Film: 'The Forest'; Cast: Nandana Sen, Jaaved Jaaferi and Ankur Vikal; Director: Ashvin Kumar; Rating: ***
Charlie Chaplin once said, 'All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.' Debutante feature film director Ashvin Kumar applies the same principle for a horror film, replacing the park with a forest and throwing in the woman's husband, a policeman's son, and a guard, and binds them all with a man-eating leopard.
Though 'The Forest' is full of cliches of its genre, there are elements that one can really cheer for in this low-budget, independent film.
A couple, Radhan (Nandana Sen) and Pritam (Ankur Vikal), come to a jungle resort in the Kumau Valley. Here they find an old friend Abhishek (Jaaved Jaaferi), who is a cop in the region and lives with his son. As they frolic around the forest, trying to sort dormant issues between one another, a man-eating leopard is readying for the kill.
In the 1952 film 'The Bad And The Beautiful' directed by Vincente Minnelli, filmmakers realised that what actually scares people in a horror film is not horrible creatures, but the fear of something lurking in the dark. Horror lies not in what is visible, but in that which is not and the fear of what it can do to you.
That is exactly what Kumar does to good effect, using shadows and sounds instead of the actual leopard who barely occupies five minutes of screen time.
The cinematography of the film, especially the shots of the jungle taken by Naresh and Rajesh Bedi, is breathtaking. And the actors do a fairly good job of what they are offered.
Yet, there's hardly anything that comes as a surprise as the film panders to known cliches of the horror and thriller genre. Thus, the leopard becomes only secondary to the horror the characters' own inner selves, struggling against themselves and those closest to them. That this is not done in an overbearing manner makes one comfortable in the cliches.
The major drawbacks of the film are the many lapses in writing, which forgets to close some loopholes or better explain others.
There is a track of an ash-wearing mysterious woman which does not find a logical conclusion. There's even a scene where Radha sees the reflection of a woman in the mirror. The scene, it seems, was added just to lend more chill to the film and like a few other scenes, seems completely disjointed from the story.
The leopard is shown to be swift and powerful enough to just carry off people magically. Agreed that these mythical elements were required to build the leopard's character, but a little more attention to detail like the addition of sound of being pulled in the gap during the person's disappearance would have made it that much more believable.
The point of view of the leopard is also done very badly. One of the reasons that makes the leopard so deadly is his sight which is sharper than that of humans. To show his vision to be hazy does not make sense.
The typical ending would have been where some or all of the humans, and definitely the terrorising animal, die. Though there is death, the ending is sensitive and original as the writer-director does something unexpected yet believable. This shows the sensitive side of the film whose intention is not just to thrill, but also raise issues of conservation.