Cast: Nitin Reddy, Priyanka Kothari, Gautam Rode, Rasika Duggal, Ishteyak Khan, Ishrat Ali, Ravi Kale, Howard Rosemeyer, Kali Prasad Mukherjee, Joy Fernandes
Director: Ramgopal Varma
At a running time of one hour and forty minutes, Ramgopal Varma's Agyaat is an interesting experiment that doesn't overstay its welcome.
When a film unit goes into a forest for shooting, an unknown, inexplicable entity begins killing them one by one. With everyone's lives at stake, hierarchal differences in the team no longer matter; each must fend for himself, and soon people's real personalities begin to surface.
Agyaat, interestingly, is as much a comment on human nature as it is a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase. Varma spends the film's first 45 minutes or so establishing his characters and the group dynamics.
Self-absorbed movie-star torments his spot-boy and generally behaves like the world owes him a favor, earnest assistant director is nursing a crush on the amiable leading lady, irritable action director can't stand the sight of the hero - 10 such oddballs with their own set of quirks and prejudices are introduced to us at an agonizingly slow pace, while the film's second half is marked out for the suspenseful killings.
This in fact, works against Agyaat which ultimately feels like two different films.
Varma might have done better to jump straight into the action, establishing his characters and their equations along the way, thereby giving this film the breathless, edge-of-the-seat tension that is sadly missing here. It's something he pulled off so well in Kaun, which dived straight into the tension, creating that ominous feeling at the very start.
Nevertheless, the pace in Agyaat picks up post-intermission as one after another the characters are knocked off in thrilling attack scenes that never visually reveal the attacker, but use excellent sound design to conjure up your imagination and confront your worst fears.
Now I've never been deep in a jungle, but I know if I was, every rustle in the trees, every snap of a twig would terrify me about who and what was out there. Varma taps into that fear to the fullest, and banks on the expressions of the characters to convey just what they've got themselves into.
Agyaat is neither The Blair Witch Project nor Cloverfield which may be obvious inspirations but were different because of the real-time, documentary feel that both films had. Agyaat reminds you more of the early seasons of the hit TV series Lost, where even the audience has no clue what it is exactly that is attacking the characters.
What surprises you about this film is the sharp characterisations. It's as if Varma is holding up a mirror to how a film unit operates, complete with monstrous egos and fickle relationships.
As the spiteful movie-star who alienates the entire unit with his high-handed behavior, the relatively unknown Gautam Rode shines through with an accurate caricature of some of our own starry Bollywood types. The rest of the ensemble too delivers convincing performances, especially Ravi Kale as the short-fused action director who needs the slightest excuse to tip over.
Agyaat makes no pretences about the fact that it's only goal is to rattle you, and it achieves that several times with some chilling moments that make you jump out of your seat.
It's not great cinema, it isn't intended to be; Agyaat is an event picture which delivers a few good thrills. With a tighter first-half and a slicker pace and minus those two redundant item songs, this might have been a more compelling ride.
I'm going with two out of five for director Ramgopal Varma's Agyaat; at a time when special effects and digital tricks can be used to create just about anything, here's a reminder that what really scares us is the stuff we can't see.
Rating: 2 / 5 (Average)
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