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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Connect, Review: ConnectShun

Connect, Review: ConnectShun

Many a film, both Indian and foreign, has exploited the theme of an evil spirit possessing an innocent victim, usually a teenage girl, the havoc it causes in the victim’s skeletal family and the exorcism that has to be performed to get rid of the evil spirit. Some have been of a high quality, while the others have been mere pot-boilers. Connect, made with scarce resources, as it would appear, has nothing new to offer, except some special effects. A supernatural horror movie, it has very little horror, though a lot of the content deals with the supernatural. And viewing it in very poorly dubbed and sub-titled Hindi makes it all the more unbearable for the audience. Mercifully, the length is kept short, at 99 minutes, though within these 99, there is a lot of repetition. Unless you are a die-hard fan of the genre and love any film that gives you a few jump-scares, strange thumping noises all around a house, and a practical guide to exorcism, as prescribed by the church, you better not connect with Connect.

It's Covid time, and the setting in Maharashtra-Goa, for the Hindi version of this Tamil film. Dr. Joseph Benoy, a doting father, is making a case for his daughter Anna, a gifted guitar-player and singer, to go to Trinity College, London, where she has already secured admission. Her mother, Susan, and her maternal grandfather, Arthur Samuel, oppose the idea, citing Anna’s young age as the reason. She appears to be in her early teens. All seem to agree that she should go after another three years. Just then, Dr. Joseph receives a phone call from a colleague, who calls him to the hospital for an emergency. After that, Dr. Joseph remains in the hospital, as Covid cases multiply. But he keeps in touch with his family via video conferencing. Then comes the blow. Joseph himself contracts the Corona virus, and succumbs to the disease.

Although all the members of his family are deeply affected, Anna is unable to reconcile herself to the loss. She uses an Ouija board to connect with a woman, who assures her that she will be able to talk to her father, if she recites the magic words. But she must not break the connection before it is completed, or else it could be disastrous. Anna agrees and begins to recite the words, after the woman, and just then, her mother knocks on the door, wondering what she is up to, with the lights off. The connection is interrupted. Anna tries to-re-establish the connection, but all she sees is the woman lighting candles and doing something not clearly visible. Soon, strange, thumping noises are heard all around the house and Anna sleeps most of the time and wants to be left alone. One day, Susan finds inverted cross signs all over Anna’s room, and Anna herself is seen plastered at the ceiling, from where she jumps on Susan. Unable to understand the goings-on, Susan first seeks therapy to help Anna, and when that does not work, she and her father decide to approach the church, which tries regular methods.  When they don’t work, they seek the help of Father Augustine, an exorcist.

Made in a home movie style, Connect is written by the husband-wife team of Ashwin Saravanan and Kaavya Ramkumar, their second collaboration after Game Over. It is directed by Ashwin Saravanan, who directed Game Over. There are many issues on the writing side and as many on the direction side. Right in the beginning, Dr. Joseph shapes to hurl Anna intro the water at a sea-shore, and then, suddenly pulls back. It could be a prank, but it is never explained. It is not explained how Anna got hold of the Ouija game and how did it become real. There are times when you cannot tell whether the two persons talking to each other are in the same room or it is a video call in progress. Both are shown in full-screen size.

No harm comes to Susan at all, although she is in constant touch with Anna. Even when she straightens a cross that was inverted by Anna, nothing happens. The story moves in a straight line. A girl behaves funnily, she is given therapy that fails, then she is given the treatment prescribed by the church, administered by a local priest which fails too, and then she is subjected to exorcism, performed by a specialist. So many films have been made on this pattern that instead of horror or shock, one gets the feeling of ennui. Blame it on William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin, who initiated the ‘enterprise’ by making The Exorcist (1973), a cult film. Fifty years down the line, maybe makers wanted to pay tribute to the cult classic. However, this is one tribute The Exorcist can do without.                        

Projected as the big leap for actress Nayanthara (born Diana Mariam Kurian, now 38 years old), who plays Susan, it is a case of over-hype. She is good, but repeatedly shrieking “Anna…Anna” is not the way to show her credentials. A star in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films, Nayanthara would rather not consider Connect, produced by her husband, Vignesh Shivan, as her Hindi debut. Sathyaraj as Arthur Samuel, her father, looks perplexed all through the film. We don’t know whether he is on a video call or physically present. In one scene, he is travelling in a car, and suddenly asks the driver to stop, because he has seen something on the phone. He gets off, and keeps looking at the phone. It is a confusing scene. Where was he going? Why did he get off? What happened afterwards?

Vinay Rai is good as Dr. Joseph Benoy. Haniya Nafisa is the true star, as Anna, but we hardly see her. She is always shown in dull lighting or in a dark patch. Avinash as Father Alex, the first priest, does justice to his role. Mekha Rajan appears out of nowhere as the Ouija Board practitioner, but makes the most of small role. As the exorcist, Father Augustine, Anupam Kher probably finished his entire role in one shift, and that included long lines in English. That is about all that can be said about his role, which must have been accepted only for the bread and butter it brought.

Cinematography by Manikantan Krishnamachary keeps us in the dark most of the time. There are some tricks and special effects, very few, to be sure, that redeem the camerawork. Edited by Richard Kevin, who provides a few jump scares (the audio is more eerie) the 99-minute film comes with a recommendation that there should be no interval. Makes sense, because the possession and the exorcism keep building up. But the build-up is never enough to keep you on the edge of your seat or grope for the hand of your neighbour. The rule is simple. If you are making a genre film, you have to go beyond what has already been filmed and seen. If you can’t, don’t bother making it. Instead of going beyond the genre benchmark, Connect is not even in step with it. Sadly, it is lagging behind. Instead of establishing a Connection, it succeeds only in ConnectShun, a ‘connect’ that audiences might shun.

Rating: * ½


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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