Cast: Jai, Anjali, Janani Iyer
Once these kind of films were slotted under reincarnation. Today, they are known as ghost stories, and Tamil cinema seems to be tirelessly pursuing this genre, but without coming out with anything remotely refreshing. We see the same girl that we saw years ago in The Exorcist, her eyes a glazed grey, her voice manly and gruff. Doors creak, clocks fall off walls, windows open and a deathly wind blows in along with the evil spirit.
And I saw all of this in the Tamil language Balloon, written and directed by Sinish. What is worse is that a movie fitted into the horror genre is punctuated a million times by slapstick humor – a line that just about every recent ghost film in Tamil – like Balloon – has taken in a misconceived notion that this is what entertains. But the moment a writer or a helmer begins to mix genres, the story gets diluted, and it remains neither witty nor scary.
Sinish having trapped himself into such a sticky situation weaves the plot of an aspiring movie script writer, Jeeva (Jai), who pushed by his producer to write something ghostly, goes to the Blue Mountain resort of Udhagamandalam (Ooty), along with his wife, Jacqueline (Anjali), his boy nephew and a couple of friends/assistants. Jeeva hopes to pen his story there amidst the eeriness of fog and chill. But what he does not bargain for is a real ghost which resides by his holiday cottage and which gets provoked into life by the presence of the nephew.
It is only at the fag end of the film we realise that a balloon seller, Charlie, has been reborn as Jeeva, and the little girl he adopts, as the nephew. Jacqueline – as Shenbagavalli (Janani Iyer) in the earlier birth -- turns out to be Charlie's lover, and all three are murdered by a politician out promote his own selfish interests. This part of the story is even more vague and illogical than the rest.
If the plot by itself is jaded and jumpy, the mishmash of the past and the present helps little to push the narrative to some kind of conclusion, and Jai's woodenness robs Balloon of the little hope it could have had to attract footfalls into the cinemas. The only redeeming feature in the film's long runtime of close to 150 minutes is a bright performance by Anjali, who as a young wife plays wonderfully to the camera, portraying shock and fright with conviction.
Otherwise, Balloon ends up as yet another attempt to infuse humor into some of the most scary sequences, reducing them to downright silliness. Balloon deserves nothing more than a single star.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)