So right away, a round of applause to producer Vishal Bhardwaj and first-time director Kannan Iyer for a scare-fare that goes way beyond the mundane terror gimmicks of Indian cinema's much-abused horror genre to search out the very core of the human nature.
Why do we fear the unknown? And could it be what we consider to be the supernatural is actually a manifestation of our own deep insecurities?
Ek Thi Daayan enters the world of the supernatural with a finesse and delicacy rare to the horror genre. The first hour of the storytelling when we are taken back to the magician-hero Bobo (Hashmi)'s seemingly well-ordered childhood, is splendid, warm, funny and, yes, ominous. The child actor Vishesh Tiwari who plays the young Hashmi and the little girl who plays his baby-sister are delightfully unaffected. The bubble-waiting-to-be-burst world of the two children is steeped in a distant sorrow and a vague terror, as though to say, we who believe good triumphs would have to suffer a whole lot of evil before we arrive at that state of moral liberation.
More than the somewhat scattered second-half, it's in the early sections of the storytelling where director Kannan creates a feeling of fabulous foreboding through hints and whispers rather than red-herrings and shrieks. The creaky lift descending into 'hell' with the two children clinging on for dear life, the creepy lizard on the wall which might be much more that what it seems, the hints and signs of diabolism are strewn across the length and breadth of the breathtaking frames.
But then again, the 'witch' could just be a scared little boy's terror of a stepmother .Who knows why we fear what we do?
Ek Thi Daayan is far more delicately delineated, much more 'caste'-effective than other films of the horror genre. The actors act terrified but they don't run around screaming blue murder. They are too shaken to act suitably scared. Emraan Hashmi as the magician, who finds his world torn apart by events his wand cannot pretend to control, brings an anguished tension into the plot without stumbling over the dark edges of the plot.
But the film clearly belongs to the three luscious ladies. While Huma Qureshi and Kalki are seductive and impish, it's Konkona Sen-Sharma who clearly takes possession of her part and of the film with authority. The fact that her father Mukul Sharma has written the original story could have played a part in establishing Konkona's comfort level with the eerie environment. But you suspect it's more inherent. Talent finds its level.
Saurabh Goswami's cinematography takes care of the rest. This is one helluva good-looking film that lights up not just the characters and their surroundings, but also sheds luminous light on the darkness within the characters that reveals itself fits and starts, to cast a splendid spell over the audience.
Ek Thi Daayan re-defines the spook genre. It's at once eerie and enchanting, soft subtle dark and yet powerful and persuasive. Tonally rich, vibrant and sensuous, the performances including Pawan Malhotra as Hashmi's bewitched dad and Rajtava Dutta as his bewildered shrink, boost the beauty of the witches' tale.
More treat than trick no matter 'witch' way you look at it, Ek Thi Daayan is in one word, daayan-mic!