Director: V K Prakash
Cast: Nithya Menen
Composer: Resul Pookutty
Cinematographer: PC Sreeram
A few minutes into VK Prakash’s Praana, a haunted house on the hills welcomes a new tenant, a lone woman. In the dead of night, hushed whispers come out of empty rooms, a doll starts moving around (or does it?), vessels tumble down in the kitchen, and eerie wet footprints appear and disappear on the corridor. It’s a much-familiar horror cinema setting, and as the film proceeds, this sense of déjà vu only intensifies. Only that Praana has just one actor, Nithya Menen, in front of the camera.
Menon plays Tara Anuradha, a celebrity writer who is under attack from fundamentalist groups for her latest book on individual freedom. After a press meet where she announces to the world that she doesn’t fear anyone or anything, Tara moves into a haunted house on the hills. She wants to stay away from the busyness of the city while also proving a point that spirits don’t exist. She fixes video cameras in various corners of the house, starts maintaining a visual diary. Time and again, her friends Joe and Shrikanth (voiced by Dulquer Salman and Kunchakko Boban respectively) ring her up to inquire about her well-being. These conversations to the camera and on phone keep the otherwise dialogue-less film alive.
The most striking feature of Praana is PC Sreeram’s cinematography that is par stunning. It brilliantly evokes a sense of outlandishness that the writing is unable to bring to the fore. And he doesn’t go for shaky movements or quirky lighting to create an ambiance of horror, but does the conventional commercial cinema techniques – from conventional beauty shots to using wide-angle lens – with sensitivity and restraint. Similarly, the film’s sound department, led by Resul Pookkutty, does a commendable job of building a delicate soundscape for the one-woman act to unfold without hiccups.
While the old-fashioned horror tropes largely succeed in holding an intrigue, the over-ambitious narrative starts faltering soon. It isn’t surprising since the film tries to bring too many themes to the table. Prakash collides two time-tracks to play with the audience’s understanding – a technique that he pulled off in Moonnamathoral, an unofficial adaptation of the Hollywood film Others. In Praana, it is an easy guess. The scenes of Tara’s press meets and that of attackers barging into the house look straight out of a choreographed dance piece. From the realm of fiction, the film moves into a terrain of film installation that the makers don’t seem to be very sure about. A room full of toys become a weak metaphor for a world that offers no safety for its children who fall into the hands of sexual abusers. Suddenly, people become stand-in props for a message the film is desperate to pass on. Like a nun who talks about the death of a child at her orphanage in a rather mechanical tone.
Menen’s greatest gift is an expressive face that can effortlessly hold close-ups. However, in Praana, she seems to be terribly out of her element, thus adding to the largely convoluted mess that the film turns out to be. She speaks in a faulty diction, as though the words aren’t her own, and this affects the credibility of Tara. One night, Tara is woken up on bed by a mild clamor outside the house which turns out to be of masked attackers who move around the house, throwing tennis balls at it. Weird enough, the writer looks barely affected by this very eerie experience. Her response to the unnatural sensations inside the house too, appear farcically cold. It is hard to say if it’s the character or Menen’s portrayal of her, but it’s safe to conclude that it is a mix of both. At the end of it all, this one-actor exercise comes across as an unnecessary stunt that mars the story-telling than aid it in any way.
The Praana review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreen.in and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.