Phoonk (2008)
By: Devon B. on April 22, 2009  | 
Junglee Music (India). All Regions, PAL. 2.35:1 (Non-anamorphic). Hinidi DD 5.1, Hindi DD 2.0. English subtitles. 110 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Starring: Anu Ansari, Shrey Bawa, Ahsaas Channa, Kenny Desai, Lillete Dubey
Screenplay: Milind Gadagkar
Country: India
External Links
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In one of my many excitig adventures (re: days my wife makes me leave the couch) I discovered a Bollywood video store. I was curious, and wandered in. A salesman descended on me, and after showing me cheap (presumably bootleg) DVDs I'd be willing to take a gamble on, he steered me to the legal releases they stocked and said Phoonk was the best new Bollywood horror out. It was four times the price of the DVDs I first looked at. The idea of a wacky Indian horror was tempting… plus it had been firmly established by the salesman that I would be a culturally insensitive twat if I didn't buy a movie.

I may be a twat, but I'm not culturally insensitive.

The film begins with a fairly familiar disclaimer that no animals were harmed, but also mentions that the filmmakers don't condone the use of black magic. That's less familiar. On a construction site an idol of Ganesha is uncovered. The workers want to build a shrine but the boss is having none of that because he's against religion and doesn't want to waste time on a superstition. He discusses this with a few people, including a couple of contractors that are also his friends, a husband and his clearly crazy wife. Other employees try to warn him about this couple, but he defends the crazy lady by saying "…you cannot judge people according to their mannerisms or behaviour." I hope that's a mistranslation, 'cause if you can't make up your mind about a person based on how they act, what the hell are you supposed to judge them on? Anyway, when the bossman finds out that his friends have swindled him he publicly humiliates them, which is probably fair enough. The crazy woman decides to seek revenge by attacking his beloved daughter using black magic and possession.

If I wanted to broaden my viewing horizons, Phoonk didn't do it because it's basically a Bollywood version of The Exorcist. I realised very quickly if this was a movie about Christianity instead of Hinduism I would be really fuckin' annoyed with its preachiness. While some criticise The Exorcist for this same thing, the difference with Phoonk is the whole point is converting an atheist, whereas The Exorcist was more about not being blind to spiritual options. Combine the worst elements about faith of The Serpent and the Rainbow and The Exorcist and you'll have an idea of the level of pompousness on display. While Phoonk does switch the message to one of balance in a brief coda, if you're proudly atheist, you probably won't make it that far. To be fair, a lot of black magic stories probably use this same formula but I don't even notice because I'm too distracted by all the wacky scratched into the frame lightning that often dominates such features.

The film isn't bad if you're able to overlook what appears to be the message for the first 95% of the run time. I'd said I didn't want a musical, and while there's no characters singing, the score just doesn't stop. The story overbears itself to the point of melodrama, and one of the few intentional comedic relief moments is actually stolen from Father Ted. Phoonk is normally too competent to illicit chuckles, though there are moments like a tacky CG arm stretch or an effort to make a Spider-Man toy look scary that made me snicker. The director must've been a fan of old kung fu flicks, 'cause he has a habit of zooming like that.

Phoonk is somewhat interesting, but maybe a musical with zombies would be better after all.
The film is presented at approximately 2.35:1, but is NOT 16x9 enhanced. The image is pretty sharp as the film's very recent, but there're still some spots and specks.
Audio is available in Hindi 5.1 or 2.0 mixes, but quite a few lines are spoken in English. The 5.1 does a good job at subjecting the viewer to ominous, swirling noises, whereas the 2.0 is louder but really flat sounding. The making of audio is often distorted. There're optional English subs, which do contain errors and odd grammar.
Extra Features
It couldn't come out of Bollywood without some music connection, so the disc does have an option of going directly to two songs the film presents almost like video clips. The real extra is a 44 minute making of. The interviews are mostly in English, but the film clips presented here lack subs. There're also a few interviews in Hindi that aren't translated. The making of isn't bad, actually. The title of the film is explained, as is the reason for using crows instead of, get this, pigeons. Really. The idea of making normal things seem scary is discussed, but I think they failed there.
The Verdict
Phoonk isn't bad, but I can't imagine re-watching it, though my perceptions may change now I know it's not actually the work of a total religious zealot. If you want hokey, there's hokier, and if you want a possession movie, stick with the Blatty masterpiece.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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