In case you need a tip or two on product placement strategies, Ek Thi Daayan is the film for you. Watch closely in one scene as a Maaza tetra-pack gets to share the screen space with Emraan Hashmi and the actor playing his hypnotist (who remains anonymous sadly because I can’t locate his name anywhere). Marvel at how Kapoor brightened the Apple Logo on iPhone so it could shine and upstage Emraan and his Dayaans more than once! You’re so convinced about producer Ekta Kapoor’s marketing astuteness (we all know she controls everything) that you wonder whether her poor director Kannan Iyer included the movie’s lyricist Gulzaar’s book during one song sequence as a homage or whether it was another one of Kapoor’s impressive marketing tricks.
These tricks will in fact impress you more than the bundle of magic tricks Emraan’s character Bobo the magician performs in his acts (‘Bobo’ really? And are we to take a guy with this stage name seriously? Seriously!). If, although you need a tip or two on how to create fear through the medium of film, then Ek Thi Daayan is too conventional, convenient, crude and clichéd to teach you anything – Kapoor’s unconventional marketing (which includes airing a mini-series, starring a variety of TV soap ‘bahus’, titled Ek Thhi Naayka on Life OK channel) may have tricked you but read this review further and you may be safe and secure, both from the film’s ineffectuality and from spending your dear money (even dearer with inflation) on these daayans.
In case you are reading this, let me tell you that you’re one little step closer towards saving yourself. If you’re already thinking “Okay, I won’t watch this! But tell me what I should see instead” then I suggest you order a DVD of Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, a 1968 Mia Farrow starrer masterpiece that is actually spine-chilling. Ek Thi Daayan at best is spooky, a highly crude and reductive alternative to Rosemary’s baby. Both films involve babies (okay, Ek Thi Daayan has a little older kids) and demonic cults (the difference being that Rosemary’s Baby already shows the cult’s activities once beforehand while Daayan reserves it for the climax only) but the essential difference is that Roman Polanski is able to create terrifying paranoia while Kannan Iyer can only do the feeble ‘Boo!’.
The plot in Ek Thi Daayan involves famous-magician-with-a-haunted-past Bobo’s fear of women with long plaits or ‘chotis’ and suspicious appearance and behavior… okay, that was too simple a way of explaining it: here’s what happens: Bobo keeps getting these visions of his truly dreadful past involving his sister while he is performing on stage; this results in a couple of near-fatal mishaps during his performances on stage. His ladylove Tamara (played by Huma Qureshi, whose previous performance in ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ was critically hailed) is reluctant to marry him because Bobo’s a bit weird basically; Bobo consults his hypnotist Dr. Palit to allay his fears, and this is when the movie takes us to a mega-flashback scene which extends till the interval. We learn that even as a child he was a weirdo who dressed in shirts and read books on witchcraft and sorcery. We also learn how a mysterious lady Diana played by Konkona Sen entered his family’s life, became Bobo’s step-mom and then wrecked their lives; you chuckle a bit when Bobo’s senile grandfather (the stock character who inexplicably presages a catastrophe in horror films) begins mumbling names all of a sudden as though he’s some sort of seer). After the interval, we are brought back to the present as Bobo tries ridding his past by marrying Tamara – here comes one of the worst and most unnecessary scenes in Bollywood film history, a marriage song-and-dance sequence where everyone looks at the camera as they shake a leg. Once that unfortunate scene passes, our film’s third female protagonist, the talented Kalki Koechlin (who was great in Dibakar Banerjee’s ‘Shanghai’) enters as Lisa Dutt, a musician who’s a big fan of Bobo; our magician suspects that she’s a Daayan after remembering his grandfather’s prophesy. The rest of the film involves the question ‘Is she or is she not?’ and in the end… I won’t tell you what happens but do yourself a favor: skip the film, watch the trailer but with this in mind that what you see is a subterfuge and you may get your answer to who’s the Daayan and who isn’t.
Half the dialogues in the film are laughable, especially when you hear Bobo screaming ‘Choti Kaat Doonga! (I will cut your plaits!) with utmost seriousness. Vishal Bharadwaj could make witch-movie ‘Makdee’ a decent film but here he isn’t able to pen convincing dialogues (consider the scene where Tamara rebukes Bobo for staying mum about his past and Bobo makes up by saying ‘I want to start life afresh. Let’s get married’ followed by the hideous dance sequence. Totally unconvincing) nor is to tie loose ends or even give some freshness to the story itself. He may excuse himself saying that half the film has to be looked from a child’s perspective (so the predictability) but come on, he’s an adult penning the script, so can’t he at least break the Indian horror-film conventions?
You’re only left with decent performances that may hold you from walking out of the film. Konkona is the only worth mentioning in this review; her unconventional sexiness is even more alluring when her pupils dilate (Falling in love with a Daayan, mister me?) and she really makes us sit back and enjoy her character/creature even when she’s given horrible ‘saat samundar paar’-like lines to speak in the second-half. The rest are alright but Emraan is just too self-aware that he’s in a horror film and has to always look spooked (much like Daniel Radcliffe in ‘Woman in Black’).
In a nutshell (and I’m generously borrowing from a dialogue in the film but with certain modifications): Ek Thi Daayan scripts snores, its horror farts out and its miles away (actually light-years away) from being the tiger of Indian horror films.