`Agyaat` a grisly, spooky whodunit (IANS Film Review; Rating:** 1/2 )
Jungle fever has never been more contagious. Every corner of the Sri Lankan jungle in Agyaat, as shot with mesmeric skill by cinematographer Surjodeep Ghosh, is filled with danger.
There lurks a diabolic unknown (`agyaat`) monster in the treacherous greenery. Ram Gopal Varma has always been a master of manipulative terror. His camara range is constantly petrifying and persistently resonant. The sequences in Agyaat are ceaselessly shot in a way that suggests the presence of lethal characters and entities whom we and the people on screen cannot see...only feel.
In this endeavour to evoke ghoulish visions of omnipresent danger, Varma is vastly aided by the sound design.
Sound designers Dwarak Warrier and Leslie Fernandes go easy on the eerie sounds and beguiling banshees. Instead there are chilling eruptions of noises that you probably hear in the wilderness but don`t pay attention to as being anything remarkable. The sound also includes snatches from Hemant Kumar Mukherjee`s immortal Kahin deep jale kahin dil from the old Bees Saal Baad.
But this is well into the new millennium. The perils of modern life such as cut-throat competitiveness often lead to the throat being literally cut.
Who knows who`s killing the film unit in Agyaat? Maybe it`s their own fears and ambitions that are killing them. And the crew`s calm cinematographer (Kali Prasad Mukherjee) finally commits suicide. The spoilt bratty superstar`s spotboy (Ishteyak) is pulled into a gruesome death even as he chants mantras to protect himself.
While in Varma`s previous comparatively-tacky horror outing Phoonk, god felled the devil, in Agyaat nothing works. You are doomed in the jungle. No force can protect you.
As one member after another of the film-within-film gets eliminated, Varma seems to be spoofing Agatha Christie`s 10 Little Indians.
There are dollops of tantalizing irony in the way the typical and tight hierarchy in a film unit evaporates as imminent peril puts people in perilous positions. The repressed spotboy`s outburst against the spoilt superstar played by Gautam Rode, every inch the despicable brat, is a masterly manoeuvre designed to show how fear melts all class differences.
Portions of the brief supernatural whodunit are unintentionally funny. But all said and done, Agyaat gives us enough spine-chilling moments to make us wonder at the end, who the hell is killing all these people???
The grisly plot weaves in humane moments. Nitin Reddy, who makes his Bollywood debut with this film, is confident, honest and has a skilful body language. He and his assistant Sameera (Rasika Duggal) have this very believable bonding that perhaps Shah Rukh Khan and Karisma Kapoor had in Dil To Pagal Hai.
Nonetheless, this unknown jungle remains chilling and ominous.
`Agyaat` - Varma`s desi version of Hollywood thrillers
If the year started off on a spooky note with Raaz - The Mystery Continues, the first film from Ram Gopal Varma`s stable this year is also an adventure thriller called Agyaat. Releasing Friday, the film is inspired by Hollywood thrillers like Predator, Anaconda and Alien.
While Varma`s last was the much-talked about dud Phoonk - The Black Magic Story that dealt with evil practices in the contemporary world, Agyaat is a thriller and not a horror flick.
People are perceiving that `Agyaat` is a horror film. I would like to make a point here that it`s not a scary film. It`s an adventure thriller, Varma had told IANS.
Shot mostly in the Sigiriya jungles of Sri Lanka and the Athirapally forests in Kerala, the film is not only inspired by Hollywood thrillers, but also by real life, eerie incidents that Varma`s unit members experienced while shooting his 2000 movie Jungle in the Bandipur reserved forest in Karnataka.
Produced by Varma and Ronnie Screwvala, Agyaat tells the story of a film unit on a shoot in a dense forest where the crew members start getting killed one by one under mysterious circumstances by an invisible creature.
Hollywood has made thousands of such films about people stuck somewhere and getting killed under unknown reasons. I thought what if this time people don`t see what is killing them... the idea was to compel them to use their own imagination as a weapon, which is more lethal, the filmmaker said.
Agyaat has an ensemble cast and includes Telugu actor Nitin Reddy and Priyanka Kothari in the lead.
The actors had a quite an experience shooting for the film - Priyanka had to share room with eight lizards for a month!
I had to live with eight creepy lizards who used to roam around in my room. I can say that I`m braver now. Earlier, I used to be petrified if I used to see even one lizard in my room... but I had so many in close proximity in the same room in the jungle, the actress said.
A lot of things happened with me during the shooting - like my ankle injury, elbow injury, then so many scratches, insect bites, et al. It`s a part and parcel of a film like this, said the 25-year-old.
Agyaat has had its share of controversies too.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) asked Varma to re-edit a music track Jai Shri Shambhu from the film as it may encourage substance abuse. The track shows leading lady Priyanka puffing a `chillum` (pipe) while she sings Dum Maro, yeh hai Sahara.
Varma has snipped the scene for the small-screen audiences.
The music is a tad bit disappointing, but Varma`s flair for good camera angles and impressive background scores might help Agyaat live up to the spine-chilling expectations of the audiences.