Flat No. 609 movie review: Arindam Bhattacharya's genre-defying attempt is nothing you haven't seen before
Flat No. 609 finally ends up as two decent and yet disparate pieces of cinema – which just don’t seem to come together as a seamless, wholesome work of art.
castSoumitra Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee, Tanushree Chakraborty, Mamata Shankar, Rudranil Ghosh
When it comes to the writing of Arindam Bhattacharya's new Bengali horror film Flat No. 609, there are only two possibilities; either he started off wanting to make an out and out horror film, sticking to the nuances and traits of the genre – but then later changed his mind somewhere in between and decided to explore some other genre instead. Or, and this is worse – he always wanted to make the film he ultimately did. In either case, Flat No. 609 finally ends up as two decent and yet disparate pieces of cinema – which just don’t seem to come together as a seamless, wholesome work of art.
While house-hunting, a rising middle-class urban couple named Arko and Sayantani have just chanced upon a beautiful duplex apartment in Kolkata’s yet-to-become-Kolkata Rajarhat locality. They fall in love with the apartment and the sweeping views of verdant grasslands that it offers, and immediately move in. But the comfort of a good home is short lived, because soon Sayantani begins to witness strange paranormal activities within the apartment, leading her to believe that they are not alone in their new house.
The first half of Bhattacharya’s film gives you the feeling that you’ve seen something like this before – and you probably have, because it works like a remake of Ram Gopal Varma’s 2003 horror film Bhoot. Varma’s film was fantastic, and original. It was also groundbreaking in the sense that it brought the ghost or spirit in Indian cinema out of old havelis and put it in a modern high-rise apartment. Flat No. 609 is set exactly in that format – including some of the scenes involving an elevator and an inexplicable bouncing ball. There are some clever and original bits of writing too, for instance the manner in which Arko tells Sayantani – ‘What do you think? I already liked it’ – while they are being shown the apartment, but for the most part, the film follows Bhoot in its footsteps – if you’ll excuse the pun.
But here’s the fine point of it. Ramu’s Bhoot was so good that I would have no complaints if Bhattacharya had made an official remake of the film. Instead, what he does is go on and add a twist to the story, which, I am afraid, just does not work. I don’t want to spoil the film by giving away too much of the plot, and I would encourage people to watch the film and judge for themselves. Because all said and done, it is a decent effort, but one that just went awry because of one (yes, perhaps just one) bad writing decision.
My prime problem with the film is that the makers never seemed to have asked themselves the all-important question – what is the film we want to make? Where do we want the story to go? Can the arc of the story start from one genre and end in another? Well, there's no harm in that. But then how do we ensure that both these genres stick together as one wholesome unit? Bhattacharya and his otherwise perfectly competent crew would perhaps have realised by the end of this exercise that when it comes to writing a plot and shooting it, combining genres is not an easy task. It requires – not twice, as one would be inclined to presume – but several times the hard work required to make a film that remains loyal to one genre. So Ram’s Bhoot is one film, and Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt is another, and the twain could meet, but only under the strictest of supervisions. Anything short of that and you will have a disaster in your hands. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened with Flat No. 609.
An excellent actor by all means, Abir Chatterjee plays his role as the caring husband well, although I strongly believe that the sudden shift in his body language in the second half of the film was uncalled for, not even by the so-called ‘demand of the script’. Tanushree Chakraborty plays the role given to her with great sincerity and she deservedly got my undivided attention every time she appeared on screen. It was sad to watch her gradually descend into madness, although her frequent return to normalcy seemed a bit jarring for someone who has been clearly living in a haunted house, sometimes all by herself.
Bhattacharya stuffs veteran actors Mamata Shankar and Soumitra Chattopadhyay into the apartment next door, but they have little to do other than to act suspiciously eerie and have premonitions of impending doom. While the ‘truth’ may lie in the old couple’s apartment, the manifestation of it surely resides in the younger ones’.
Kharaj Mukhopadhyay (who seems to be in every Bengali film these days, to the extent that he might be in the distinct danger of thinning himself down) is good in parts as the hard-boiled cop, and Rudranil Ghosh is, well, Rudranil Ghosh in the role of a typical, all-in-one, street-smart Kolkata real estate broker who has not-so-aptly been named 'Pappu' by contemporary social media meme standards. Pujarini Ghosh appears and disappears faster than the ghost in a small role, and that’s all there is to it.
Bhattacharya succumbs to the temptation of using jump scares, suitably aided by some of the most horrifying screeching sound designs ever to have been used in the history of horror films, and the music in the film is strictly forgettable. There are flashes of some clever camera tricks strewn throughout the film – but nothing you have not seen before.
Overall, Arindam Bhattacharya’s Flat No. 609 did not work for me as a standalone independent story. And I say this irrespective of the films it borrows from. What the film lacks in direction, it can hardly make up for in spirit – despite the advertised but inconsequential presence of one. That is the saddest part.
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