Ghosts of the Road

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689fba4851f553b01d75902e69204f98-2Even though Raman is given directorial credit, Darna Mana Hai clearly retains producer Ramgopal Varma’s thumbprints. In the age of instant gratification, the film offers a deliciously scary antidote for ever-shortening attention spans, a technique that may henceforth become a specialty in Varma’s filmmaking fiefdom. Few A-list filmmakers would have the gall to pull what he attempts with Darna Mana Hai, and even fewer can succeed as well. By bringing together a half-dozen short macabre tales, the film makes a convincing entry as both a casebook on new wave filmmaking and a must-see Halloween season flick.

Continuously tapping into the dar (fear) factor, Darna Mana Hai packs together several chilling tales of the supernatural. Jettisoned into the fast lane by eye-catching Bond-esque opening credits, Darna Mana Hai follows a car full of college students who find themselves stranded in the middle of some proverbially thick woods when their car mysteriously develops a flat tire. Taking shelter at an abandoned shack nearby, each student shares with the others a scary urban legend, the re-enactment of which forms the story’s larger canvas.
There is a story about an outcast collegian (Shivdasani) who acquires an inexplicable gift of being able to indefinitely freeze in motion anyone within his earshot. There is a housewife (Shetty) who unwittingly feeds her husband (Kapoor) some cursed apples that hold a horrific secret and another one about a schoolteacher who obsesses over finding out why his worst student suddenly starts doing her homework. Then there is a dashing sportsman (Oberoi) who gives a ride to an immaculately dressed gent (Patekar) who claims to live in the cemetery where he was picked up.

An underlying theme to many of the vignettes is transportation. There are lost car passengers who wander into unfamiliar woods (and invariably into deeper doodoo) in addition to several cars that break down without cause, roads that lead to remote hotels that guard sinister secrets, and humanity in the form of an urban traffic jam forced to witness the emotional meltdown of a seemingly model citizen.

The hat trick that makes most of the stories work (and there are a couple that don’t work) is the elevated songless sound effects that create an amazing mood of cryptic jungle noises, snapping twigs and the breathing of unseen presences right in your living room. Eros’s sharp DVD transfer correctly captures the many nighttime hues utilized throughout the film.

Darna Mana Hai also gets good work from Varma camp veterans Patekar, Oberoi, Mali, and Singh, while Revati, who starred as the possessed teen in Varma’s brilliant Raat, makes her presence felt as a young mother whose daughter suddenly acquires remarkable scholastic aptitude. And even though a couple of vignettes don’t hit the bull’s eye—Khan caught in a morbid anti-smoking death ritual and Shetty’s poisoned apple stories border on farce—the overall effects make for a satisfying viewing.

Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.

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