Chhorii, On Amazon Prime Video, Is Well-Intentioned But Fumbling

Nushrratt's sincerity is admirable but her expressions, especially in the more over-wrought scenes, tend to falter
Chhorii, On Amazon Prime Video, Is Well-Intentioned But Fumbling

Director: Vishal Furia
Writers: Vishal Furia, Vishal Kapoor
Cast: Nushrratt Bharuccha , Saurabh Goyal, Mita Vashisht
Cinematographer: Anshul Chobey
Editor: Unnikrishnan Payoor Parameswaran

Chhorii belongs to an emerging genre in Hindi cinema – the message horror movie. Think Dibakar Banerjee's short in the Ghost Stories anthology, Anvita Dutt's Bulbbul or more recently, Terrie Samundra's Kaali Khuhi, which released last year and has many things in common with Chhorii. Both films deal with the same subject. Both are set in rural India. And in both, the most vulnerable women in the frame – in that film, a 10-year-old girl and in this one, a young woman who is eight months pregnant – prove to be the saviours. As leading lady Nushrratt Bharuccha said in an interview: It's not just a horror film, it's a responsible horror film.

Chhorii is a remake of the 2017 Marathi film Lapachhapi. Director Vishal Furia who directed the original from a story he came up with, refashions it for Hindi viewers. I haven't seen Lapachhapi but this story is set in an unnamed village, somewhere in Haryana. A creepy house stands amidst towering sugar cane crops. Circumstances force city folk Sakshi and Hemant to take shelter here, in their driver's home. His wife, the oversolicitous Bhanno Devi, promises that she will look after Sakshi. But soon enough, strange children are running, playing an endless game of hide and seek and yes, there is a daayan.

The Marathi film's trailer says that the film was inspired by true events but Chhorii makes no such claims. Which is just as well because the film, even within its own framework of logic, is inconsistent. Hemant and Sakshi flee the city they live in because their lives are in danger but they seem fairly unaffected by what has happened once they reach the village. Husband and wife recover quickly enough to joke, chat normally and make love. Neither seems unduly perturbed about the fact that they are in the middle of nowhere, without a phone signal – when have cell phones ever worked in a horror film? – and Sakshi might need medical attention.

Moreover, the big twist at the end doesn't fit plausibly with what has happened before – more details would be a spoiler. And even the film's feminist stance is specious. Chhorii attempts to be a rousing statement of women empowerment but it contradicts itself. The dialogue, written by Vishal Kapoor, who also wrote Lapachhapi, includes lines like: Har chhorii mein ek maa hoti hai aur maa se bada na kisi ka audhaa hai na kisi ki aukaat. Does that mean women who are mothers are morally superior to women who aren't? And the daayan is mostly doing horrific things to other women. Why, I wondered, doesn't she use her fearsome face and power to terrorise some of the nasty men in the film?

But what Furia gets right is the atmospherics. The crops play a lead role, spreading out like a maze around the house. They work like an elaborate trap – the deeper you go in, the closer you come to the heart of darkness. DOP Anshul Chobey and sound designer Baylon Fonseca expertly make the looming sugarcane ominous. Sakshi's desperation and claustrophobia is rendered effectively. There are also a few nicely done jump scares.

Nushrratt is in almost every frame of the film. She is put through the wringer – this is an emotionally and physically demanding role. She commits to all aspects of it, becoming at once, the victim and the hero, who gets to say thundering filmy lines like: Yeh ek maa ka doosri maa se vaada hai. Her sincerity is admirable but her expressions, especially in the more over-wrought scenes, tend to falter. Also even under the dastardly circumstances, her hair stays beautifully blow-dried and eyebrows, plucked. It's the same hint of glam that undermined her character in Chhalaang – there, she played a school teacher in small-town Haryana who wore four-inch heels. It's unnecessarily distracting.

But it was nice to see Mita Vashisht chewing up the scenery. The veteran actor embodies the many moods of Bhanno Devi – from maternal to malicious. In one scene, she dismisses Sakshi and her 'shehar waali pattar pattar'. It's borderline funny.

Like Kaali Khuhi, Chhorii is well-intentioned but fumbling. At 158 minutes, the film is also stretched. Good horror works like a punch to the gut and this never quite gets there. The film ends with the beautifully plaintive number 'O Re Chiraiya', which has been sung by Swanand Kirkire and composed by Ram Sampath, originally for Aamir Khan's show Satyamev Jayate. The haunting song gives us a glimpse into what Chhorii might have been.

You can watch Chhorii on Amazon Prime Video.

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