Direction: Jenuse Mohamad
Cast: Prithviraj, Prakash Raj, Wamiqa Gabbi, Alok
When The Exorcist came in 1973, it was sheer novelty to watch a pair of eyes turning blood red, a head rotating, green puke and the eerie noises that the apparition made. But 45 years later, Indian moviemakers have not been able to evolve or shake themselves off the ghost of The Exorcist. Just a while ago, there were any number of Tamil films that plotted stories on the supernatural, a trend that continues now with a Santhanam starrer playing in theatres.
But what seems a trifle disappointing is that Malayalam cinema, known for sensibility, is also starting to step into the ghostly arena with nothing new to show. Writer-director Jenuse Mohamed's 9 (yes that indeed is the title) with luminous actors Prithviraj and Prakash Raj essaying two scientists, much to my dismay (for I had hoped that these men would not involve themselves in a work of this kind), turned out to be an exercise in sheer stupidity. Yes, a moviemaker friend of mine from Singapore, Shilpa Krishnan, did warn me before I got into the cinema that much as she admired Prithviraj, he was increasingly disappointing her by doing bizarre roles. She was bang on.
The star plays an astro-physicist, Dr Albert Lewis, who lost his wife when his son, Adam (Alok), was born. When the film opens, the boy is seven, curious, naughty and even aggressive, getting into violent tiffs with his classmates that see him expelled from school. When Albert is worrying about what to do with the child, he gets an assignment from his mentor, a senior and well-regarded scientist, Dr Inayat Khan (Prakash Raj). He wants Albert to document the extremely rare celestial occurrence of a huge comet whizzing past the earth, and the best place to watch this would be the Himalayas. So, Khan packs off Albert and Adam, along with a couple of other scientists to a mountain resort – thinly populated. The ideal setting to get an eerie ghost story rolling. And with the comet's fly past resulting in a breakdown of electricity and modern communications for nine days when the object will be crossing the earth, what more can the spirits ask for.
If the plot is hollow, the writing is awfully lazy. While the supernatural being, played by Eva (Wamiqa Gabbi), is prowling around Adam, bullying him, terrifying him, his father is busy working from a watch tower, miles away from the huge bungalow where Khan has accommodated the two. All Adam has for company is a old servant, who himself looks haunted and ready to sink into the floor, and with Eva badgering the kid, the movie turns into a series of jump-starts with Mohamed relying on this boringly archaic technique to frighten his audiences. Startling them ever so often by thrusting the slimy spirit with blood-shot eyes into your face is nothing short of cheating.
Much like Manoj Night Shyamalan's early The Sixth Sense, Mohamad resorts to tricking his viewers with a climax that I felt really cheated about.
If the script goes all over with little sense or direction, abysmally poor editing makes 9 a hotchpotch affair. I could not understand (sorry for the spoiler here) why Khan would, when he was aware of Albert's psychiatric condition, send him to a desolate place with his little son. Albert subconsciously hates his son, and holds him responsible for his wife's death. He is, therefore, bent on harming the little lad. Dr Khan says all this in a sermon-like speech at the end.
9 is a work that is eminently avoidable. It's appalling that this kind of cinema even gets funded.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)
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