Rating: 4 out of 5
There are good films and there are great films but few films have the potential to change a genre or start a new one. “Phobia” is one such gem of a film that demands your attention and might just be the game-changer in the space of psychological horror thrillers in Hindi cinema. The film’s taut narrative neither ignores viewer’s intelligence nor does it test their patience.
The film open with a famous quotation of Franz Kafka, “A cage went in search of a bird” and you’re in for a roller-coaster psychological ride. The quote merges into a painting with that of a hand in the left side of the frame trying to reach out for help while half a dozen of hands are trying to rescue him from the right side of the frame or are they? This picture coupled with Kafka’s quote quite sums up the whole film which revolves around an upcoming painter Mahek who is suffering from acute agoraphobia (a fear of open spaces). To accelerate her healing process her well-wishers thought that a change would be beneficial thus Mahek gets shifted to a used but empty apartment. But the apartment has its own story which results in her getting trapped from outside as well as within. Initially the whole setting seems like a typical hindi horror film but as the film moves ahead you will be stunned at the smartness of Pawan Kirpalani’s execution. Believe me “Phobia” is something which you have never witnessed in a hindi horror film. Nothing is what it seems and the atmospheric horror is devoid of any cheesy sequence. Phobia terrifies you with its creepiness and when you think you know where it is heading it surprises you. There’s an unexpected quirky pre-climax which lightens the mood only to take you to a gory but impactful climax that gives an apt closure to the first two acts.
Balancing between psychological and nasty horror, the detailing gone to create each frame shows the efforts gone into making this film. Every colour, each prop had a story to tell and Pawan imbibes them well into the narrative to take it forward. Like the black-and-white paintings placed strategically in the room defines the caged situation of Mahek and the eeriness of the apartment. In one of the many exemplary sequences we see a big spider crawling over a painting of a human character stranded at a corner of an almost empty room. As the spider moves up its shadow become huge as the frame cuts into another close-up of Mahek’s fearful yet confused eyes. Pawan usage such metaphors to show how the inner fear is caging the rational mind of our protagonist and we seriously want her to move out – both from the mystery of the room and her phobia. Thankfully we are spared from the usual ear-defying loud music that defines hindi horror thrillers. With limited usage of background music Karan Gour uses sounds of various utensils to create the impact with Jaya Krishna Gunmadi’s camera work creating an aura of much needed urgency that’s spiraling Mahek’s thoughts. And it will be crime if I don’t mention Editor Pooja Lodha Surti who makes the right cuts to make the film engaging. She along with her director Pawan Kripalani dared to pay tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s debatable masterpiece “The Shinning”and how. Those long wide angle shots of corridors and doors reminds you of the classic and at the same time takes you inside the claustrophobia of an agoraphobic panic stricken existence.
Talking about “the Shinning” our Radhika Apte is no less than Jack Nicholson in terms of intensity. Some might think I am exaggerating but honestly you have to see it to believe it. Yeah but unlike Jack Mahek she is the victim here. The film rides strongly on Radhika Apte’s shoulder and she is there in practically every scene. As the disturbed Mahek (with some troubled past) she gave one helluva of a performances that again shows the capability of the lady. I am surprised at her understanding of such a complex character and the way she sinks her teeth into it depicting a mix of vulnerability and aggression.Bravo!! To support him we have the under-rated Satyadeep Mishra (last seen as Ranbir’s friend in Bombay velvet) who rocks the show as her love interest with suspicious motives. Ankur Vikal, Arpita Bagchi, Nivedita Bhattacharya are effective in their supporting roles.
On a flipside 2nd half does makes you a little restless and the makers could have done away with some repetitive sequences.
We as an audience ignored the superlative 404 but I wish people support this one. Though it has a niche appeal it shouldn’t get lost amidst crowd. Interesting both the films had released on 3rd week of May. Anyway, one suggestion- don’t go for Phobia with a mindset of casual viewing. Invest on each scenes and in the end when all the ambiguous dots get connected the cine-lover within you would feel “gifted”, much like our leading lady.
Also, there’s a strong social message against the patriarchal regressive mindset which has been passed very subtly. Some added brownie points to the writers Pawan Kirpalani himself with Pooja Lodha Surti and Arun Sukumar.
P.S: We have so many in these dark territories like Raman Raghav, Udta Punjab, Te3n next month.Wow!!