This short film review of mine was originally published here in shortz.
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
What really makes this short click is the folklore milieu that it has adopted to tell the story. By avoiding the urban setting and also ‘ghost mansions,’ film maker has been able to give a different feel to it. The central image does stick- that of the lonely ghost on the bullock cart helping wayfarers in the jungle.
Obviously the greatest strength of ‘Ek Raat’ is the twist and how well it is executed. But the cost the writers paid for it is the inconsistency in the character of the ghost and the stranger. If Chandru is the ghost why is he so scared while travelling through the night? He starts at every sound, repeatedly talks to himself trying to allay his fear of the ghosts etc. It is easy to understand that it was done this way to increase the level of surprise at the end. Here writers take an easy way out -instead of building his behaviour in the jungle in a way that it plays either way i.e. in the first viewing it appears as if he is this scared villager but when you go back to it after the reveal in the end, his behaviour is still consistent to that of a ghost roaming in the jungle. In the same way, there is a shift in the behaviour of the stranger too. While with chandru in the jungle, he appears calm, playful, unaffected by the scary situation. The next day he appears as an earnest, down to earth character who is not able to hide his emotions. This was also something that writers could have worked on- making him scary when actually he is the same earnest, sincere down to earth character rather than changing the character to suit the situation.
The structure of the movie has been well laid out. After showing a conversation between Chandru and the shopkeeper in the beginning, the transition to his journey through the jungle (which is actually one year later) has been smoothly done. A crucial creative choice that the writers made is in showing that conversation in the beginning before the journey in the jungle. Because otherwise, if the story started with Chandru travelling through the jungle, at least some viewers could have anticipated the twist.
Whenever secondary characters were introduced (in the beginning and in the end) the short falls flat. Could be related to the bad acting and poor dialogue delivery of the other supporting characters. The midsection (jungle scene) is well written too. Especially the (phoney) subtext of the dialogues of the stranger where it feels like these are the words of a ghost. Also the shots have been executed well to impart that eeriness-ex: stranger suddenly opening his eyes, the approaching shot of the stranger when chandru is waiting for him and dozing off, the angle where he is always smiling and staring at Chandru from behind etc.
The acting of Mukesh Ghatiya (the stranger) also plays no small part in making that jungle scene work. He does show that he can exhibit a wide repertoire of expressions convincingly especially in the later scene in the next day. Abhijit Purohit (Chandru) also is able to hold his fort but others are disappointing and often pull the short down. Good work has been done in terms of using the colloquial language. But still the dialogues that the characters deliver doesn’t appear authentic. A reason could be that care was not given to the intonations while using the raw rural jargon.
In the jungle sequence, lighting has been well used and scene palette doesn’t feel artificial. Also the back ground sounds and scores used in the jungle has been done well. Only problem is that sometimes it is overdone. There is no respite at any point. It is forgotten that scariest sound is silence if it is properly punctuated with sound effects and background score.
Often the reaction shots linger giving a discernible gap in the dialogues between different characters especially in the initial part. A tighter editing would certainly have improved this short. In that aspect, there is a marked inconsistency in terms of quality in different parts of this short. The best part is the last scene where the biker meets Chandru. There is so much economy of shots there that every shot counts. One doesn’t see even the scared face of the wayfarer- but only that of the torch rising. For me, the shot of the torch rolling and the light finally resting on the hooves of the ox is the most imaginative shot of the whole short.
While chandru is travelling in the night, the position of the lantern and the tinge of it’s light (up and down/ yellow and white) often changes. Especially during the initial converstation between Chandru and the stranger, the tinge of the lamp is different between Chandru and stranger. While conversing with Chandru, the shop keeper has a sudden shift in his position and activity (at around 2 minutes). The death scene of Chandru was very wooden. His final struggle didn’t appear natural. It appeared as if he was co-operating with his own murder. The absence of wide shots there also didn’t help.
Title credits were okay. The problem is that with this kind of genre, even the font is not something new. And the graphics overdid it a little bit giving it a ‘tv masala’ feel.