The ApunKaChoice movie review of Ek Thi Daayan. I don’t much believe in Daayans and my curiosity has never creeped past the lore of them having their feet backwards. For it’s always made me wonder trivialities like how would they go about driving a car, or pedaling a piano, or pirouetting in a ballet. Trivialities, you see! Point is, I don’t scare easy. The lore of spellbinding witches with evil intentions, backward feet, long dangling arms, and a longer braid with a life of its own to turn into a noose in a second and snuff the living daylights out of someone isn’t really the stuff to give me the heebie-jeebies. At most, it intrigues and confounds me, -- precisely the effect director Kannan Iyer’s Ek Thi Daayan, written by Vishal Bhardwaj and based on a short story by Mukul Sharma, had on me.
The film is more of a smartly crafted suspense thriller than the scarefest it’s purported to be. If any scares are to be had, it’s in the first half when the world of a Daayan is shown from the perspective of a child, the younger version of our protagonist ‘Bobo - The Baffler’ (Emraan Hashmi), a magician by profession, but a haunted soul in private.
Bobo has a troubled past to contend with. Despite a pretty girlfriend Tamara (Huma Qureshi) as a welcome distraction from his morbid thoughts, he’s fixated on the idea of a Daayan returning to haunt him, and his paranoia drives him to the point of seeking a shrink’s help.
Flashbacks into his childhood show him as a kid tanking in all the Daayan gyan and sharing it with his little sister whom he eventually loses to a Daayan that haunts the elevator of their building. The Daayan wows to return to see about the unfinished business. Riveting stuff all of it, presented finely in the first half of the film.
It’s in the second half that the film, like an elevator on a loose cable, begins to go down, gets stuck, slides down again and concludes with a mighty thump and descent into the typical Bollywood Bhootiyapanti about daayans recharging their evil batteries with the sacrifice of kids on lunar eclipses of leap years, and all that flipping jazz.
What keeps one hooked is the suspense around who’s the real witch. There’s Tamara (Huma Qureshi), the protagonist’s pretty GF. There’s Diana (Konkona Sen Sharma) with big eyes, long braid and a reputation to make the kids wet their bed. And there’s Lisa Dutt (Kalki Koechlin), a mysterious woman who befriends the magician and seems to have an ulterior motive. Which one is witch, is the riddle, and rest assured that director Kannan Iyer and producer-writer Vishal Bhardwaj won’t make it easy to guess.
Ek Thi Daayan soars on the performances of its leading cast. If Emraan Hashmi is right on the mark as the baffled and bewildered wizard, the ladies chip in convincing acts for their part. The first half, however, belongs to the kids, Visshesh Tiwari and Sara Arjun. Music by Vishal Bhardwaj is topnotch and so cinematography by Saurabh Goswami.
Most of all, Ek Thi Daayan merits a watch because it doesn’t pander to the usual tropes of the horror genre, and is a film that can be enjoyed by both adults and kids. The baccha log should watch it with their parents who should beforehand tell them not to put much stock in all the Daayan lore and watch it as a fantasy tale. And just in case a kohled-eyed aunty with a long braid and pointy canines takes the seat next to any of these tots and smiles sinisterly, don’t be scared. Smile back and, if possible, bum a few pop corns from her.