Another brick in the horror wall
Science has proved the desensitising effects of over-exposure (to violence, usually). I understood this theory never more than when watching Unakkenna Venum Sollu … yet another horror film. I almost felt a palpable sense of frustration in the audience I was watching the film with, as everybody realised that it was ‘jump scare’ time again. Thanks to this recent barrage of horror films, I think it’s safe to say that an average film — like Unakkenna Venum Sollu — won’t cut it anymore. We need something more focussed, something novel. “But, but, we have a child playing the ghost!” just doesn’t cut it.
Technically, Unakkenna is quite refined. It’s all there: good background music (Siva Saravanan), a lot of well-composed shots in the dark (Manish Murthy)… The acting — especially Jaqlene Prakash, as the haunted Pooja — is in place too. So, what is the problem? The important parts of the film, like the dialogues, and the story. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why the characters — Karthik (Deepak Paramesh), Pooja (Jaqlene), her husband Shiva (Gunalan Morgan), to name a few — had to mention each other’s names in almost every single dialogue. It’s one thing to call somebody by their name, but it’s quite another to keep dropping their name during the middle of a conversation. I found it rather unrealistic, and really off-putting. There were also a few times when the characters stated the obvious in loud asides. Karthik, who finds his mobile phone ringing even when without a battery, finds the need to say out loud, “Battery illaama epdi adichidhu ?” As if Srinath, the director, was worried that the audience may not get it.
Usually, there are two types of ghost stories. You have righteous ghosts that seek revenge against evil people (like Kanchana ). You naturally root for the ghost in these stories. In the other kind, you have evil ghosts that try to harm normal people (like in Demonte Colony ). Unakkenna belongs to a third category. It has a righteous ghost (even if you’re not really convinced that it is) that seeks revenge against normal people. The problem with such a premise is that the story has to make you feel strongly about both the ghost and the victims. In the case of Unakkenna , neither happens. Neither the explanation for the ghost’s existence nor the reasoning behind its age are satisfactory. A lot more time needed to be spent on this. As for the affected people — mainly Karthik and Pooja — they both make bafflingly insensitive and conservative decisions for two educated people liberal enough to be living in. And the movie, at the end, almost makes a passionate case for Karthik’s innocence, maybe because the title is named after a song that’s an ode to a father-daughter relationship. I wasn’t really convinced he was as helpless as the film portrays him to be. So, the chief problem with Unakkenna is that you are invested neither in the ghost’s motive, nor in the safety of the affected. All of it just doesn’t matter.
There were two bits I quite enjoyed though. One, the depiction of Matthew (Mime Gopi) as an exorcist who is far removed from the puritan, hymn-reciting, religious priests we’re usually shown in similar films. Matthew smokes from a pipe, and looks every bit like a henchman. It is a relief to see him be the good guy here; in fact, you could even say that he’s the noblest person in the entire film. Two, the portrayal of the live-in relationship between Karthik and Pooja, which included many real problems.
They are financially constrained, Pooja isn’t totally secure, her female friend dislikes Karthik… there’re a lot of interesting little issues. We need more stories, more films about such problems, without really having to rely on just directors like Mani Ratnam and Gautham Menon to handle them. But perhaps, I’m expecting a bit too much from somebody whose rather deterministic explanation for the existence of ghosts is that every person is allotted a certain age, and that if they were to die earlier, then they live on as ghosts until their lifetime elapses. A few scenes earlier, a gynaecologist tells Pooja that abortion is murder. When you put that idea in the context of Unakkenna ’s explanation for ghosts, you have to wonder if the whole film is actually a subtle case against abortion. If Srinath indeed meant it as a subtext, I suppose that’s a lot more horrifying than the ghost in the film.