A chariot pulled in different directions
All through the film and even well after it, you aren’t sure what the real story of Ra is. It seems like a medley of edible ingredients that doesn’t make a tasteful dish. You realise how this must have come about when you pay attention to the credits. Much like a Wikipedia article citing references at the end, Ra’s end credits mention Hollywood films Dead Silence, Stir of Echoes, and Insidious under a curious label titled ‘filmography’. Eureka! The idea seems to have been to add a few original elements to a collage of impressive ideas from each of these films and somehow hope that this would result in a unique genre-bending film. It’s a bit like a dull student copying parts of the same answer from several classmates. The teacher, like the viewer, is bound to feel confounded.
A couple elopes and the woman (Aditi Chengappa) dies under mysterious circumstances. The traumatised husband (Ashraf) faces sleepless nights and experiences strange phenomena. His bedsheet is pulled away when he’s sleeping, his door refuses to open, his cupboard begins shaking, he finds himself back in his house when he steps out of his main door, his chair rises in the air… the usual. So far, so good. And then like that chair, it all goes down. In their apparent eagerness to step away from the usual, the makers end up providing unsatisfactory answers. There’s the omniscient ‘scientist’ (usually a priest in horror films), acting as a deus ex machina, and there’s the mandatory twist at the end… but all of this only complicates things further. There’s no one main plot that unifies all the subplots.
The protagonist’s character is among the saddest, literally, in Tamil cinema. In addition to his wife, another family member passes away. He gets accused of murder. His boss is insensitive to his trauma. His mother wants him to move on, two months after his wife’s death. It takes longer to get over a PlayStation that is damaged! Meanwhile, his house experiences supernatural phenomena. A demon wants to possess him. There’s one scene that aptly exemplifies this hapless soul’s fate — his wedding night with the love of his life. He has sent his family members away, and his wife walks to him, dressed provocatively. As he stands in nervous anticipation, dong! The door bell rings, and his friends gatecrash into his house with alcohol. “Get me plates and icecubes,” announces one of them. Oh, give the poor man a break! In fact, later on, when his spirit steps into what the makers call ‘the fourth dimension’ and he’s trapped there, you don’t feel sad for him at all. I mean, how much worse can it be there than he had it on earth?
A shout out to the cinematographer (Saravanan) for impressive visuals, with painstaking attention to lighting. Ra also shows good production values (especially in its VFX), and that’s more than you can say about many other small films that have released recently. The flaws are mainly in the writing. A man, for instance, who’s investigating the paranormal occurrences in the house, rubbishes the idea that dead people return as ghosts. Barely a second later, he says he can sense a malignant presence in the house. One second, he is a rationalist, and the next, he is a psychic. Make up your mind! What do you want to be? The same question, you want to ask this film too.