This review contains spoilers.
Oh, Raaz 3 had so much going for it. A plotline about an older actress threatened by the rise of a younger one seems even more contemporary now than it did in 1950, when All About Eve first came out. And a spoilt, self-obsessed, uber-ambitious Bipasha Basu as reigning Bollywood heroine Shanaya Shekhar (look, people, this is fiction); a puppydog-eyed Emraan Hashmi as her secret squeeze; and a nubile nymphet who’s stealing Bipasha’s awards (and boyfriend) from under her nose – what could be a better setting for a steamy saga of professional and sexual jealousy? It’s almost a tale meant for black magic.
Sadly, the bare bones of the plot are left to rattle around in a film badly bloated by depressingly predictable characters and truly terrible dialogue. The flesh on this skeleton is rotten, and no amount of mouth-to-mouth – they do try, I’ll grant them that – can bring it back to life.
The mouth-to-mouth (largely between Bipasha and Emraan, though Esha manages to get in a kiss or two), as always in the Bhatt universe, is franker and less coy than in most other parts of Planet Bollywood – but one does wish Bipasha wouldn’t try so hard to look seductive while she’s at it. She’s so patently faking it that it seems a trifle unbelievable that Emraan’s Aditya Arora – even rolled around her little finger as he’s supposed to be – doesn’t see through rather-too-oomphy act. He only realizes that it was a performance when (spoiler alert) Bipasha presents him with a dvd of it later in the film with a smirk and a threat of blackmail.
Bipasha has always been a marvel at remaining perfectly-coiffed through tragedy queen roles: my favourite of these performances was the caste-cum-honour-killing thriller Aakrosh, where she wafts her way through a violent marriage to an evil landlord in FabIndia sarees and artfully dishevelled cloud of just-shampooed hair. Here, even as she keeps telling her hapless lover to look into her eyes and see her dukh, her possibilities as tragedienne are swamped by overly sharp dressing that announces her as evil from the word go. I mean, even before she’s gone over to the forces of evil, when we see her arrive in a temple in what looks from the back like a very short white kurta and nothing else – well, we know, don’t we? There’s also the wall-sized image of her face splashed across her own drawing room, which is definitely eerier than anything that actually happens in the film.
What happens in the film, you ask? Yes, well, I suppose it is impossible to avoid any longer. So the insecure Shanaya Shekhar goes to one Tara Dutt (Manish Chaudhry, pretty impressively not just a ho-hum evil tantrik but an actual aatma who shapeshifts, for some reason, into a most un-disembodied maggoty form) and gets some water from him, which when drunk by her arch-nemesis Sanjana (Esha Gupta), will put the poor girl’s spirit in Tara Dutt’s power. Shanaya then prevails upon her director boyfriend Aditya (whom no-one knows she’s in a relationship with because singledom is crucial to her brand value) to hire Sanjana in his next film, so that he can be the conduit for this evil water (in case there’s a chance that plain colourless water doesn’t seem evil enough, we get some rather brilliant shots of the glass vial glowing brightly in Aditya’s pocket). Unsuspectingly having drunk of Tara Dutt’s water (now for some reason referred to as zeher), Sanjana starts to see things that no-one else can see, and slowly starts to lose it. Meanwhile, Aditya has started to fall in love with the girl he’s helping to spook… who now also turns out to be Shanaya’s secret half-sister.
I must confess at this point that awfulness of plot and dialogue has very little to do with whether 3-D hands jumping out of the screen scare you. Accordingly, the first half of Raaz 3 contains at least two moments when I jumped, and they both had to do with innocuous things turning murderous — (spoiler alert) televisions and clowns. The much-touted flying cockroaches, I am sorry to report, are not scary at all – not even in 3-D. The rest of the time the film meanders its way through expeditions to the kingdom of spirits – long-drawn dream sequences in which our protagonists have a chance to physically battle embodied versions (heavy chains, pools of water, axes) of their disembodied fears – via the usual collection of psychiatrists, doctors and tantriks in graveyards.
2009’s Raaz: The Mystery Continues was horror with an environmental message – the spirit doing the haunting was a whistleblower on a polluted pond scam who’d been killed off. Raaz 3, in the best secular tradition of Indian horror, has Hindu practitioners of spirit-vidya who seem to have no problem with conducting their activities in Christian cemeteries. Perhaps this ought not to surprise us: even to a non-horror-watcher like me, Hindi horror comes across as pretty much derivative of firang horror, with Ganesha idols replacing the cross.
The purported moral of Raaz 3, delivered in a very dull monologue by Emraan Hashmi, is that one must love others more than oneself. The lesson you’re more likely to take away from it is that rats are God’s creatures (remember Ganesh’s vaahana?) and cockroaches are the work of pret-aatmas. Enjoy.