What if I tell you that I recently saw a film that tries to merge a dark fantasy and a violent real world with a little girl in the centre of it all? In the background of a bloody battle between the establishment and leftist rebels, the little girl is asked to complete certain tasks by a mythical creature, to get something she strongly desires. Well, no, I am not talking about Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). But the film i saw by debutante writer-director Dnyanesh Zoting borrows the above elements and more from the highly acclaimed Spanish movie.
Raakshas has a girl named Aru who is confident that her missing documentary filmmaker father has been abducted by a monster in the jungle. While her brave, strong-willed mother, Iravati (Saie Tamhankar), carries on her own search for her husband (Sharad Kelkar), Aru is helped by a mysterious looking, but wise old man who assigns her tasks that get her closer to the monster (Raakshas) who has held her father captive.
Now, it is one thing to borrow ideas from your favourite films, but another to execute it with success. The major problem here is the blending of the fantasy with reality. Curiously, Aru’s fantasy doesn’t seem to be a figment of her imagination, but something that co-exists alongside the real world. But we dive directly into this fantasy world without it getting established well. Neither is there a lot of imagination put in drawing up that world. The tasks that the girl is given are in the form of a clue so mysteriously worded, that I often found myself referring the English subtitles to decipher them. We are left wondering how a little girl like Aru even manages to make meaning of it, let alone complete the tasks. With every task Aru’s performing, she coincidentally keeps uncovering certain evidences, helping her mother to get a step closer to finding her missing husband. Now, that could have been an interesting plot point, but the tasks in themselves lack the thrill to keep us engaged.
Aru is shown to get out of bed in the middle of the night and simply walk into the fantasy world in the deep, dark jungle. Despite it being rather obvious in some instances, the usually sharp Iravati doesn’t even once suspect what her little girl is up to. Such factors severely hamper the believability of the whole proceedings.
Now, it is not that the film is completely devoid of any positives. The idea to adapt Pan’s Labyrinth in today’s Naxalite areas of the country is bold. Zoting seems to know the forests and the adivasis who call them home. It is certainly quite ambitious of him to try such a genre as his debut in a film industry overflowing with drawing room dramas. Saie Tamhankar’s performance as the distressed wife on the search for her husband is convincing. The actors in supporting roles like Purananand Wandekar and Vitthal Kale are well cast and do justice to their parts. The background score in particular is deftly used – a rarity in contemporary Marathi cinema. There indeed are a few sequences that hold our interest. But, unfortunately, they are too few and far between to save the film from becoming an uneven and dull watch.