Third movie in theaters in one weekend! Woo-hoo! Partly possible because I didn’t have to teach Sunday School for once, and because I was able to get to the early show on Friday so I didn’t spend my Saturday exhausted. So don’t get used to this, might be the only weekend for a while that I can make it happen. But it was nice to manage it once.
The tagline for this film was “not a fairytale”. But turns out, it is! Or at least, it is more a fairy tale than it is a horror movie. There are jump scares and special effects, but there are also mysterious forests and old witches and a “prince” who rescues a “princess” and all the other parts of a fairy tale. Most of all, it is a story with a lesson to it. The kind of story you might tell a child to help them understand the world.
That’s all fairy tales are, stories we tell each other to help understand the world and learn how best to be in it. Don’t trust strangers because they could be witches, wait for your true love to arrive, be smart when confronted with danger, learn from other’s mistakes, and so on and so on. This is a story with a lesson as well. It’s not about random attacks and bloody slasher moments, there is more to it than that.
It’s hard to talk about this movie without spoiling it because so much is unexpected. Which is the point, it plays with our expectations and teaches us to look past them, to consider each situation as it arises, each person as we know them through their actions. The trailers promised a different sort of horror movie, and the film delivers, but it delivers nothing else as expected.
Anushka is a big part of why the film is unexpected. Her performance begins simple, the usual flat affect that makes it impossible to see what is happening behind. But then, slowly, the layers unfold and we get to see the person inside, the amazingly pure emotions on her face draw us in.
Equal to Anushka are the 3 other leads, Parambata Chatterjee, Rajat Kapoor, and Ritabhari Chakraborty. The only one I recognized was Rajat Kapoor, bringing some lovely gravitas and experience to his role. But the other two, you may notice, are from the Bengali industry. Parambata I had seen before in Kahaani, but the rest of his career was in Bengali cinema. Ritabhari Chakraborty is from Bengali film, and TV. Which got me thinking about Anushka as a producer along with being an actress.
Like all her films, this one has her as the sole big name. Not in a way that feels like a vanity project, but like pure common sense. One big name is required to open well, so Anushka is cashing in her fame from putting in the time as the Khan’s love interest in the big films to get us to see this small film. But a pattern I find interesting between this one and the last one is that they are also extremely regional. Phillauri had Diljit Dosanjh, a strong Punjab setting complete with beautiful folk songs, historical ties, all sorts of other things. And this film has well-known Bengali actors and a story that is firmly placed within the Bengal setting.
It’s a clever business plan. She can get extremely experienced and talented people from the regional industries, people who are willing to play smaller roles in an ensemble for little money. And she can also target a segment of the audience instead of worrying about bringing in all of them. Phillauri did well in the areas where Punjabi films generally do well. Bengali films don’t have as big an overseas market so it is harder to track, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this film does well in the Bengali belt even if it doesn’t anywhere else.
But it also adds something to the story. This feels like a fairy tale partly because it is specific. It doesn’t exist in the already fantastical world of popular Hindi cinema, with the character types we know and the costumes and songs. It exists in a recognizable Calcutta with recognizable places like hospitals and morgues and police stations. The fantastical elements shine all the brighter in contrast with the rest.