Revisiting Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat
In my head, Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat (1992) is synonymous with the word ‘horror’. Varma should be credited for bringing horror films into the mainstream. His Raat will always be remembered for its spookiness and brilliance. I saw the film multiple times and fell in love with it each time. Now I realised what Varma had achieved with this brilliant horror film.
Revathi’s superlative performance in Raat (Hindi-Telugu bilingual supernatural horror film, written and directed by Ram Gopal Varma) won my heart. I loved her brilliant performance. In addition, I admired Rohini Hattangadi and Om Puri in particular (however short his role).
Raat opens on an eerie note. A lonely Revathi gets down from a bus and is seen moving towards her house. The camera follows her. It appears as if somebody is following her. It seems somebody is running after her and keeping an eye on her. The background sound instils more fear. Here, Varma created terror in pure and proper broad daylight (no creepy sound, no special effects, no rain, no thunderstorm and no lightning).
The plot matters a lot. However, execution matters more. A family of four moves into a house, allegedly ‘haunted’. Manisha Sharma ‘Mini’ (Revathi), a college-goer, enjoys life. Her father, played by Akash Khurana, and her mother Shalini Sharma (Rohini Hattangadi), adjust to the new house. Deepak (played by Chinna), Mini’s classmate and boyfriend, is part of Mini’s happy life. In addition to these characters, their family cat plays a role in terrifying us.
It is Mini’s nephew Bunty who finds the cat in their new basement. The cat dies accidentally as it comes under Mini’s father’s car. Though buried in the backyard (unknown to Bunty), Bunty finds another cat bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dead cat. This shocks the family. It is the cat that made me go mad. What was it? A ghost in the skin of a cat? An evil spirit inhabiting the body of a cat?
The reappearance of the cat, in addition to numerous other scenes, makes Raat one of my favourite Indian horror films. The family is shocked. However, they continue living happily until Mini starts behaving abnormally. A number of brutal murders (all related to Mini) after Mini and Deepak’s outing results in her family calling for a psychiatrist (played by Anant Nag) and occultist Sharji (Om Puri). Mini’s mother believes in Sharji while her father confides in the psychiatrist. Mini starts receiving both treatments, resulting in her being cured.
Now, who cures her? Sharji or psychiatrist? The film ends with Bunty carrying the cat on his lap. From 1992 till 2022, I have been wondering about the cat. I have been trying to find a solution to Sharji’s reference to the limitations of the human mind. Sharji explains that there always exists beyond light. It does not vanish but it diminishes to an extent. Very powerful proposition indeed. Since then, Bollywood and films of other industries have been trying to look beyond this ‘darkness’.
There is a solution to every problem. But what about these abstract issues? Raat does not sermonise on occult science and medical science. Instead, it brilliantly rests the question of belief on its audience (on the viewers). What actually cures Mini in the end? What about the cat? Does medical science or magic science cure Mini? Who is right, Mini’s father or mother? Whose treatment cures Mini, Sharji’s or psychiatrist? These questions continue to haunt people after they finish watching Raat. These questions remain unsolved. The word ‘Raat’ translates to night and darkness, and we do not know what exactly happens in the dark (Raat). Do we? Can we?
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.