to be built. That's as much "character development" as we're going to get.


The best thing in the movie was Ashwini Khalsekar as the creepy tantric magician. Madhu. In her early scenes, as a business associate who was supposed to be smart and capable, but off-puttingly weird, she seemed to be suffering from a sort of giggly Tourette's. But once she started to be vaguely menacing, and eventually turned on the full black magic mode, she was really good. Apparently, it was the stress of acting normal that caused her character to seem crazy; in her own lair, as her evil self, she was interestingly dignified and intense. (Her previous film was 2007's Johnny Gaddaar, with, ooh, Dharmendra, which sounds worth checking out).

And about those magicians -- I was really hoping for some complexity there. Like, they were falsely accused of the fraud that got them fired in the beginning of the film (which led to their desire for revenge). Or that their magic had been a key part of the hero's business success, as opposed to his put-upon wife's prayers to the gods. Anything to ambiguous it up for us. After all, the relatively low-budget Gehrayee used a similar possession-of-the-innocent revenge plot, but with larger overarching themes and a lot more subtlety. That's in a horror movie from 1980. Think about that!

So yeah, the style was very American cinema. Here's your characters; here's your situation; it plays out; the end. No interesting subplots or digressions. Nothing to connect us emotionally to these people's plight, other than the idea that, well, they're the main characters, so we're supposed to care.

Gives me new appreciation for the Ramsay Brothers, I'll tell you that!

4 comments:

Srinivas said...

Actually, Phoonk was a hit in India..and there is talk of a Phoonk-2 etc.

Anarchivist said...

Thanks for commenting! I have to get most of my info about these things from the Internet, and we all know what THAT can be like.

Anonymous said...

Hey you MUST see Johnny Gaddar who has Dharmendra in it as you say. It is a fantastic film. I love it.

Anonymous said...

Hey you MUST see Johnny Gaddar who has Dharmendra in it as you say. It is a fantastic film. I love it.