Till a year back, the main reason most people knew of Shirish Kunder was because he was married to choreographer-film director Farah Khan, directed some not-so-good films and had supposedly been slapped by Shah Rukh Khan at a party. Since his last debacle at the box office, which was Joker in 2012, Kunder has pretty much vanished into oblivion. Till recently, when he emerged as a brave and surprisingly witty voice on Twitter—commenting on the government, politics and the economy with élan. Much like Twitter brings out the hidden troll in most people, it has had the opposite effect and brought out the inner wit in him.
None of which had anything to do with his suspect directorial skills. Kunder’s film career had sort of come to a standstill after Joker, which gained more publicity for his fallout with Akshay Kumar and Kumar’s absence from film promotions, than for any cinematic prowess on display. The only film of his—which he’s directed—that had some modicum of entertainment and wasn’t half-bad was Jaan-E-Mann, starring Salman, Preity Zinta and Akshay Kumar. After that, it’s been pretty much downhill.
Which was why when Kunder released his latest film online, I didn’t know what to expect. Yes, his tweets are witty and smart, but that doesn’t mean he can make good or engrossing cinema. But Kriti, a 19-minute short film which was released on YouTube, is quite the eye-opener. For various reasons.
The film is as much a resurrection of Kunder as it is of Manoj Bajpayee, who while hamming it a little bit, will still make you remember his Satya and Company days. And thankfully not his Aks performance. The film stars Bajpayee, Radhika Apte and Neha Sharma. It’s a horror-suspense film, so I won’t give away the intricacies of the plot. But just to give you an idea, Bajpayee plays an intense, wound-up man called Sapan. Apte is his psychiatrist Kalpana. We are introduced to both characters in Apte’s office during one of his sessions. Apte also happens to be his childhood friend. He tells her about his new girlfriend Kriti, who has started living with him and has agoraphobia. The same phobia Apte had in her latest film, Phobia, the fear of places or situations which may cause you to panic. Of course, since this is Hindi cinema, both Phobia and Kriti take it to mean the fear of stepping out of the house. But hey, at least Hindi cinema is making films on a psychological illness beyond schizophrenia. So let’s not split hairs.
Apte thinks that Bajpayee’s girlfriend is a figment of his imagination since he’d earlier created another imaginary girlfriend. She asks him to make her speak to Kriti or at least show her a video of Kriti. Bajpayee goes home and we see him talking to Kriti, played by Neha Sharma. It’s how he convinces Apte of his girlfriend’s presence and what follows that is the pivotal part of the film.
This is not Rosemary’s Baby or Amityville Horror kind of spookiness. And you sort of get an inkling of what may be the truth from some pretty obvious clues along the way. But the way the story unfolds, the acting, and the end of the film does make more than an impression and the climax will make you laugh nervously.
If you’re an Apte fan or groupie, this film is a must because she looks ravishing. Also, it’s so nice to see an actress comfortable in her dark skin, unlike all our other dusky actresses like Kajol. So hats off to Apte for not throwing herself into a vat of bleach in the belief that only fair is lovely.
After Badlapur, Ahalya, Phobia and now Kriti, Apte seems to have found a new niche. And frankly, if we must have a Scream Queen, let it be her and not Bipasha Basu with her negligees and unknowingly hilarious horror films. Bajpayee acts well as expected and his production house has produced the film. The police officer in the film deserves special mention because he has that wonderful mix of smarminess and brashness which many cops flaunt.
It’s also great to see a film which claims to be a psychological thriller actually stay true to its description. That genre of Hindi horror/suspense films which had taken off with Gumnaam and then was taken forward by Raat, came to a grinding and terrible halt with Bhoot and then the horrors that were Raaz, Creature, Rudraksh, Aatma, Rakht—all starring Bipasha Basu. As a Bengali, let me take this moment to say, the ashes of all the cinematic legends who have emerged from Bengal swirl furiously in the Ganga every time a new Bipasha Basu-horror flick releases.
The new slate of psychological thrillers—Kriti, Ahalya, Phobia—are a welcome breath of relief for horror/suspense film buffs like me.
The other revelation is that Shirish Kunder has actually done something different from the usual Bollywood gala that he and his fraternity thrives on making. I don’t know how much money he can make from a film released on YouTube, but it’s impressive to see him write an original story, and cast actors who aren’t stars so to speak. It’s a great way for him to cock a snook at Bollywood because this film has seen far more acclaim since its release than most of the tripe we get to watch starring the stars.
Maybe the hidden auteur in Kunder has awakened. And maybe the age of indie cinema is finally upon us. And horror and suspense films will finally move beyond actresses in wet, translucent nightwear copiously making out with their male co-stars before looking glassily into the camera while biting into their co-star’s neck. Oh, the world of cinematic possibilities which have opened up.