Darr @ The Mall review: Why horror doesn't work in Indian cinema

Darr @ The Mall, borrows heavily from existing horror movie tropes. Even the name of the mall, “Amity”, is a throwback to the American horror classic Amityville Horror.

Aditi Mittal February 23, 2014 09:50:46 IST
Darr @ The Mall review: Why horror doesn't work in Indian cinema

It’s ridiculous to go watch a horror movie at 10:50 am in the morning, but that’s what I prefer to do. That way, when you emerge out of the dark theatre, you’re welcomed by a blast of sunlight and you still have about 6 more hours of daylight. By the time the sun sets, the horrific images of the film are old memories and the night feels infinitely less scary.

I bought the tickets for Pavan Kirpalani's Darr @ The Mall without realising that sunlight would not save me. I was going to be watching a horror movie about a mall in a theatre that was inside….a mall. *cue creepy music*

Darr  The Mall review Why horror doesnt work in Indian cinema

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There’s a reason that horror is not very popular genre of Bollywood. For a long time, our horrors were confined to naagins and chudails. Urban audiences cannot comprehend the fear of looking at a tree on an abandoned road and seeing a cackling woman in a white sari when there are barely any trees and every road will still have at least 3 car loads of late night travellers, on the hour, every hour, all night. Thus, urban horror — ghosts that emerge out of creaky elevators and shiny glass doors — is a genre found it’s footing rarely, like in in Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot (it then lost its plot in Bhoot 2).

Darr @ The Mall, the latest offering, spares us the annoying first 20 minutes of set up with some “khushi sansaar that’s about to be ujjda-oed” for the rest of the film. Jimmy Shergill plays a former army man who’s now working as the head security officer at one Amity Mall. After a particularly drunken party at the night club inside the mall, six people (including Shergill) find themselves at the mercy of this big shop of horrors. Within a minute of the film’s beginning, we’re introduced to the darr-causing element: the ghost.

Now, as a connoisseur of cheesy horror films, my personal barometer to measure the effectiveness of a movie are:

The back story, or the Why and the What

Why is the ghost antagonising the characters in the film? What does it hope to achieve through said antagonism? What is the bhoot’s origins?

The deaths, or the How

How do the characters die? This can be very subjective reaction. If they are clever and unique methods, they inspire fear. If they are ludicrous and far-fetched, they inspire laughter.

As far as the Why and the What are concerned, Darr @The Mall is fairly simple. The problem is that it is iterated about five times in the film. From the first scene itself, we’re given a series of clues. Then there’s a flashback, a dialogue from a ghost that leads into another flashback and then more angry dialogue. By the end of the movie, I knew so much about the ghosts that I felt like I had sat through an episode of Koffee with Karan with them. The background of the characters we’re supposed to be scared for, was vague and definitely murkier than the ghost’s.

Now for the How. The deaths in the film range from “Hain?” to “Oh My God.” On that level, Darr @ The Mall does show flashes of brilliance. Three characters in the film die in such horrific ways that I was impressed and truly terrified. But then there were some portions in the film where the couple next to me, who were more engrossed in making pyaar at the mall, looked up and observed, “Oh!... woh mar gaya kya?” and then went back to making out.

Jimmy Shergill, as usual, turns in a sincere performance. He’s one of my favourite actors and has consistently churned out good performances, even when the script and cast around him have not been able to do so. Nushrat Bharucha is adequate as the girl who weeps and runs and weeps and runs, and also, sometimes, to break monotony, weeps and runs. Arif Zakaria and Asif Basra are bland in spite of being hysterical in nearly every frame of the film.

Unfortunately, Darr @ The Mall, borrows heavily from existing horror movie tropes. Even the name of the mall, “Amity”, is a throwback to the American horror classic Amityville Horror. The climax escape sequence was reminiscent of Poseidon (which is not a horror film but a thriller). But it does break the mould of Bollywood horror in places.

There was not one Panditji or Parapsychologist who steps in to “help” the characters and then dies a gruesome pointless death, taking with him 10 minutes of the movies run time. Even the men who chanted “Om Namah Shivaya” and “Jai Hanuman” in their last few moments were not spared the wrath of the ghosts in this evil mall.

After the film, I made the mistake of using the ladies restroom inside the mall. Since the show was over, and it was still relatively early in the day, the mall was empty, quiet. Maybe the true measure of Darr @The Mall was the speed at which I finished my business and ran out into the warm afternoon sunlight.

Aditi Mittal is a stand-up comedian, actress and teacher. She’s on twitter as @awryaditi and she blogs at http://doesmybloglookbiginthis.wordpress.com

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