Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Critics Find ‘Munjya’ Lacking in Frights, Fails to Deliver on Promise of Spookiness

Munjya is a horror comedy that brings pop culture excess and Konkani legend together, often inadvertently bringing out the eerie side. It is clumsy and confused, requiring the voluntary suspension of disbelief but failing to achieve it.

Directed by Aditya Sarpotdar and written by Niren Bhatt, the Maddock Films movie is the fourth in the banner’s slate of spooky films, following Roohi, Bhediya, and Stree. The story was devised by Yogesh Chandekar. It is probably only slightly better than Roohi and nowhere near as good as Stree and Bhediya.

Beyond the terror aspect that feeds the genre, Stree and Bhediya tackled subjects that were far more profound. Whereas the latter utilised the metaphor of a beast on the prowl to promote environmental protection, the former exploited the occult to highlight female empowerment. Does Munjya accomplish anything more than combine a lighthearted sense of humour with a fear of the dark? Not exactly.

Munjya tells us, at best, that fear overcomes us because we shrink away from it. Someone advises Bittu (Abhay Verma), a young guy who works in his mother’s beauty parlour and longs to be free of his apron ties, “Face it and resist it and victory will be yours.”

Munjya feels much longer than its two hours because, often, the difficult-to-digest twaddle gives way to the mumbo-jumbo that it thrusts onto us. It revolves around a fight between a child who can’t understand his nightmares and a monster from the underworld. Many believe he is high. He finds it difficult to deny them the suspicion.

The overly protective Bittu’s mother, Pammi (Mona Singh), cringes at the thought of the young man leaving the nest to pursue his own path and find better opportunities. He must deal with more than just his mother, though. Munjya, the child-demon, is more cunning than malevolent and follows Bittu with great determination.

Thirty years ago, in a quaint and beautiful Konkan village by the sea, a young man falls in love with an older female and passes just a few days after his mundan. Unfulfilled desire turns him into a lovelorn ghoul who seeks human sacrifice, a ritual that he could not complete when he was a living and breathing boy, as recompense.

Munjya follows Bittu from the forest all the way to Pune looking for Munni, the girl he loved and lost. Bittu’s childhood friend, Bela (Sharvari Wagh), who is older than him but is an object of suppressed affection, gets sucked unwittingly into a deal that endangers her life.

The VFX is rudimentary and the CGI creature, an impish, Gremlin-like being who prances around at will, is not the sort of device that can put the fear of God in the audience. Munjya, visible only to Bittu, refuses to set the boy free until his bidding is done. That spells trouble as much for Bittu as for the film. The creature hops from one form to another and so does the film. Munjya never quite discovers a solid core.

Thunder, lightning, sea waves, ominous shadows in the forest and a tree with a tentacled trunk are all pressed into service to rustle up an atmosphere of mystery and anxiety. But at no point does Munjya manage to inveigle the audience into buying into the wild and wayward yarn that it spins.

Neither the prowling CGI creature nor the boy that it torments evoke either fear, alarm or empathy. Yes, an attempt is made to give Bittu a cherubic Harry Potter-like look – he is a guy who must dig deep within to find the magic that could help him counter the persistent Munjya.

Bittu never loses his eyeglasses no matter how many falls he endures. He even sleeps with his spectacles on. We do want him to get out of the trouble he is but way more interesting than the harried boy is his Sikh friend and confidant Diljit Singh Dhillon “Spielberg”, a videographer who aspires to be a filmmaker.

Late in the film, a charlatan, Elvis Karim Prabhakar, comes in with his ‘hand of god’ to exorcise ghosts. Bittu and his pal see him peddle his miracle. They seek his help in fighting off Munjya. The battle shifts back to the forest where it all began. From there on, it is a free for all.

Munjya, shot with great flair by cinematographer Saurabh Goswami, is rarely spooky enough to deliver jump scares. It is all so cartoonish that one feels that it might have worked far better as an animated film. Live action tends to make everything so literal that the intrigue inherent in the concept is drastically undermined. Animation would have given the writers and the director greater leeway with the flights of fancy that a folk legend-inspired story such as this demands.

Thankfully, Munjya’s acting isn’t quite as ridiculous as the plot. The titular creature is the main attraction, but Abhay Verma, who plays the young man fighting for his sanity, manages to stay in the background without taking centre stage. In a movie where they don’t actually have much screen time, Mona Singh, Sharvari Wagh, and Suhas Joshi (as Bittu’s Ajji, a crucial piece in the Munjya history) are all more than suitable.

Munjya is the kind of movie that you want to be gone from your life just as much as Bittu does! It’s over before it even reaches the halfway point. It is evident that a lot of work has gone into creating it. It barely produces anything comparable.

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