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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. 



The Past, Review: And this too shall pass

The Past, Review: And this too shall pass

Tropes and stereo-tropes, by themselves, do not a horror film make. Yes, the appearing and disappearing humanoids, the moving and rising objects, the possession and dual pitch speech of the living visited by the dead, the exorcists who use religious symbols, etc., are all part of familiar horror genre. And The Past has all of these, in plenty. But to make an effective horror film, you need to either get the mix right or introduce new elements. The Past fails on both counts.

A film that needed much better writing, The Past is about Simran, a young and upcoming novelist living n Mumbai. When she visits her publisher Yuvraaj one day, he asks her to write a book on a story that he had conceived. Simran says it will take some time, because she and her sister Alia are going in a much awaited long holiday to Lonavala, a hill-station near Mumbai. Yuvraaj, co-incidentally, owns a bungalow in Lonavala, and suggests that they go and stay there, and Simran can do her writing at leisure. They find it a good idea, and pack they bags.

At the bungalow, they are received by a caretaker, the only person who lives there. Soon afterwards, astounding things start happening, like a doll that keeps appearing at different places and a swing and a rocking chair swinging on their own, blood drops on the manuscript. And then the ultimate happens: Simran gets possessed by some female ghost. One day, Simran takes a lift from a passer-by, brings him home and seduces him in her bed. Now that things have really got out of hand, an exorcist is sent for, somebody who is fair-skinned and goes by the name of Jane. Although this Jane is anything but plain, she cannot handle the “Diablo”, and, in turn, sends for “Him”, a Guruji. Together, the Bible and Om Namah Shivay will battle the evil one, who is unwilling to leave the house, though she does not mind flitting from one living soul into another.

Constituents in place. Ingredients ready. Recipé? Missing. Writer Sandeep Rale (apparently a debutant) has probably seen too many horror flicks, and The Exorcist once too often. Till three-quarters of the way, there is virtually no contest, with the ghost ruling the By the time the exorcism comes in, the dark secret is already revealed, and it is not so dark anyway.

All the characters live unitary existences. There is no mention of Simran’s family. Yuvraaj is always shown alone, except in one sexual encounter. The caretaker is alone too. Only Simran’s friend Dipti is shown to have a fiancé. Both the exorcists work alone as well, and the motorist who gets to savour unexpected sex cannot but be alone. No help is sought from the police or doctors by Simran or her sister, Alia. In fact, the sisters make no attempt to communicate with the caretaker or Yuvraaj. How could the caretaker be unaware of so much happening around him is a total mystery. Dialogue is very amateurish and often repeated in the same context.

From all indications, the film also marks the debut of director Gagan Puri. Saddled with the script that we have, it would take exceptional talent to churn out a cohesive film. So, he sticks to false scares and repeated shots of rocking chairs and swings. Whenever, he needs to provide relief and a cutting point, he cuts to the bright exterior of the bungalow, which is a welcome change from the murky goings on within. Yes, he does manage to create horror with stereophonic dual-tracks, the un-dead alternating with the heroine pleading for mercy, in her normal voice.

Vedita Pratap Singh (Bhindi Bazaar, J.D.) looks the mature elder sister. She also gets to show her curves in a swimming pool and her moves atop the lucky motorist. Credit for her dialogue mixing should go to the appropriate department, as should the make-up. Yuvraaj Parashar (Dunno Y Na Jaane Kyun, Fashion, Husn: Love and Betrayal) appears in the beginning and then the end. He courted controversy for playing the lead in India’s first openly gay film, Dunno. He’s going to face some more of the same here too. Sonia Albizuri (Sabrang, Swords and Sceptres, Kesari) could be played by any other actor. Chant, get thrown away, chant again. Samiksha Bhatt (mainly TV) as the Ghost/Sanjana draws some sympathy; if only her scenes with her husband were more imaginatively shot. Rajesh Sharma walks into the bungalow as is he was expecting fanfare to accompany his entry. He has little to do, in an ill-designed role, but manages to pass muster. Only two other names could be dug out-- Deepti Pujari and Jaya Virle--and these have to belong to Alia and Dipti. I am unable guess who is who, but they do their jobs.

Music by Mannan Munjal goes bang-bang. Cinematography by Pradeep Kumar Soni dwells on some unusual angles, pointlessly. Art direction (Mahendra Raut) has worked out the catacomb infested hidden caverns. For the rest, it is a regular bungalow. Shubham Srivastava’s editing is slack in the first 20 minutes or so but gets into its own a little later. Key make-up artiste Imran Khan deserves kudos for the frightening looks he creates for the possessed. Shivani Patil, the costume designer, has a fixation for women wearing shorts. Her swimming costume to Vedita and the whites for the ghosts have the desired effect.

We’ve seen some good, bad and indifferent ghost stories in the past. This, too, shall pass.


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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