Direction: Pavan Kirpalani
Actors: Radhika Apte, Satyadeep Mishra, Yashaswani Dayama
Late one night, a woman is assaulted. Mehek, a painter, develops agoraphobia, an irrational fear of public spaces. She refuses to step out of the house. After four months of cajoling and therapy, a friend shifts her into a new apartment, which he hopes will enable her to heal. But the apartment seems to have a life of its own.
It sounds like a standard-issue horror film. In fact, a quick search on IMDB and Wikipedia reveals two other films named Phobia — one of which also deals with agoraphobia. The basic premise also has shades of Ram Gopal Varma’s Kaun?
But don’t be deterred. Phobia is a smart, sassy and spooky thriller written and directed by Pavan Kirpalani, who earlier made Ragini MMS and Darr @ the Mall. Frankly, I had gone in with zero expectations because Hindi film horror mostly alternates between cheerfully cheesy and unintentionally funny, but Pavan scores big with Phobia. It will make you jump.
Unexpectedly, it will also make you laugh out loud — in scenes that are actually meant to be funny.
The modest scale of the film is balanced by its big ambitions. Most of it is shot in one location with a handful of actors. The elfin Yashaswani Dayama plays a kooky college girl who befriends Mehek. Satyadeep Mishra, one of Bollywood’s most underrated actors, is Shaan, the man who loves Mehek but is exhausted by her unpredictable and uncontrollable mind.
But Phobia rides on the blazing talent of Radhika Apte. She’s in practically every frame but you never tire of watching her.
Mehek is a woman on the edge. She’s anguished one moment and hysterical the next. It’s a tough role, but Radhika doesn’t hit a false note. She’s terrific.
Like most horror films, Phobia requires a suspension of disbelief — after all, who would conclude that the best way to cure a sick friend is by leaving her all alone in a new space? But Pavan crafts the film so cleverly that he doesn’t give you time to ask these questions. There are moments when you think the story is falling into typical horror traps. At one point, I groaned out loud. But hang in there, because nothing is what it seems.
Phobia is satisfying and fun — both words you don’t get to use often with Hindi horror films.
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