Directors: Elan Dassani, Rajeev Dassani
Cast: Sunita Mani, Sarita Choudhury, Omar Maskati, Bernard White
For a culture that is so reliant on religious superstition, it’s surprising how hesitant Indians are about making good horror movies. So, it makes sense that Evil Eye, despite being a story rooted in desi culture, is made for (and by) the diaspora.
For instance, Western audiences wouldn’t notice the geographical inaccuracies and the strange accents. To them, Evil Eye will simply serve as reaffirmation of certain stereotypes — that Indians are, by and large, a deeply superstitious people.
On several occasions in the film, co-produced by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and based on an Audible original, ‘kundlis’ are consulted, a ‘jyotish’ is summoned and the voice of reason is ignored.
How is this any different from the Catholic possession movies that everyone seems to enjoy, you might ask? Those movies are just as prone to spouting kooky claptrap, too, aren’t they? But Evil Eye is neither a possession film nor is it particularly scary. It is, instead, a cross between a stalker thriller and a resurrection drama.
Sarita Choudhury plays Usha, who seems to be obsessed with getting her daughter Pallavi, played by Sunita Mani, married. Usha coordinates the matchmaking from thousands of miles away in New Delhi, while Pallavi — born and raised in the US — tries her best to humour her mother without losing patience at her determination.
And so, she agrees to go out on a date with a potential groom. But while Pallavi waits for him at a cafe — he’s very late — she meets another man. Their eyes lock, smiles are exchanged, followed by pick-up lines and pleasantries. They hit it off immediately. And guess what, he’s Indian.
Over the next couple of weeks, as Pallavi and Sandeep’s relationship develops, back home in India, Usha’s health worsens. Her mom-senses fully aroused, she calls Pallavi up, demanding to know if she’s made any progress in her search for a potential life partner. As it turns out, she has. Pallavi tells Usha about Sandeep, and how wonderfully he has been taking care of her. But Usha isn’t convinced. She has a bad feeling about Sandeep.
It is usually at this stage in the story — the end of the first act — that filmmakers are faced with a challenge. Now that the premise has been laid out and the characters introduced, how can the audience be compelled to stick around? It’s like those five-second advertisements that play before YouTube videos. They’re designed to grab your attention in that limited time and somehow convince you to keep watching. But how often are they successful?
At roughly 90 minutes long, Evil Eye isn’t the most taxing of experiences. And despite some heavy themes — more than a horror picture, it’s really about trauma — it doesn’t feel overwhelming. Part of the reason for its relatively light tone is that directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani always remain tethered to the realm of genre cinema.
So, while Evil Eye, in its heart of hearts, is actually a rather serious story about a mother’s fears that her daughter might make the same mistakes that she did, the Dassanis go about telling the story in a way that can only be described as ‘slightly high-brow Ekta Kapoor’. Usha, you see, becomes convinced that Sandeep isn’t who he is. She believes that he is the reincarnation of her own abusive boyfriend, the one she escaped from many years ago before fleeing to the United States. He’s now back to finish the job.
It’s an interesting idea, but hardly milked to its full potential. As it stands, Evil Eye needed to be at least 30% worse, or 30% better, to truly be described as a ‘good movie’. The scariest thing about it is watching non-desis speak ‘Hindi’.