It's definitely many rungs up the ladder when compared to the Ramsay Brothers horror flicks. But for horror flicks to really come of age in Indian cinema, it will take some more time. Director Ram Gopal Varma has the right intent on exploring the supernatural. Whether what he has shown on screen does exist can be argued till the cows come home to graze and no one will come with a plausible explanation. But as one who has first-hand seen what Ramu has shown, I can vouch that aisa bhi hota hai!
You know cases of people being possessed by evil spirits only when you have seen for yourself. However much you may have heard of it, it's always difficult to believe. In that respect, Ramu has chosen a fine subject and treated it well too. Believe it if you want. But what really is the sore point is the first 15 minutes when he introduces the characters.
You immediately know who the culprit will be who is behind the protagonist daughter's life. Madhu (Ashwini Kalsekar) and Vinay (Ganesh Yadav), the husband-wife team who work for Rajiv (Sudeep) who is in the construction business stick out like sore thumb. Madhu's constant, sudden, irritating laughter makes you wonder what's wrong with her. Ramu does not justify her behavioral pattern, which has resulted in this demonic laugh. Also, the camera constantly closing up menacingly on the soft toys, Noddy, Arnie, et al in the beginning makes no sense really. The horror really begins when the girl gets possessed!
As a viewer, I want to know why Madhu laughs the way she does? But Rajiv is OK with her. He treats them as family and it's only when he learns that they have misappropriated funds that he insults them and asks them to leave his home during a party. It does not take a genius to guess that here is where the problems will stem from for Rajiv.
To get back to the story, Rajiv is a happy-go-lucky businessman who does not believe in idol worship. But this one incident, of his daughter going berserk, changes all that. To get back at Rajiv, Madhu resorts to black magic and another spirit enters the girls little body. She makes strange noises and is pulled, slapped and beaten. The parents are desperate for a cure; the doctors term it as some neurological disorder, while the grandmother is convinced that someone has done black magic over her grandchild. It takes some time for Rajiv to come to terms with the problem and accept the fact that it is black magic indeed.
Here again, Ramu has got the doctor's dilemma spot-on. No amount of medical science can treat a person who is possessed. Constant sedation, and more often, subjecting the patient to electric shocks is not the solution. What is required is help from Above! One can even identify with the father-daughter bonding.
Sudeep as Rajiv injects life into the screen. This man here has the three Ps required to be a damn good actor: Presence, Personality and Performance. A good discovery here by Ramu. Amruta Khanvilkar has progressed from what one saw of her in MUMBAI SALSA as the mad, bed-hopping girl in search of love. In CONTRACT and now PHOONK, she plays a subdued role, that of a mother in a saree. Just shows her versatility. I only hope she is given more roles to play that bombshell she so splendidly portrayed in MUMBAI SALSA. Hats off to Raksha (Ahsaas Channa) who plays the girl possessed. For someone so young to play a character beyond her comprehension takes some doing. Full marks here to Ramu for extracting a worthy performance from the little girl.
The background score is eerie enough to give you that creepy feeling and the low camera angles at most times does give the film the look of horror. But for horror to be real horror, it will take more than just these bits.