Darna Mana Hai (2003), Dir. Prawal Raman

K. Sera Sera

Starring: Sameera Reddy, Gaurav Kapoor, Raghuvir Yadav, Nana Patekar.

Reviewed by Djibril

This Indian film, whose title translates from the Hindi as 'fear is not permitted' was produced by the accomplished Ram Gopal Varma, but directed by the first-time director and former understudy, Raman. The story is framed in a rather traditional way: seven young people driving across state in the dark are stranded when their car blows a tyre, and while away the night by telling each other frightening stories around a camp fire. The stories they tell make up the six embedded narratives in this movie, but the framing narrative is at least as creepy as any of them. As the young people sit around scaring themselves, and occasionally one leaves and heads back to the car, a dangerous killer lurks in the jungle outside.

The characters of the 'main' story are typical, carefree teenagers; they scare and tease one another, laugh at each other's discomfort and generally behave riotously and (especially Kapoor's character Romi) obnoxiously. Despite the clichéd backdrop and the disjointed plot, however, there are few terribly cringe-worthy moments in this film, and the individual acting saves the characters from being total cannon-fodder. For a western audience, the exotic setting and the conventions of Bollywood film-making may contribute to making this film stand out from the typical US teen horror.

The individual stories in the embedded narrative are divided between a couple each of weak, average, and excellent. Least inspiring were the stories of the hotel manager who goes to extreme lengths to enforce the non-smoking policy of his 'Healthy Hotel'; and the schoolteacher who becomes disturbed when a small girl in his class suddenly starts doing her homework and he has to stop beating her with a ruler; it may be the case that in both of these stories, this reviewer was for various reasons unable to relate to the characters who were meant to be our sympathetic protagonists. The first and last stories are better, but not hugely original. In the first story, narrated by Reddy, the honeymooning couple who in many ways echo our framing characters, are driving at night when the husband's attempts to frighten his wife backfire as their car breaks down and he disappears into the jungle while trying to fix it. The final story, told reluctantly, is about a high-school loser who is ignored by everyone, and disappoints himself by not even having the courage to commit suicide; when he prays for something to make him unusual, he takes the strange power he is granted and abuses it, proving that he is no more sensitive or deserving than the school bully who is his first victim.

There are two excellent movielets, though. There is the subtle and slightly surreal story of a housewife who buys fresh apples from an unfeasibly cheap market stall, but then becomes afraid of what might be wrong with the fruit. The grocer tells her, 'Once you've tasted these you'll never forget me', and eating of the apples does indeed turn out to bear its own price. The cinematography and score of this piece is bizarrely evocative of a slasher movie, although the horror of the vignette is far more subtle than that. The other good story is that of a traveller who picks up a smartly-dressed hitchhiker outside a cemetery and offers him a lift into town. The hitchhiker (played by the excellent Patekar) claims to be some kind of spirit, but neither driver nor passenger are quite what they seem. This is the simplest story in execution, being almost entirely dialogue across the two front seats of the car, and also the most competently handled. This young director shows promise, and signs of the flair of his mentor.

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