At the end, as a movie that begins by asking profound questions about human condition and afterlife, Praana essentially boils down to an ill-defined interpretation about individual duty.
As an experimental movie Praana is ambitious. But the trite end product stalls your curiosity, leaving you uninterested in tying the loose ends, and asking existential questions worth pursuing. You know, the kind of stuff one would come to associate with experimental movies made in this vein. Film starts with a reference to an unresolved philosophical problem that confounded even the demigods of epics. “For someone who’s just died, is it possible to know whether they are dead or alive”. Because its subsequent sequences did not expound on the problem, I immediately expected a philosophically informed movie that would shatter protagonist’s and my worldview alike. Something along the lines of Rajiv Anchal’s Guru. Well, silly me. Anyway without giving too much away, V K Prakash’s Praana can be summed up as an artist’s dubious journey towards the knowledge that every revolution should start from within.
The book release of the Malayalee English writer (Nithya Menen) incites protest from a certain section of the society. As the opposition intensifies, the brave writer, decrying the outcry as an assault on freedom, moves to a haunted house in the hill station. Initially we hear her tentatively describing this move as a much needed break in life. But once inside the house where a 12 year old girl once committed suicide, we soon see the writer turning into a ghost hunter of sorts. If you thought she had enough belligerence and hatred to deal with in her own backyard, wait till you find out what awaits her in the new place.Later she starts seeing things she shouldn’t be seeing and starts to wonder if they are just hallucination, and by extension a projection of her own fears.
The writer has a singularly bewitching face that can beguile one into forgetting about the spooky features of the haunted house. But this sense of lull is way too often punctuated not only by her broken Malayalam but by an equally fragmented screenplay. As she moves in and makes herself comfortable at the haunted house, we are treated to creepy whirrs of something gathering force in the background, as if a day of starvation has triggered sporadic stomach rumbling in the ghost community.
Among the pressing questions, which any keen viewer can see a mile away are: Is there someone in the house? Is she under attack by outsiders? Does she now have enemies both on the inside and outside? Anyway don’t hold your breath, you will probably guess the answers to these questions, and see the other revelation half way into the movie. Every time someone ascribes the title experimental to a movie, it gets ostensibly bracketed with art movies. Now, can a movie with a clear-cut agenda to advance, and all the answers to its questions, be considered an art movie. My answer is no. For me, art as a means of communication in movie works so much better when it leaves some questions unanswered, and conflicts unresolved. When you experience it you feel so alive because it really resonates with your human condition. After all, just as you try to make sense of a good work of art, you spend a lot of time trying to make sense of all the confusion and uncertainties that life hurls at you . If you want answers to questions, you either google or book an appointment with an expert.
Set amid an idyllic location , when not trying to frighten me with its eerie score, the film managed to transport me to the vast expanses of lush green foliage. For a horror movie that spends inordinate amount of time terrorising the viewers, Praana contains some spellbinding camera work, owing to the technically ingenious cinematography of P. C. Sriram. I personally have a distaste for movies that use jump scare to achieve their end. Once I leave the theater, I tend to forget these scary images faster than two embittered divorcees forgetting the good times spent together. In other words, when you strip these jump scare sequences of their ear-splitting sound and frightening visuals, they become unworthy of a place in your collective cinema memories. Be that as it may, everybody has a guilty pleasure, mine is the handful of jump scare-laden horror flicks that continue to make me recoil in terror.
On the surface Praana seems like the story of a female writer who is on war with the dictates of society. She comes across as an individual with strong convictions about her role in the society. And that’s all there is to it. An artist’s dubious journey towards the knowledge that every revolution should start from within.