As a product of Vishesh Films, I knew Raaz 3 would at the very least contain the following: a sex scene, one great song, and Emraan Hashmi kissing at least one heroine (which is usually how the first listed item begins). Hindi horror movie typically pose no danger as lack of originality and low production values assure chuckles rather than screams. But what makes the Raaz franchise unique is that it relies more on exploring human flaws and slick, modern repackaging of mythology than special effects, making 3D initially appear as an unnecessary add-on to this film.
Bipasha Basu plays Shanaya, a movie star who is slowly being dethroned by the fresh-faced actress Sanjana (Esha Gupta). When her religion fails to deliver the success she’s addicted to, Shanaya turns to black magic to torment Sanjana the way Sanjana’s success has tortured her. Initially motivated by love, film director Aditya (Emraan Hashmi) becomes accessory to girlfriend Shanaya but soon becomes intrigued by Sanjana, who sadly has no one to love.
The powers of sorcery come into effect and Sanjana’s pain fuels Shanaya’s machinations, which become disturbingly darker as the story progresses. Aditya then becomes trapped between the woman he no longer recognizes, and a woman who he’s beginning to understand.
Director Vikram Bhatt and writer Shagufta Rafique do well in creating a tightly woven tale that keeps the viewer engrossed, while art direction and sound design ensure a level of quality. The movie isn’t devoid of kitsch or cheesy dialogues, but as a whole is an entertaining product.
Raaz 3 is Hindi cinema’s first horror film to be given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, (multiple f-bombs, sex scenes and horror) and while it isn’t on the same level of scary as The Exorcist or The Ring, or beautifully haunting like Madhumati, it’s disturbing because of Shanaya’s internal demons which hurt those who love her the most. She tragically mirrors the attitude the film industry has towards fading stars: merciless and cruel.
The recent 3D frenzy made way for many films to feature shoddy effects, often times created in postproduction, to cash-in on the craze. But it’s obvious Raaz 3 was designed with 3D in mind with dance moves reaching towards the audience, debris flying in all directions, and a scene with insects swarming the screen, assuring the paying public gets its money’s worth.
The sudden appearance of evil spirits is also heightened and a scene featuring a clown had many folk in the audience jump with fright. While the 3D effects are quite satisfying, the makeup and prosthetics aren’t quite up-to-the-mark and can be a buzz kill. Hindi film technicians have yet to master the art of hanging characters without the harness being obvious, and Raaz 3 is yet another example.
Hindu rituals and objects are used to fight the forces of black magic in many scenes, whether it is water from the Ganges, protective thread wrapped around wrists, or an idol of the remover of obstacles---Ganesh. Religious references are made throughout the film, but it is in the climax where it takes such a melodramatic form that it would make any masala filmmaker from the 80s (or producer of a devotional teleserial) proud.
And a film from the Bhatts is not a film from the Bhatts until there’s generous show of skin and sex and Raaz 3 has plenty of it. It even manages to blend the spiritual with the sultry as Shanaya is introduced wearing a very short skirt while praying in a temple.
Vishesh Films is known for memorable soundtracks and while Raaz and Raaz – The Mystery Continues delivered on the promise with multiple hit songs, ‘Deewana Kar Raha Hai’ is the chosen one on in Raaz 3. With haunting whispers in the background, the song is melodious and goes well with the film’s genre.
In scenes requiring her to play a horrified damsel-in-distress, Esha Gupta is adequate but hardly shines in the quieter, emotional moments in the film. Whether it’s sharing her painful past with Aditya, or listening to him confess his misdeeds, Gupta fails to an extent that cannot be salvaged by her incredible beauty. Sadly, even her dancing in ‘Khayalon Mein’ leaves much to be desired.
Aditya is not is not as exciting or interesting as Hashmi’s recent roles in The Dirty Picture or Shanghai, but his screen presence goes a long ways and he delivers as the man caught in the middle. When Sanjana becomes a screaming, emotional wreck after a traumatic event, rather than shaking (or in the case of Hindi films, slapping) the heroine back to her senses, Aditya soothes the distressed woman with a make-out session. The audience is no longer engrossed in Aditya’s story, but in Hashmi’s signature move which will elicit chuckles and whistles.
Last, but certainly not the least, is Bipasha Basu whose performance decided whether Raaz 3 would work or not. And she made it work. The performance is one of her best to date and the role is certainly meatier compared to what she’s done in sometime. The darker and more destructive Shanaya becomes, Basu becomes that much more confident and believable and her name will certainly feature in the ‘Best Actress’ and ‘Best Villain’ categories during awards season.
The film marks a full circle of sorts for Basu as she was the fresh-face in Raaz and now in Raaz 3 is an industry veteran with much publicized professional, and personal, highs and lows. Similarities between Shanaya’s and Bipasha’s tumultuous lives as leading ladies in a ruthless industry have been used in PR for the film, and while such a comparison comes across as exploitative and cruel, it brings about an element of compassion necessary for the film to work.
Ultimately, the secret of Raaz 3 is that he viewer cannot always discern whether the feelings are for Shanaya, or for the actress playing her.