THE RAAZ SERIES, REVISITED

Judging by the past, the franchise’s new avatar Raaz Reboot might follow in its predecessors’ footsteps with schlocky horror, melodrama and preachy moralizing

Reboots, much like sequels, prequels and spin-offs, have become an inescapable fact of the modern cinematic experience. Do they all work? No. Do they even deserve to be made? That’s complicated. But the existence of a reboot presumes some popularity of the original source material.

Vishesh films and Vikram Bhatt’s Raaz series, despite the critical thumping it always receives, was and, perhaps, still is a popular horror franchise. This Friday they will test the waters with a new addition to the mix, Raaz Reboot.

For those blissfully uninitiated, the series is rife with lazy clichés, ham-handed storytelling and a level of cheesiness that can put the finest cheddar to shame. Ahead of this week’s reboot, here’s a quick guide:

The story

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Dino Morea and Bipasha Basu in Raaz (2002)

The franchise began as an unofficial remake (read: rip off) of the 2000 Robert Zemeckis film What Lies Beneath. Raaz, the first in the series, starred Bipasha Basu as Sanjana Dhanraj, a woman haunted by the spirit of her husband’s lover. It went on to become the second highest grossing film of 2002, second only to Ram Gopal Varma’s Company.

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Emraan Hashmi and Kangana Ranaut in Raaz: The Mystery Continues (2009)

In Raaz: The Mystery Continues (2009), Emraan Hashmi essays a painter who sees visions of Kangana Ranaut in near-death situations even though he’s never met her before. He replicates them on canvas and to her misfortune, they come true. The onus of saving her is then on him when she’s lying on the bathroom floor with her wrists slit or suspended in the air in an abandoned alley with scary things written in blood on the wall behind. And no, he’s no clairvoyant. It’s just the spirit of his dead father working through him. The dead father, played by Jackie Shroff in a special appearance, is out to seek revenge from the corrupt people who murdered him out of greed for money.

In 2012’s Raaz 3D, Bipasha Basu (yes, her again) with the help of lover Emraan Hashmi (yes, him again) tries to ruin rival Esha Gupta’s career by poisoning her with black magic water. Black magic water that looks like this:

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The performances
These films aren’t exactly subtle, so the acting follows suit. The performers hit loud, screechy notes consistently. Exhibit A:  Ashutosh Rana, whose incessant shouting in Raaz, is supposed to invoke dread or intensity but instead may result in unintended laughter. Watch what happens when his character in the film gets possessed:

And then there’s this cringe worthy seduction scene involving Bipasha Basu and Emraan Hashmi in Raaz 3D:

The fear factor

For horror films, the series comes off as too freakish and juvenile, mostly relying on jump scares. The special effects, in particular, are no good.
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Now you could argue that Raaz isn’t meant to be some slick Hollywood-style slasher flick but it doesn’t take a huge budget to create spooky atmospherics that play on a viewer’s psyche. Rosemary’s Baby, anyone?

The underlying message

Not content with cheap thrills, all the films in this franchise try really hard to be morality plays in the most heavy-handed manner possible.

In a monologue at the end of Raaz, Sanjana Dhanraj who has now forgiven her husband for his infidelity, proclaims, “Pyaar karna aasaan hain. Par usse nibhana bahut mushkil. Pyaar ke is intahaan ke guzarne ke baad hi mere suhaag mein asli nikhaar aaya.” Good luck decoding that one.

The takeaway

The Raaz series didn’t set out to be a classic but it even falls far short of its modest ambitions to be a plain old fashioned scare-fest. One critic had this to say about Raaz 3D: “From being transported to a parallel universe to finding the ‘chosen one’ for the job, this film is quite like The Matrix. Only difference, here you need both the pills. The first- to go down the Bhatt hole and the second for the ensuing headache.”

Recently, Mahesh Bhatt announced that Raaz Reboot would be the last film in the Raaz franchise. Do the producers think their box-office cash cow has run its course? I hope so. Granted, Raaz Reboot may surprise everyone by being a taut and well-made psychological thriller but I am not optimistic. All I know is that the last thing Bollywood needs is a glut of limp and lifeless reboots to edge out more meaningful filmmaking. After this latest installment, it is time to exorcise the ghost of Raaz once and for all.

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