It takes me about twenty five minutes to drive home from the theater at which I see many of the Indian films I review for this site. In the case of of Vikram Bhatt's Raaz 3D, I'm fairly certain that the twenty five minutes I spent thinking about this film critically in my car was more intensive than the attention paid to the story or execution of the film by anyone actually involved. The film's persistent inanity leaves little room for constructive criticism, as it appears that everyone involved sleepwalked through the production. If they can't be bothered to try to make a film worth watching, why should I be bothered to critique it? Still, this is the life I've chosen, and so I press forward.
Raaz 3D is the story of Shanaya, played by the undeniably gorgeous Bipasha Basu, who is a Bollywood star whose fame is on the wane. When she loses an acting award to a younger performer named Sanjana (Esha Gupta), she also loses her shit. Bent on vengeance and self-preservation, Shanaya visits a witch doctor, who curses a small tumbler of water that if utilized properly will destroy Sanjana's soul, thereby theoretically landing Shanaya back on top of the heap. There to help is Shanaya's secret lover/hot Bollywood director Aditya (Emraan Hashmi), who is to befriend Sanjana and administer the soul-destroying water a little bit at a time.
Surely we can all see just how foolproof this plan is.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, this is Bollywood, which means what should have been a lean film about revenge and black magic turns into a horror/romance/musical that finds very little success in any of those genres. It is as a horror film that Raaz 3 finds the most success, though that is damning it with faint praise. We're treated to several gruesome scenes that are atypically gory and disgusting for a mainstream Indian film, but not particularly good. The film has a few good jump scares, and some halfway decent effects, both practical and CG, but it fails to connect these sequences in any way that imparts a sense of urgency to the audience. The romance is terribly out of place and these scenes appear to have been cut from a different film altogether, making the entire film drag terribly; and the musical numbers are all very meta, appearing as part of films within the film, and serve no purpose other than to (a) show Bipashu Basu in hot pants and bikini tops, and (b) turn what should have been an 85 minute movie into a 135 minute slog.
I never really had much hope for Bipasha Basu's performance, though I try to appreciate her anew every time I see her in a film. This time, I was sadly disappointed, but not at all surprised. The vast bulk of her screen time is spent with a demented grin on her face, and if she has any kind of range, it is certainly not on display here. As far as I can tell, Basu is most successful when called upon to stand around or gyrate and look sexy, but the second she opens her mouth or is asked to show any kind of emotion, she goes completely off the rails. Raaz 3D keeps that streak alive, and the fact that she was called upon to anchor this piece says a lot about the attention the producers paid to creating a quality film.
Even though he is mostly relegated to the background in all of the promotional materials, Basu's co-star Emraan Hashmi (Shanghai, The Dirty Picture), gets just as much screen time, if not more. Following his relatively impressive performances over the last year or so, I had moderate hopes that his role would lend some kind of weight to the film's inevitable ridiculousness. However, most of his performance is spent with him sporting a puzzled look, as though he wandered onto the wrong set and the cameras just started rolling. It's really not his fault in this case; the script he was given is awful, and leaves no room for characterization. Hashmi is certainly better than this, though I fear he perhaps signed his contract to appear before he realized that he had the chance to become a real actor after critics and audiences took notice of his performance in Shanghai.
The movie isn't all terrible. The best sequences actually feature third wheel Esha Gupta as Sanjana as the cursed cup of water drives her into madness. The demon drink conjures all manner of horrible shenanigans for Sanjana to deal with, everything from killer clowns to swarms of flying roaches attacking and slowly driving her out of her mind. Gupta doesn't really have to do anything but look scared and scream a lot, but there's nothing wrong with that in a horror film, it's when she is called upon to be seduced by Hashmi that the thing falls to pieces. I'd say that there are probably about 20 or 25 minutes worth of quality, entertaining footage in Raaz 3D, all revolving around the curse and its immediate effects. If Vikram Bhatt had found a more economical way to bridge those moments, he probably would've had something worth while. As it is, the film falls flat for the same reason that many Bollywood films do: it's bloated and it tries to be all things to all people, and fails about eighty percent of the time.
P.S. I saw the film in 3D. It made very little difference. At one point someone handed me a note from the screen, but little else took advantage of the format.
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