Ek Thi Daayan - only mildly scary, and often unintentionally humorous - tells the story of these supernatural beings.
Well-known magician Bobo (perhaps the most unbecoming screen-name one has come across in recent times, and often the reason you break into a contrite snigger when the witch says to the grown man: "Aaao Bobo" [come Bobo]), played by Emraan Hashmi, is a troubled one.
While performing a dangerous stunt, a strange voice distracts him and leaves his assistant injured. His girlfriend Tamara is worried. More so, when she learns that he's visiting a psychiatrist.
A hypnosis session takes us to a flashback. The time when his father brings in a stepmother, who 11-year-old Bobo suspects is a daayan. The woman named Diana, has his father besotted and befriends the little sister.
Everyone concurs that the trauma of his mother's death has caused Bobo to suspect Diana to be a witch. Is he hallucinating or is there something only he can see?
And what of the beautiful Lisa Dutt who is desperate to buy his childhood home that has so many bad memories attached?
Self-proclaimed wiccan, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, has claimed that the film shows women in a negative light and could incite violence against women.
Sitting in our urban homes, this seems like a nonsensical statement, but it only takes a Google search to see the horrifying truth of women who've been tortured and burnt alive because they were suspected to be witches. The practice continues even today.
Heck, it made a friend with a long plait feel uncomfortable immediately!
Plus while the film says there are both good and bad pisaach (male witches), there is no provisions for a 'good' witch in the film. All of the female witches are evil, conniving and out to get children. Why the puzzling disparity?
The film has several awkward moments. Like the one where the magician's troupe strangely under-reacts to his assistant being badly burnt - with a casual, 'You'll be fine.'
And the finale, when a child watches the witch in all her horrifying glory, but is strangely unperturbed. The ending is an accidentally funny mess, while also hinting at a sequel. A real comedown from the great first half!
Those looking for pure horror, stay away. Debut director Kannan Iyer gives us scary moments, but only a few. Several horror cliches can be seen - the flying curtains, scary-looking doll, the unbelieving psychiatrist and so on.
The intermittent spooky moments abound mostly in the first half, when we're wondering what to make of the step-mother's character, while little Bobo is earnestly hunting for clues to prove that she's a witch, even as he laps up the library-borrowed book Kal Dayaan Aur Shaitan.
The horror, though mild, is interesting. You're completely immersed and eager to know more about these supernatural beings.
A background on the witches, other than just their physical descriptions, would have been interesting. Who are they? Why do they take human form? Why do they do the elongated drama to get what they want? And so on.
Emraan Hashmi has truly given a fitting reply to those who judged him as a Bhatt-boy till recently. With Shanghai, Ek Thi Daayan and the upcoming Ghanchakkar and Ungli, he has proven to be more an actor than a star - hungry to experiment with roles. He's been given a weakly-sketched character, but Emraan is earnest.
Konkona Sen Sharma is top-notch. With a smile on her face and stony, cold eyes, Konkona nails the role beautifully! It's a pleasure to watch her, and one wishes the characterisation was as evolved as her performance.
Huma Qureshi dazzles with her bang-on performance, and Kalki Koechlin is a delight as always. (Giving away who plays what character would be criminal, so we've held that for the reader to discover.)
Count the visual splendour and hummable music among the plusses, and you have a fairly engaging horror film that could have been so much more!
Rating: 3 stars