Bipasha Basu plays a socialite housewife who fights a malevolent spirit for her husband`s life.
Sanjana (Bipasha Basu) is unhappy with the way her industrialist husband, Aditya Dhanraj (Dino Morea), has let his work become more important than their marriage. When she has an accident, Aditya brings her to Ooty to recuperate. But things get worse as she becomes the target of a female spirit`s ire. Thrown into this mix are the mysterious Malini (Malini Sharma) and a professor of the occult (Ashutosh Rana).
Before Mahesh Bhatt gave up directing, he made two types of films. When not looking inwards for the autobiographical likes of `Arth` and `Janam`, he churned out Hollywood remakes like `Junoon` (`Cat People`) and `Sadak` (`Taxi Driver`).
This trend continues now, even when he`s only writing films. Last year, we had the intensely personal `Yeh Zindagi ka Safar`. Now we have this remake of `What Lies Beneath`, with bits from several other films as well.
As `Raaz` opens, a group of youngsters is having fun. Suddenly, a girl breaks away and runs into the distance, laughing, followed by a guy who can`t keep pace with her. Then she screams, as we realise that she`s being attacked by something off-camera. The entire sequence is straight out of the opening of `Jaws`. Soon after, we see this girl strapped to a bed, speaking in a masculine/feminine growl, being heaved about by a force inside her, much like `The Exorcist`.
Bhatt`s screenplay marries such inspirations from the West to our own legend of Savitri, who moved heaven and earth to save her husband from Death. Here, Sanjana battles an otherworldly troublemaker to save Aditya, never mind that you`d hardly expect someone so ultramodern to be involved in dialogues like `har suhaagan apni shaadi ko bachaana chahti hai`.
But that`s part of the fun here, seeing a ghost story being fitted around modern-day Bollywood. So it`s goodbye to mysterious sounds of anklets, hello to strong women who, after hearing bloodcurdling screams, can overcome their fears enough to step into the dark and ask `kaun hai`!
Such idiocy is always a big part of horror films, for where`s the fun if everyone wisely packs their bags and heads out to someplace safe? And director Vikram Bhatt orchestrates a fairly sustained sense of menace, what with banshee wails, rattling houses, gardening tools that move by themselves, bloody chandeliers, self-slamming doors, and plenty of zoom-in close-ups to the backs of characters headed into the deep, dark woods.
The atmosphere could have been further enhanced had Pravin Bhatt`s otherwise competent photography been less reliant on the cliched blue backlighting, and with fewer song-and-dance routines. At least, Nadeem-Shravan provide some hummable tunes, though their arrangements are virtually unchanged since `Aashiqui`. When are they going to play around with some new sounds? Some songs don`t even fit the situation, as when Aditya sings to Sanjana, `apni shaadi ki din ab nahin door hai`, after their `saat pheras` and during their `suhaag raat`.
The actors gamely go through the motions, alternately singing and screaming as required. Bipasha is not bad, considering this is only her second film, but it`s Malini who`s the real find. With her matted hair and enigmatic looks, she creates a more full-blooded character than you`d think was possible from the conception of her role. You wish she were given more scenes to bring out the undercurrent of tragedy in her life. The men are simply bystanders, with Morea coasting along striking poses and Rana overacting hilariously as a bug-eyed Cassandra.
It`s nice to see the horror genre being given some respectability with a big budget, but some of the special effects intended to induce terror are pretty basic. You cannot help but be underwhelmed by the inevitable, though probably unfair, comparison to Hollywood`s standards of visual effects. I was more impressed by simpler shots like how a painting with tall trees morphs into the actual landscape of Ooty.
Fans of the genre are obviously going to have a better time at `Raaz`. But even if you aren`t into horror films, this should at least be a change from the recent spate of releases that all seem to veer toward either patriotism or syrup.
`Raaz` contains some fairly decent hocus-pocus with plenty of unintentional laughs along the way. With the fog machines on at full blast, where else will you find a lime turning blood red when a corpse has been discovered?
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