The latest Hindi movie to premier on Amazon Prime Video, on 29th October 2021 to be exact, is titled Dybbuk directed by Jay K who also directed the original Malayalam movie Ezra (2017) and started shooting this Hindi remake in 2019 and due to the pandemic could not plan a theatrical release, selling the rights to Amazon and premiered as an Amazon Original Movie. It is a horror movie with some elements of suspense and an interesting plot. Perhaps for photographic reasons the shooting was done in Mauritius apart from a little scene in Mumbai. The leads are Emraan Hashmi and Nikita Dutta. The film has all the elements of a horror flick like an overly loud background score, jump-cut scares, moving figures behind your back, an ugly face in the mirror or in the cupboard and quite a few scary scenes that turn to be humorous inadvertently. However, the movie a bit better fare than the traditional Ramsay Brothers type or the Vikram Bhatt kind of horror thanks to its interesting plot involving a Jewish community in Mauritius and their folklore, faiths and occult practices.
The movie begins with a death of a Jewish dignitary whose house was full of antique pieces, and then to a murder of the assistant of an antique shop while being attracted to a mysterious-looking box that was procured from the dignitary’s house. As he opens the box a poltergeist kind of shaking happens all around inside the closed shop and he was supposedly tossed against the walls and killed. The police began investigations, but the process stopped abruptly as the focus shifted to the lead couple who had to move bag and baggage from Mumbai to Mauritius as the husband was transferred to handle a sensitive nuclear-waste factory there for two years. They were given a huge bungalow by the company. The bored wife who was thinking of taking up interior designing of the bungalow visited the same antique shop and was fascinated by the antique box. She brings it home, opens it and things begin to happen. As is usual in all supernatural films the husband refuses to believe till he starts experiencing the strange happenings himself.
The plot is interesting because, at least for me personally, I never remember a Jewish community being the focus of a Hindi movie along with hearing Hebrew or Yiddish dialogues, mercifully with subtitles, and knowing about their folklore. The word ‘dybbuk’ in Hebrew or in Yiddish means a devil or an evil spirit, and the Jews had an occult practice of imprisoning such spirits in boxes for various reasons and objectives. That the antique box had something evil inside was obvious from the beginning, and so the element of suspense about it was missing. Yet, the plot still had a lot to build a scary atmosphere, suspense and tension.
The movie’s screenplay made a mess of the potential despite the director having the first-hand experience of creating a tense atmosphere in the original Malayalam film that he himself directed. It is unknown if had to compromise with the demands of a Hindi filmy formula apart from shifting the sets to picturesque Mauritius. The making of the movie looks like an assembled computer as if the all the parts, that is to say, scenes were created separately and then assembled together due to which the natural flow of storytelling is missing that miserably failed to make the scares and tension effective. Normally an able hero with a sexy image Emraan Hashmi looks exactly like a hired actor who just goes on doing the chores assigned to him for his pay package. Almost the same applies to the heroine Nikita Dutta, although she is not in the same bracket of celebrities like Emraan.
The police investigation could have been continued in the proper manner to link it to the happenings with the couple in a parallel treatment which would surely have added to the build-up of suspense and tension. As we have hinted all the characters, except perhaps the roles of the Father and the Rabbi, have just been pieces to be joined together by an editor, not the director. Superficial scares are also unnecessarily built like the stiff-faced housemaid who finally turned to be just an ordinary human being. There are indeed some scary moments, but they just end then and there letting the film meander aimlessly for some time till the time of creating more scares comes. When the final twist in the tale comes it is too late, because all the previous connecting scenes are not shown fully, hiding the crucial signs or signals which amounts to a case of cheating the audience. Cheating is a part of filmmaking for various reasons, but it should not be too obvious and deliberately motivated.
A flashback is imposed to explain or justify the spirit and that turns out to be a clichéd romantic story ending in gore and horror. I feel it is an opportunity lost to make a positive addition to create a ‘different’ horror genre in India. On the positive side the movie is technically sound in photography, the frames and the camera movements. The performances cannot be called powerful, because the screenplay did not allow it. Still, the movie does not bore you to leave it midway, it compels you to go through the entire length expecting something more, and finally you’d feel it was okay for a one-time view. The reviews seem to be too harsh, perhaps because most of the critics had seen the original film and felt utterly disappointed as the same director let them down in this remake. As is the general rule one cannot ever expect sequels or prequels or remakes to match the originals, barring a few rare exceptions in world cinema. So then, the horror genre remains mostly where it has always been in India. Alas!