Dybbuk movie review: Based on the Malayalam film Ezra, this Emraan Hashmi-Nikita Dutt-starrer plays strictly by the numbers.
One of the most damning realisations while watching Jay K’s Dybbuk is coming to terms with how often packers-and-movers appear in Emraan Hashmi’s horror films. If one has seen enough of them, they’ll even spot a pattern. He’s offered a new position in some faraway exotic land, there’s a large house that will soon become a metaphor for their empty marriage. There’s a weird-looking help, intended solely as a prop to build up the eeriness of the setting. When he takes up the assignment, he’ll face some feeble resistance from his partner, and an exchange like this will take place:
“What will I do all alone in a place like this?”
“Whatever you wish…”
*cue ballad by Jeet Ganguli/Mithoon/Pritam*
It’s more of the same in Dybbuk. He’s been offered a long-term project in Mauritius and the living room is already filled with boxes. We overhear Mahi (Nikita Dutta) having second thoughts, when Hashmi’s Sam comes up with the most ingenious ‘solution’ to ease her anxiety. “Let’s start a family, and everything else will sort itself out!” She doesn’t protest. After all, what’s the point of a ‘horror’ film without the foreshadowing of a pregnant woman and a foetus?
A remake of 2017 Malayalam film, Ezra (starring Prithviraj and Priya Anand), the director seems to be going about the beats of the Hindi remake on autopilot. Couple moves to a palatial house, the husband goes to work, and the bored wife (of course!) goes shopping. At an antique store, she picks up a seemingly ancient wooden chest with scary looking letters inscribed on it. She opens it, and trouble begins. She tells her husband about seeing a spirit in her mirror, and his response is Hashmi’s typical flat-toned “you need to get some rest.” “Why won’t you believe me?” she begs, shortly after which we’re told that she’s undergoing the trauma of a miscarriage.
What’s annoying about this little plot-point, is not only does the film saddle the burden of proof on the seemingly ‘hysterical woman’, but the man also never asks a single question while remotely considering an outcome where she’s right.
There’s no curiosity. As it happens in these films, he won’t believe her until someone flings him halfway across the hall. It happens with Hashmi too, where he falls through an attic while following a peculiar sound through the night.
Dybbuk, as the name suggests, is based on Jewish folklore. So there are a couple of themes through which the director tries to differentiate his Bollywood debut from the dozen movies in the Raaz franchise. Sam is a VP in a company that specialises in ‘safely disposing’ nuclear waste. It’s an interesting thread in a done-to-death premise, where we’re half-expecting the climax to take place inside a reactor, where the spirit dissolves in radioactive waste? Sadly, the thread isn’t explored fully. There are two interfaith relationships at the core of Dybbuk: Mahi’s parents are estranged from her for marrying a Cathloic boy (Sam), and a flashback, where a Jewish boy and a Catholic girl are romantically involved. It’s a political choice in the current climate, but one that doesn’t go beyond their mere mention. The flashback ‘explaining’ why the spirits are… dispirited, is painfully archaic and unambiguous, with plot holes the size of Zambia.
Manav Kaul, in the role of Rabbi Markus, begins most of his lines with “Hum yahudi…” (We Jews…) as if to convince himself about this odd choice of casting. The skull cap doesn’t do it. There’s Denzil Smith as Father Gabriel, one of the most priest-like looking actors in Hindi cinema, even without a French beard.
Nikita Dutta is par for the course as Mahi, which mostly just needs her to blankly stare at Sam to tease the audience about whether she’s possessed (like in Bhatt films) or merely wallowing in the audience’s and her husband’s pity. Emraan Hashmi lets his muscle memory do the acting, he’s done it so many times. The ‘twist’ in the film is so amateurish, and the resolution so hasty, even first-time cinema-goers will be able to tell.
As a director, who is remaking his own film, it takes true courage to replicate it shot-for-shot. One might imagine there would at least be some improvement or refinement in the storytelling. Director Jay K lives up to the popular abbreviation: just kidding.