Maya review: A ghostly tale that fails to frighten

  • Gautaman Bhaskaran, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Sep 23, 2015 18:03 IST
Nayanthara plays Maya and Apsara in a story that goes back and forth in time. (twitter)

Director: Ashwin Saravanan
Cast: Nayanthara, Aari
Rating: 1.5/5

Sometimes, I feel that Indian producers and directors ought to watch British and American horror films to learn the technique of this genre. They don’t have the faintest of idea of how to script, narrate and helm a ghost story. And with such movies -- which are frightfully awful than frightening -- now returning to the theatres (after their popularity in the 1960s and the 1970s), there is pressing need to master the craft of horror.

Ashwin Saravanan’s Maya relies heavily on weird music and noises to scare the viewer, and when enough of this has been done, the film starts to startle you by thrusting ghostly figures on your face. A headless torso, a man who is completely covered by plaster and a woman whose face is hidden by disheveled hair hardly produce the kind of emotions which writer-director Saravanan might have expected from modern-day audiences. Many among them, in the cinema where I watched Maya, were heard laughing -- when they should have been trembling with terror. Maya clearly fails on this front.

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The plot is no great shakes either. In black-and-white flashbacks, we are told how Maya’s child is taken away from her some two decades ago in a mental asylum -- located inside an eerie jungle, called Mayavanam (pray why this spot?) -- where she is pushed into by her relatives. A perfectly sane Maya is driven to despair by the medical experiments conducted on her (seems like a Nazi concentration camp) that eventually kill her. So, this is no ordinary asylum, but one where the wickedest of deeds are committed in the name of medical science!

As the movie shifts into colour, we have a single mother called Apsara (played by Nayanthara), and a cartoonist, Arjun (Aari), who begins to investigate the strange once-upon-a-time bizarre goings -- on in the asylum, which is by then disused and dilapidated, for the evil men have been long dead. Arjun also knows that that those who dared to get inside the forest have never come back.

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The story weaves in and out the past, telling us about Apsara’s tryst with the cinema industry, and about a producer as well as a director who shoot a film inside Mayavanam for a contest -- which requires one to watch it all alone in a darkened auditorium with an electro-cardio graph machine strapped to him or her to monitor the heart. One who watches the movie without getting his or her pulse race racing wins the prize money. How much more freakish can Maya get?

Watch Maya trailer here:

Anything more about the narrative will be a dead give-away, and Maya is not impressive on the acting front either. A de-glam Nayanthara often looks strained rather than pained as Apsara, and emoting has never been her strong point. Even during the climax, when she walks into a mist-swept Mayavanam, creepy and crowded with the supernatural, Nayanthara’s face appears blank. Where is the fear, and come on, one need not get into a haunted forest in the dead of night with a torchlight whose beam is an apology for illumination.

If Saravanan had hoped to create a ghost tale out of all this (look at the autorickshaw with Apsara that travels on deserted Chennai roads and other kinds of desolateness that Maya forces on us), he could not have been more wide off the mark. Maya may be mysterious all right, but the shadows and the flickering bulbs hardly put the fear of devil in us.

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