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Mayank Shekhar's review: 404

The prof supports the fearless, rebellious student’s decision to move into that room no. 404 (hence the misleading title). The student is visited by disturbed soul of the room’s previous occupant. The rest is mystery, writes Mayank Shekhar.

movie reviews Updated: Jan 31, 2012 15:32 IST
Mayank Shekhar

Soup for the chickened-out soul

404
Director:
Prawal Raman
Actors: Rajvir Arora, Nishikanth Kamath
Rating: ***

Every death is sudden. And technically, every dead person leaves behind some work-in-progress or the other. The bhatakti aatma (the wandering, dissatisfied soul) then is merely bunkum justification for paranormal people who hallucinate ghosts with their eyes wide open – imagine images they’re mentally predisposed to. “The eyes only see what the brain is willing to comprehend.” This is a fair point.

Anirudh, a professor of psychiatry, makes this rational argument. The fellow is a reasonably accomplished doc (Nishikanth Kamath; sincere, smartly under-stated – a stunning acting discovery). He’s a visiting prof at this plush medical school, lives on campus with his wife, who’s also a psychiatrist (Tisca Chopra). In the evenings, he entertains students and colleagues at his quiet home, cooks dinner for them, smokes the cigar, delights himself to pleasures of fine music. He loves Che Guevara, another man of medicine, who brought Cuba its freedom, but is now only identified with young merchandises of cool (T-shirts, posters of course). He feels Facebook is part of a corporate agenda to track and rule human minds. Basically, Anirudh has all the time to stand and stare.

His is a good life. The red brick-stone, idyllic campus makes you want to turn towards a career in calm academics (it makes me, for sure). Students on the same campus, of course, may never want to go back to college again. First month of intense ragging ensures that. This is that part of the year when young medical students, fresh out of school, are taught to solve eternal puzzles like the one from the Sharaabi Bachchan song, Nasha sharaab mein hoti toh naachti botal (If liquor’s an intoxicant, its bottle should dance too)”. Why doesn’t it? Well, “because man drinks. He dances. Bottle needn’t. It appears as if it’s dancing anyway!” Anyway…

Life, at least the college part of it, seems usual here: the arrogant, frustrated seniors (a casual Imaad Shah, etc), the frightened juniors, the helpless faculty (Satish Kaushik and the lot). Though you see fewer students, and much fewer teachers, for an Indian medical college. There’s still something odd, kooky about that professor (Kamath), and a freshman (Rajvir Arora), his newfound protégé.

The young boy’s moved into a hostel room that is considered haunted. Because a student there once hung himself to a fan, committed suicide. Superstitious college supports locking that room out for good. This is strange for a medical school that should be celebrating virtues of science instead. The prof supports the fearless, rebellious student’s decision to move into that room no. 404 (hence the misleading title). The student is visited by disturbed soul of the room’s previous occupant. The rest is mystery.

And for once, there is a mystery – a palpable chill in the air. Every few minutes, you feel that run down your neck as well. The director (Prawal Raman, whose 2003 horror package Darna Mana Hai was equally a fine experiment) clearly knows a thing or two about patiently, warmly taking his audiences along a house of horror.

Insecure shock jocks usually kill the fun with sound and special effect alone – comedy, being the instant flip side of spook. You don’t laugh here, never. You just wish to know what’s going on, or what happens next. Tension is at once withheld, and released, and withheld again. So is the suspense. There’s a shocker end. Suddenly, you’re taken aback. And you don’t want your money back either. This is rare.

M Night Shyamalan, with a single stroke (Sixth Sense), supposedly, changed the way the world saw dead people. This carefully measured film could do the same for sub-par paranormal movies in this country. I’m dead right, I hope…