One thing that Scooby Doo and the Mystery Inc. taught us was that monsters are not real… unless they are on Zombie Island. In Scooby Doo and the Zombie Island, Velma tried pulling off the mask of a zombie to solve the mystery, but to no avail. The mask would just not come off, indicating that monsters are for real.
A few Hindi films have also tried this trick. The narrative builds up the film as a slice of life or a piece of realism, only to shake the audience out of their wits eventually. While some films are clearly slot into the fantasy genre, these five films give the audience the impression that the film is as real as it could be… until a twist which proves otherwise.
I term this as the “dwindling suspension of disbelief”. It’s easier to predict the plot in a thriller than in a psychological thriller as it treads on the fine line between fantasy and realism. The viewer does not keep her disbelief suspended. Rather, the disbelief just dwindles as the viewer is confused about the genre of the film. Here are five Hindi films that tried hard to keep the viewers guessing or even managed to shake them out of their beliefs in realism:
- Talash (2012): What worked for this film was Aamir Khan. The audience did not expect a master of “real films” to venture into the supernatural. After films like Taare Zameen Par and 3 Idiots, the audience expected him to stick to his comfort zone. However, Shehnaz Patel’s role of a practitioner of divination, the eerie screen presence of Kareena Kapoor’s character and the subtle lyrics by Javed Akhtar left the audience wondering about the possibility of a supernatural element.
- Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. (2007) : Another film by director Reema Kagti, it portrayed two lovebirds unconditionally loyal to each other in the characters played by Abhay Deol and Minissha Lamba. The audience wondered what could possibly go wrong with these two as the other couples in the film engaged in love quarrels. They suspected a love triangle as Deol’s character would stealthily step out of the hotel room at night while Lamba’s character is asleep. However, in the end when she confronts him, it turns out that he is actually a superhero and is “saving the world” during the night. What could be more bizarre? Well, Kagti had that in store for us too as Lamba’s character also turns out to be a superhero. That is when the audience actually went, “hey, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a love triangle, it’s infidelity, no! It’s Superman!”
3. Ek Thi Dayan (2013): A little boy keeps wondering if his stepmom is a witch. His father and sister rubbish all his theories and treat her as a family member. Obviously, the boy’s intuition is correct and she is a witch. But what makes the film work? Konkona Sen Sharma. A pioneer of parallel or “realistic” cinema, we could not imagine her sporting those huge witch-like eyes and the heavy husky voice. Also, she got all the nuances just right, whether it was combing her long hair or counting to twenty before the hide and seek game. “Ready or not, here I come.”
- Madhumati (1958): Vyjayanthimala played a double role in this film which was the first of its kind. Her character is killed by Pran’s character who continues to live blemish less till Dilip Kumar’s character concocts a plan to haunt the murderer with the aid of Madhumati’s lookalike. In the climax, when they manage to make Pran’s character confess to his crime, Kumar’s character realizes that the lookalike in that scene was actually the spirit of Madhumati as she narrated facts that her lookalike was unaware of. The same storyline was replicated in Farah Khan’s Om Shanti Om decades later.
- Phobia (2016): The last one in the list goes the other way round. Promoted and projected as a horror flick, the film revolved around Radhika Apte’s character who keeps claiming to her boyfriend, “iss ghar me aur bhi koi hai”. Eventually, it turns out that she has the capability to visualize and experience the future and it was only her boyfriend, and not some spirit, who kept harassing her throughout the film. Thus, this psychological thriller goes from supernatural to real.
These five films took the idea of anticlimax to a whole new supernatural dimension. The dwindling suspension of disbelief keeps the audience hooked to their seats, though at the very edge.