Sunday, 27 May 2018
Pari: Not a Fairytale (2018)
Well, this one got distinctly cold reviews from Indian critics, but I enjoyed it a lot. It's a relatively simple tale with interesting twists and turns, told with the help of flashbacks. It begins with shy, nerdy Arnab having a painful time with prospective bride Piyali, a beautiful and confident nurse. On the drive home with his parents Arnab insists that if Piyali turns him down he doesn't want any more matchmaking, thanks very much. A bit of a row begins, eyes are taken off the road, and in the monsoon rain they run down and kill a woman who is crossing the road.
The woman, it turns out, is a Muslim who lives in a hut in the woods and for some reason collects stray dogs, Further investigation reveals that a young woman, Rukhsana, chained by her ankles to a post in the hut. She can barely speak, is illiterate, and seems to have been kept in total isolation from the outside world. Arnab feels sorry for her and helps her with funeral arrangements. Oddly, when the traditional mourners arrive, Rukhsana reacts badly to the smell of incense.
Meanwhile one of the mortuary workers has noticed that the dead woman bears a brand on her arm. He immediately alerts Professor Ali, a Van Helsing figure with one eye. References to a Doomsday Cult and baby skulls come thick and fast as Ali gathers his forces. Rukhsana flees when Ali arrives at her hut and seeks refuge with Anab, who decides to find her a home in a local hostel. But she becomes attached to him, and he find himself falling for her.
Flashbacks make it clear that Rukhsana is not simply a lost girl, but something else. As in the film Spring, we see her inhuman side manifest itself in various ways. She must keep clipping her nails, for instance (as in Aickman's story 'No Stronger Than A Flower'). Rukhsana is a pari, a kind of fairy of Muslim folk tradition. Her mother was one of many used and abused by demon-worshippers, which led to impregnation by an Ifrit (or 'afreet' of our own Gothic tradition). Thus Rukhsana is a hybrid creature, possessed of human and supernatural abilities. She's also a bit of a complication when Piyali decided she will marry Anab...
Ali closes in on the pari, who becomes increasingly dangerous as her demonic side develops. She produces a deadly poison and must use it at regular intervals or die herself. Suffice to say this is not a film for animal lovers. Ali and his goon squad eventually catch up with Rukhsana, but not before she has become pregnant by Anab. In a parallel story Piyali reveals a truth about herself that dovetails neatly (perhaps too neatly) with the main plot. I won't give away any more, except to say that the ending is a mite predictable, but director Prosit Roy still gets there with considerable aplomb.
One of the film's virtues is solid direction, which makes full use of urban India's shabby-genteel areas. It also has fine lead performances, particularly Anushka Sharma in the title role and Rajat Kapoor as Ali. This is one of those films where the 'good guys' are so sadistic you inevitably want the forces of evil to get a fair go.