By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Spooked and stunned, you stumble out of KAAL with deep thoughts on the future of the horror genre in Bollywood. In case you thought shiver givers were passé, here's a wake-up call.
KAAL shows us how it's to be done without dumping-down the genre, or stepping too hard and fast on peripheral scares…Creaky doors are out, rustles in the jungle are in. Catch the mood of growing foreboding as a bunch of yell-matched cocky and quip-equipped youngsters step into the uncharted territory of an animal sanctuary.
Wildlife, anyone? You got it! The best thing that debutante director Soham Shah has done is to take his ingenious plot into the great wild outdoors. Unlike Ram Gopal Varma's JUNGLE which used bizarre camera movements to stress the predatory mood in the wilderness, KAAL lets you into the secrets of the jungle without getting technically complicated.
There's a directness to the deft and dark terror treatise, as Oberoi and Dutta, Abraham and Deol, plus a couple of other wacky friends (Kushal Punjabi and Vishal Singh) and two scowling chauffeurs, maneuver their cars and karma into quaky kingdom.
Like all capable spook sojourns KAAL takes a bit of time to grow on you. Once you fall into the fearful rhythm you are in for a rollicking scare. There has never been a horror film quite like this one.
The ambience is electric. Thanks in no small measure to the incredibly accomplished sound design (Dwarak Warrier), the terror is stressed from within the plot. The film has the bare minimum of window dressing. The adrenaline is kept going completely from within, and that's the narrative's biggest asset.
The eco-friendly horror film starts with an ecologist (John Abraham) expressing concern over the growing extinction of tigers. At this inceptive point in the narration, you wonder how the writer-director intends to hold up such a profound note of introduction in the rest of the narrative.
To our relief Soham never falls into the trap of creating superfluous scares. The entry of Devgan's character mid-way signals a unique journey into the supernatural, not just for the characters but also for the audience.
Yup, we've never seen anything like this before that's for sure. The last half-hour of the plot is sheer heart-in-the-mouth stuff. Generating heat and horror through expressions of disdainful cynicism that melt into a reluctant belief in the supernatural, the film leaves us with the most positive mixed-feelings created by a film in recent times.
The performances, though not outstanding seem to fall into place in the larger scream of things. While the girls Lara and Esha are suitably skimpy in attire and startled in demeanour the men get the stunning SUR of the story just right.
Partly because of the nature of his part and partly because he plays his character with an appealing languor, Devgan heads the list of acting honours. Vivek Oberoi plays his volatile character with a furious flair for bridled fear. John Abraham represents a presence. In the way his hair falls on face and his face falls into place Abraham denotes a quaint state of grace in the environment of dizzying fear.
The rest of the cast gets to do little except grow increasingly wary of those invisible forces that seem to stalk the ominous jungle. Actor Vishal Singh's death on the wobbling wooden bridge is filmed with gory grace. It shows the director's strong hold over the complicated issue of suspenseful storytelling.
There're no superfluous moments, no song breaks and no diverting brakes in this full-on horror film. The animals of the wildlife sanctuary lend a powerful backdrop to the bristling plot.
You may not be a horror buff. And you may find the characters stupid in their willingness to court trouble. But you can't deny that KAAL believes in what it's telling us. And when you come away from the film you look anxiously over your shoulder for shadows lurking in dark corners.
Here's another film this year that lifts spirits, in more ways than one.