Vaastu Shastra

Last Updated: Wed, Oct 27, 2004 07:22 hrs

Starring Sushmita Sen, Chekrvarthy, Ahsaas Channa, Peeya Roy Choudhry, Purab Kohli, Rasika Joshi, Sayaji Shinde

Rating: ***1/2

Warning: If you get scared in the movies, then stay away from Vaastu Shastra. It’s arguably the most terrifying horror film ever conceived and brought to the screen with an ingrained integrity that diminishes both rational explanations and irrational fear to a mound of indistinguishable after-thoughts, applicable only if you overcome your nervewracking perceptions of the sheer visual terror that the film creates .

Compared to Vaastu Shastra Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot was child’s play. That’s what the little boy in Vaastu Shastra does….the ball he bounces freezes midair. He tries to call out to his papa poring over the laptop.

While the other scare-fest Bhoot that Varma directed personally, was more leisurely and causual in its spine-chilling aspirations, Vaastu Shastra is relentlessly horrific in its implications of what demoniacal discoveries await beneath the tranquil surface of a seemingly normal household.

While in most horror films, including Hollywood’s most celebrated ones like The Exorcist and Omen, or the slasher films in the Friday The 13th series, the terror is imposed from the outside and allowed to seep into the characters and plot Vaastu Shastra moves in the opposite direction.

The appalling terror originates from within the given milieu and the rounded believable characters, who occupy the stunningly ominous spaces, and makes its way outwards to the frames.

Before we move further with the frights, let’s straightway congratulate the debutant director for assembling a crew that allows his flights of foreboding to take wings. Apart from a terribly overdone soundtrack in the first —half (why must the sound effects be used so arbitrarily to scare viewers when there’s so much of the genuine stuff, and so well thought out, later in the plot?) there isn’t a single aspect in the narration that doesn’t grab us by the you-know-what.

Sachin K. Krishn’s camerawork is eye-catching without being glamorous. The frames create a ferverish flush of fear without over-doing the sleek exteriors of the bungalow where the horror unsheathes in glowing purple shades.

While the first-half gives us, and the characters, a chance to catch our breaths, the second-half pulls out all stops to unleash a furious terror across the plot’s sweltering scenario.

The ghosts, so far seen in fleeting silhouettes, come out of the closet en masse. They crowd the narrative with their muffled but brash demands, make what was so far only a whispered glance in horror films, an occasion which afford us a full-frontal view of the otherworld in all its ghoulish glory.

There are no benign supernatural elements. The mean spirits infest Vaastu Shastra and finally overpower the narration to the point where director Narang seems to take the horror genre way beyond the prescribed borders of ‘thrills’ and ‘entertainment’

Ironicallly the film’s most stand-out aspect–namely its willingness and ability to take the horror genre beyond the permissible limits–is also its own gravest shortcoming. To an ardent follower of filmic terror the excesses of Vaastu Shastra may appear overdone and unbearable.

That’s precisely the reason why the film makes a deep and indelible impression. Unlike other tales of the other-world this one doesn’t leave us with the comfort of the evil forces being vanquished.

Narang portrays the dark unknown world as dangerously self-renewable. The ghouls crackle with hostility. The writer, editor and the cameraman conspire to create a climate of ceaseless stress. The fear never leaves the frames. The terror is never vanquished. What we are finally looking at is a bleak irredeemable evil, aggrandized by a negative energy that flows speedily through the veins of this agile spook story.

Notch up several points for the new director. He not only knows the horror genre in and out, he uses its conventions in a subverted celebration of supernatural stupefaction. Narang even does the ‘Girl in a shower’ sequence with Peeya Roy Chowdhry who plays Sushmita’s sister. The sequence ends in a way that’s not only unexpected but horrifying beyond Hitchcock’s hemisphere of horror.

First-rate performance come from the whole cast. Sushmita is of course as outstanding as always. Face completely free of makeup, she blends into the blizzard of terror while remaining ever-so-slightly above it all.

But the best performance comes from the little boy who plays her son. Little Ahsaas Channa with his looks at the terrifying tree in the frontyard and his conversations with his two invisible (ghost) friends creates a credible world of impressionable fears. His performance is comparable with the little boy in Poltergeist.

Little Channa remains supernaturally natural throughout. His tryst with the evil maidservant (Rasika Joshi) who threatens to run him down under a speeding truck if he squeals to his parents, gives audiences an insight into the nature of evil and how it can live close to us without our being aware of its toxicity.

Vaastu Shastra isn’t for the sequamish or the frail at heart. The chilling requires as much courage and strength from the audience as it does from the characters. Finally when it lays open the darkest tunnels of terror we are given no respite from the sense of foreboding.

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