A woman leads her cow after collecting coconuts from the grove near her house. The distorted and blood-curdling sound of a baby’s cry startles her. It seems to be coming from the top of a coconut tree. She quickly alerts her husband. Relatives and priests intervene but the wails seem to come at odd hours. Does the tree harbour a malevolent spirit that could threaten their family? That’s the simple but effective premise of “Paroksh” (Invisible), a new horror short directed by Ganesh Shetty.
Based on a true story, this Tulu language production by Drishyam Films was made on a budget of around ₹16 lakhs. Starring Pooja Upasani and Amit Sial (of “Titli” fame) and showcasing sterling cinematography and sound design, “Paroksh” is truly cinematic. I’d highly suggest you watch it before you read ahead.
Horror movies interrogate our cultural anxieties. Sometimes, deliberately, as in the case of “Carrie”, where a young woman’s destructive supernatural powers are unlocked after she menstruates. In other cases, inadvertently, a large number of horror movies from “Psycho” to “Silence Of The Lambs” feature transphobic plot points.
Apart from exceptions like “NH10” and “Pizza”, Indian cinema has failed the genre. Horror in our country is largely synonymous with low-budget Hollywood rip-offs. Most horror movies from the likes of the Ramsay Brothers to the Bhatts have liberally mixed chills with sleaze but have nothing to say about its characters or us. “Paroksh”, thankfully, is far sharper.
Throughout, the movie’s tension depends on us buying into the conventions of a horror film where things go from bad to worse. “Paroksh” then gleefully diffuses all this with the climatic revelation that a mobile phone ringtone was responsible for stoking this family’s fears. It’s not about the supernatural at all. It’s about our inability to look beyond superstition and religious dogma.
All this is not to say that “Paroksh” is a flawless piece. It’s not as nail biting as Sujoy Ghosh’s “Ahalya”. Also, its characters are pretty one-dimensional. Yet, imperfections aside, “Paroksh” proves that the horror genre can be energised by Indian elements. In fact, one of the movie’s finest eerie moments involves a masked Somana Kunita dancer enthralling a young girl with his fire tricks. By firmly rooting itself in its local milieu, “Paroksh” manages the artful feat of both specificity and universality.