Editor, Director: Pushkar Sunil Mahabal
Writer: Ankita Narang
Cast: Kashmira Irani, Swarda Thigale, Sashi Bhudhan, Boloram Das, Tina Bhatia, Akshita Arora
Producer: Paresh Rawal, Swaroop Rawal, Hemal A Thakur, Pushkar Mahabal, Ankita Narang
Streaming Platform: SonyLIV
Unwatchable can mean two of many things. It could mean a film is bad, rendering it unwatchable. Or it could mean the film’s visuals are raw, repugnant, and repulsive. Sometimes, as in Darren Aronofsky’s Mother, it is hard to know what one means when using the word ‘unwatchable’ because we often seek meaning or, at least, catharsis from violence. Why show a closeup of Jennifer Lawrence being battered and bruised- the purple wounds blooming on her skin in real time?
Welcome Home a Marathi film makes you ask similar questions. It is the story of two census takers, Anuja and Neha (Kashmira Irani, Swarda Thigale, both bronzed beyond belief), who, in attempting to unearth the shady ongoings in a deserted house, become embroiled in it. They first encounter Prerna (Tina Bhatia), pregnant and anxious, who throws a line casually about how all her children die anyway. Anuja and Neha leave after taking the requisite headcount information for the census, but the gnawing intuition makes them come back, and all-hell-breaks-loose.
The 2 hour film begins as horror, the background score, and slanted camera in overdrive, almost announcing its genre. I didn’t mind its obviousness so much because it was effective. A lot of these horror portions are propped up by unspeakable horrors that haven’t found voice yet. They articulate themselves in the second half, by which time the film swerves genres. It sheds its horror to become gore.
But what binds the two halves is the feminist underscoring. Anuja is battling her father and fiance, both of whom insist that she leave her job. Neha has an imposing elder brother. Both were raised in households where the father routinely hit the mother, and this generational cascading of misogyny doesn’t dam. Mid-way while the film is transitioning from horror to gore, Anuja and Neha are having a conversation about what it means to be a strong woman. Anuja confesses that though her mother would be routinely violated, she would always stand up for Anuja. Neha notes, that is strength too.
Neha, at first glance, seems smart, as a woman who would evade such a destiny. When we first see her she is wearing a sleeveless kurta, without a dupatta. Anuja, spectacled, has both sleeves and a dupatta, reticent and wary. Then, we see Neha being chastised by her elder brother for coming back late, and the following day she is armed with both sleeves and a dupatta. The bravado is only piecemeal.
Now, the problem with gore, for me, is that it needs to feel justified. I have never bought into the idea of gore-for-gore’s-sake. So at the end of a film, I need to feel that my squirming, and uneasy clasping of eyes was worth it. Here, it didn’t feel that way. There’s an emptiness to the film’s conclusion that doesn’t tie back to the worst thing one can read at the beginning of a horror film, “Inspired by true events”. Somewhere in between the bludgeoned brains and the casual rape, you forget that there is some kernel of truth here. You are reminded with an epilogue on screen citing statistics of abuse.
The performances are rooted to the genre, reacting first to the horror then to the gore. It doesn’t become shrill and the flourishes of naturalism kept me engaged, even if not involved. The setting retains its daylight and bright marigolds to dot the landscape. Most of the horror happens at night, and most of the gore happens in daylight; rain is a bad omen. There’s a strict delineation of genres, careful to not step on one another’s toe, and this was where I felt the film lose its grip. In carefully and patiently plotting its gore, it forgot its horror which was what made the film exciting in the first place. I wished for the jump scare prodded on by the excitable score. Instead I got a closeup of mashed brains, a cow on fire, and machetes eager for skin to claw into.