Director: Pavan Kirpalani. Cast: Sara Ali Khan, Chitrangda Singh, Vikrant Massey, Rahul Dev, Akshay Oberoi, Shishir Sharma, Shataf Ahmed Figar and Manjiri Pupala.
IANS Rating: ****
The word 'Gaslight' is used as a verb to describe an attempt to manipulate a person psychologically, thereby, ultimately, making them doubt their own sanity.
Directed by Pavan Kirpalani, this somewhat unsettling but intelligently adapted film is diabolic -- and it glows on all accounts. It is the atmospheric account of a woman being driven out of her mind.
At the very onset of the narrative, we are given to understand there has been a murder. The question here is not only a whodunit but why and how? How the sustained mystery unfolds is what keeps you glued to your seat.
The prologue transfers us to Mayagarh Palace, the haveli of Ratan Singh Gaikwad, where through a clip of a home video we are shown him celebrating the birthday of his daughter Mishri aka Meesha.
Years later, after a freak accident followed by the death of her mother, a wheelchair-bound Meesha (Sara Ali Khan) returns home to reconcile with her father with whom she shared a strained relationship.
Strangely, she is welcomed home by her stepmother Rukmini (Chitrangda Singh) and the rest of the household, but Ratan Singh Gaikwad is conspicuous by his absence.
During her stay in the haveli, Meesha experiences strange happenings akin to paranormal activities, and through a campaign of false accusations, fabricated memories, and bland denials, she is projected as emotionally fragile and on the verge of losing her mind.
After suffering a series of slowly revealed and subtle attacks from her detractors, Sara Ali Khan portrays the troubled woman Meesha effectively. She conveys the anxiety, fear, and resoluteness of the character convincingly. One look into her eyes and you know what is going on in her mind.
The attractive Vikrant Massey is brilliant as Kapil, the estate manager. Similarly, Chitrandga Singh as Rukmini is intense. Both are scheming and keep you engaged with their effortless histrionics.
With a sunny disposition and a hidden agenda, Akshay Oberoi shines in a thankless but action-packed role. He brilliantly essays Rana Jai Singh, a distant cousin of Meesha. Rahul Dev as Superintendent of Police Ashok Tanwar and Shishir Sharma as the family doctor add to the repertoire of the cast.
The setting in the magnificent mansion, the locales, and the props used in the film are what make the narrative eerie and plausible.
Cinematographer Ragul Dharuman's lens astutely captures the action and drama in all its glory. His dark frames enhance the mood of the film. At one juncture, his visuals rely heavily on symbolism and artistic imagery of the shadow, which is akin to the artistic expressionism style.
Technically the film is astutely mounted with ace production values: excellent production designs by Nikhil S. Kovale, sharp audiography and sound designed by Anirban Sengupta, and understated music by Gaurav Chatterji. Every aspect of the film is seamlessly layered by Chandan Arora's razor-sharp edits.
Overall, the mystery's solid construction and simplicity of design are what makes this film fascinating.
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