Former associates of Mani Ratnam, director Milind Rau and co-screenwriter Siddharth, have come up with this unusual horror film in Tamil cinema.
The words to be noted here are “Mani Ratnam” and “unusual” because Mani Ratnam has never made anything remotely linked to horror.
And unusual because when was the last time a true-blue Tamil horror film came to our theatres? I can see two raised hands – Shiv Mohaa’s Zero and Vikram Kumar’s Yavarum Nalam. Well, even there, Zero wasn’t a hard-hitting movie and Yavarum Nalam was released almost 8 years ago.
The regular makers of Tamil scary films mix two things: kitschy horror and garbage in the name of comedy.
So, come to Aval and feel the change. Horror is the only genre other than Fantasy (including superhero films) to have no limits. Anything can pop up on-screen and take you for a ride. You don’t need a logical explanation to hold on to your seats and brains. At this point, I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t our masala films starring A-list actors that way? Yes, of course. But, that’s a different story.
Aval starts off with the introduction of a Chinese mother and daughter. The camera captures a particular moment – of the young daughter stepping out of a well and hugging her mother. This portion of the story unfolds in the 1930s. Fast-forward to 2016, and we have an ever-love-making couple, Krish (played by Siddharth) and Lakshmi (Andrea) in the house next door.
[Aval has been released in Telugu and Hindi, too. The title for the Hindi version is The House Next Door. It actually refers to the house occupied by Paul’s (Atul Kulkarni) family.]
The film wastes no scene in telling us about who these young man and woman are. The scintillating track “Kaarigai Kanne” explains the evolution of their relationship from strangers to a married couple without the usage of too many words (obviously not counting the lyrics). The subtle humor which is present in the beginning, in the form of conversations and visuals, fades away with the arrival of the ghost (or ghosts).
It’s fascinating to watch each of the major actors get more than a minute to explain their presence in the movie. While pastors and psychiatrists are stock characters in a horror film, the differentiator appears in the writing. What do they do, after all? Aval answers these questions charismatically. Prakash Belawadi, the pastor, and, Suresh, the psychiatrist, are operating from various ends to achieve the same result – to get rid of the evil spirit (even though the psychiatrist doesn’t believe that Jenny, played by Anisha Victor, isn’t possessed initially).
“God versus demon” is the quintessential backbone of a horror film. In Aval, it’s Christ versus Antichrist.
Hence, there’s a segment dedicated to exorcism. The psychiatrist, surgeon (Krish is not a jobless man; he’s a surgeon), along with the father of the girl (Atul Kulkarni), are in the same room as the pastor and the possessed girl. I think Siddharth and Milind joined their hands in prayer to pay respects to the 1973 Hollywood blockbuster The Exorcist because the whole exorcism episode looks like it’s totally inspired from the American film. Jenny also reads the book on which the movie is based, in one of the earlier scenes.
This makes my mind flutter. Wasn’t the well, which is seen throughout the film, a throwback to the Japanese movie Ring? In Ring, the ghost comes out of the well, whereas in Aval, some characters jump into the well.
Siddharth co-wrote the Telugu film Chukkallo Chandrudu a decade ago. Nobody remembers that film today. He can, however, show Aval ten years later, too, to fresh audiences and get a pat on his back. The actor who walks away with the most number of scares and cheers is Anisha Victor. The debutante smartly steals the spotlight from actors of high-caliber like Atul Kulkarni and Prakash Belawadi.
Aval is hauntingly good, for the story has genuine moments of surprise, and, with actors putting their best foot forward, this is the movie of the season.