During an interview, Rajneesh Duggal, the lead actor of Phirr (and previously 1920), stated that director Girish Dhamija (another writer from the Bhatt camp) is very particular about his screenplay, and hence sound as far as writing is concerned. In the same breath, he mentions that Vikram Bhatt (the producer) is ‘technically’ very sound. For a change, this is refreshingly honest stuff from an actor plugging his next film. What he basically wanted to say was - this is quite an interesting thriller. Go watch it. Forget technicalities like weak cinematography (60% out of focus), amateur dubbing and ordinary performances.
He is right. And ironically, it is Vikram Bhatt who has been credited for the story. Known for his horridly bizarre writing as far as his own directorial ventures are concerned, he actually tones it down a bit here and decides to let a 'real' writer direct it. The location, obviously, is still in and around England. Shockingly, for once, there are NO horny ghosts or suffering spirits involved. Okay, rebirth may sound as ridiculous, but it is still a step forward. Also, thankfully, this is less of a horror film and more of a thriller - a tad bit supernatural, but still acceptable.
What we have then is a surprisingly watchable film called Phirr from the ‘other’ Bhatt camp. It helps that those who will watch it will see it with no expectations or knowledge whatsoever, thanks to some inexplicably weak publicity/promotion, what with another massive release this week.
The sign of a good thriller, no matter how tacky or visually sour, is that it keeps you guessing for as long as possible and aspires to surprise you at the right moments (and hopefully, not letting the weak filmmaking overpower the decent storytelling). The first half does that to an extent, what with some interesting characters like Adah Sharma thrown in (with the ‘Unbreakable’ gift, or ‘Final Destination’ even). Well, ultimately she is the only interesting character. Her ‘gift’ makes for some genuinely smart scenes, used effectively by the writers just as the incompetent British force led by a good-hearted Pakistani cop (take that, England!) begin to get on your nerves. Duggal, as a hotshot surgeon, looks a bit out of place. Playing confused may have come naturally to him. His wife, played loudly by Roshni Chopra, disappears mysteriously without any character development (a romantic song is not enough anymore, Bollywood). Not that we miss her much. Nevertheless, thanks to a fast-paced story that uses the effective back-and-forth parallel storytelling format, immense potential is created and the platform is set for vast possibilities unraveling in the second half. All the while, you pray that there is no nonsensical supernatural stuff up the famous producer’s sleeve.
Much to your relief, there is no such thing. In fact, quite the contrary. The route taken to arrive at the much-hyped ship (anti) climax (which seemed to be clearly named after one of the film’s actresses) is flimsy and tame, to say the least. The film begins to slip into the conventional thriller category, so well popularized by Abbas-Mustan in the past. A kidnap scenario starts to develop and you keep hoping for Adah to come back on screen to spice things up a bit with her funky power. All the while, proceedings are constantly marred by some seriously mediocre dialogue that sound even worse when the extras and supporting cast members are made to mouth them. Atleast Bhatt is notoriously consistent in this aspect. The 'strong' screenplay, it seems, may have excited him enough.
There is, of course, one final twist at the end and to be honest, I did not see it coming. Maybe because I expected a lot more after the sheer array of magnificent possibilities that arise after a competent enough first half. It has been done before, in many ways, but given the scale (impressive) and tone of this film, it seemed highly unlikely. Still, one way or the other, the element of surprise was achieved and that is half the battle won.
Bhatt made sure to mention that this was one of the most expensive films he has been involved in. Shot in and around Newcastle,with his beloved castle from 1920 making yet another cameo, one would have to agree. It is no low-budget film, even though the cinematographer and sound designer try very hard to make it look like one. One wishes that, with such resources at hand, filmmakers begin to realize that either a good screenplay OR a neat technical effort is just not enough. It has to be both.
Still, Phirr is still a notch above the Bhatt horror trilogy and the boxoffice collections (lukewarm to poor) might confirm this bittersweet reality. Oh and in case you were wondering, the ship was called ‘Ice Maiden’. And the actress was… it doesn’t matter.
- Reel Reptile