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Friday, April 22, 2022

Indian Horror Anthology ‘Darna Mana Hai’ Offers Mix of Fun and Eerie Stories [Horrors Elsewhere]

Prawaal Raman received a golden opportunity when he became Ram Gopal Varma’s assistant director. Working under one of India’s most prolific filmmakers had its perks, seeing as Raman was soon put in charge of a unique Varma venture. Darna Mana Hai (Forbidden Fear) was a risky move at the time; anthologies were not a popular format. Suffice it to say, there was a lot riding on this cinematic experiment for Indian horror.

Indian horror produced around the turn of the millennium drew influence from Hollywood, especially teenage frighteners like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. In the case of Darna Mana Hai, however, Varma and the film’s writers supposedly found inspiration in an unexpected source. Campfire Tales is not exactly renowned, but its core concept is as timeless as it is adaptable. In the late-’90s anthology, four young people distract themselves with scary stories after a car accident. The same basic setup is indeed used for Darna Mana Hai, although everything else is completely different. So, Raman’s anthology is a remake in only the loosest sense.

The wraparound portion of this 2003 Indian horror anthology is underway after a stylish yet mismatched opening sequence that feels better suited for a James Bond pic. Romi and Shruti (Gaurav Kapoor, Sameera Reddy), as well as five of their friends, are left stranded in the forest following a flat tire and a missing car jack. Until help arrives, the cast takes turns telling stories inside a run-down house nearby. In Shruti’s first tale “On the Way”, lovebirds Anjali and Karan (Antara Mali, Sohail Khan) are trapped in the woods after experiencing car trouble, but their ordeal truly begins when Anjali enters the neighboring swamp. This creepy pit stop stands out from the other sub-stories because it goes for straight scares and a shivery atmosphere.

Neha (Malavika) scurries back to the car on account of being frightened by Shruti’s ghoulish yarn. This is where the film starts to develop an underplot about an unknown threat lurking in the vicinity. Campfire Tales was marketed as another teenage slasher upon its release when in reality the anthology was nothing of the sort. Darna Mana Hai, on the other hand, is open to the idea of a killer on the prowl, as well as other subgenres. Anthology fans can expect the top-level story to almost always finish on a gloomy note, and in a film already sardined with multiple tones, this severe twist is not out of the blue. The characters’ ultimate fate is directed with harshness, but Raman is never too concerned with subtlety. 

Before the bodies pile up under everyone’s noses, Romi pulls out his first story. “No Smoking” is only one of the stranger segments here. A photographer named Anil (Saif Ali Khan) checks into a hotel, unaware of the strict smoking policy in place. The lone employee then submits an ominous challenge, which Anil accepts against his better judgment. While this oddball sounds like “Quitters, Inc.” from Cat’s Eye, the similarities are surface level. The conclusion comes out of nowhere, and questions will surely linger even as the next segment unfolds.

Indian horror movies

The group’s numbers dwindle as characters gradually leave with the intention of coming back. The storytelling goes on in their absence, and this third episode seems like the film is getting back on track after the undercooked offering of “No Smoking”. In “Homework”, an elementary school teacher named Dayashankar Pandey (Raghuvir Yadav) is taken aback when a poor student hands in her assignment for the first time. He contacts the girl’s mother about her overnight improvement not out of worry or curiosity, but out of total fear. This segment is successful because of the suspense-building; why Pandey is so bothered by his pupil’s academic turnaround comes as a ghastly surprise.

Romi’s preference for absurdity continues in “Apples”, a so-so fable about a woman (Shilpa Shetty) who gets more than she bargained for at the local bazaar. This fruitless vignette is underwhelming from start to finish, but at least it is short. Shruti then swoops in with another solid chiller about a supernatural rideshare, and proves herself to be the most consistent storyteller of the bunch. “Ghostly Lift” manages to have fun while also exuding eeriness.

And then there were three. That is, until Shruti and her two remaining friends are joined by a mysterious passerby (Sushant Singh), who urges the group to press on with the last story. In “Stop/Move”, dejected college student Purab (Aftab Shivdasani) contemplates suicide after being rejected by the object of his affection (Isha Koppikar). Once Purab realizes he now has the ability to control people’s mobility, though, he succumbs to his darker urges. This final tale seesaws between silly and direful before zaniness prevails at the end. “Stop/Move” without a doubt has the most karmic conclusion of all the smaller narratives. 

Darna Mana Hai is no exception to the empirical rule of horror anthologies; the quality varies from story to story. This is an unavoidable fact when it comes to these films. So while the goofier sketches pale when compared to the horror sections, not a single one of them is outright unwatchable. Solid pacing and variety, and a who’s who cast all compensate for the lengthy runtime and unevenness.

Even though this cult classic underperformed at the box office, and critics were divided, it did generate attention for not only itself — there is a 2006 sequel called Darna Zaroori Hai — but also for anthologies in general. Without Darna Mana Hai, the Indian film industry may have never considered the possibilities and value of portmanteau storytelling.

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.

Indian horror Darna Mana Hai

The post Indian Horror Anthology ‘Darna Mana Hai’ Offers Mix of Fun and Eerie Stories [Horrors Elsewhere] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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