His interviews and his responses to critics on his blog show a tactless irreverence, especially for someone whose last 7 films flopped. Unfortunately, Ram Gopal Varma has taken that recklessness to his profession, too, and Phoonk, one of the most repugnantly cliched films in recent times, is a marquee example. While a Mani Ratnam, a Trivikram Srinivas or a Steven Spielberg makes one film every 2 years, Varma seems to churn one out every quarter now. The sanctity of the effort has gone down the toilet, and like for a gambler on a losing spree, it's failure catalysing more failure.
Phoonk is Varma following his more-or-less standard approach now - milk his cash cow of technical skills. Where the script is a non-issue, and it's all about presentation - sound, visual effects. You'd have thought that approach would work in the horror genre, but in this one, he's truly plunged to new depths. The desperation to scare you with effects and sound and every horror movie clichÃ© rather than through good writing sees so many red herrings strewn all over the place, it becomes a joke, and very quickly. With even teenagars joining in the fun.
The story is something they came up with from memory, since Bollywood had a movie called Gehrayee in 1980 starring Padmini Kolhapure, and Hollywood had something called The Exorcist in 1973, and if you mix these two and remove depth and creativity from both, you get Phoonkh. Rajeev (Sudeep) is a rich builder with a happy family consisting of wife Aarti (Amrutha), and kids Raksha (Ahsaas Channa) and Rohan (Shrey Bawa). He fires his managers Anshuman (Kenny Desai) and his wife Madhu (Ashwini Kalsekar) when he catches them embezzling his money, and the fiesty and idiosyncractic Madhu swears revenge.
Slowly unusual things start happening at Rajeev's house - Raksha goes missing, and when found can't recollect how she wandered off, she keeps staring at crows, and she growls menacingly at her teacher in the full class, in a masculine drawl. Doctors and psychiatrists are brought in when the situation worsens and she starts getting violent, but the grandmother and mother slowly start believing it's black magic. Rajeev is however an atheist, and will have none of it. Raksha though is slowly losing it, and when she levitates one day, Rajeev finally decides to do something unorthodox.
Phoonk is actually boring, a feat for a horror movie, and incredible for those used to Varma's filmmaking standards. It has so much bullshit unrelated to the story - a million ominous shots of statues and dolls in the house, and those umpteen close-ups of actually blasÃ© crows, being the signature of the utter creative bankruptcy characterizing the film - that you can't believe Varma was actually directly associated with the project. Whatever little horror there is turns out to be the dream of a character rather than anything that's really happened, and when the next time some real horror happens it again turns out to be a dream, you realize how low on their priority list writing is.
Almost nothing happens in the first half, and the second is some of the violent scenes of The Exorcist minus the innovative parts (and that challenge to watch that movie alone is strictly for the birds). Some of the religious lines and chants play a good part in killing the movie with just how corny and ill-timed they are - and it doesn't help their case that towards the end God doesn't play a role at all. Perhaps the only good thing about the film is that there are no songs.
Ahsaas is brilliant as the daughter, and the performances are in general good, and try their best to rise above the writing. The film is made by its technical values, of course - this is all said and done an RGV movie, and the thumping background score and the eerie camera work do their bit for the watchability.
If you are really in the mood for some horror, watching Phoonkh after this review should not be disappointing, since your expectations would be pretty low. That's the real secret to liking this - not a challenge to watch it alone in a theatre.