Ram Gopal Varma┬┤s Darna Zaroori Hai, like his Darna Mana Hai (2003), is a collection of six horror stories narrated to a group of listeners who don┬┤t suspect that the final tale will be truly menacing, changing their lives forever. This time it┬┤s a group of children who seek shelter in a dilapidated mansion owned by a crazy old woman with stories to tell. As with Varma┬┤s earlier offering, the stories are quite varied, receiving differing treatment from each of the four participating directors. Some contain elements of overt horror, black humor and spoof while others lend themselves to a bit of psychological speculation. As with Darna Mana Hai the narrative spine is weak but amongst the stories themselves there is enough interest, celebrity and good acting for an entertaining (if not exactly chilling) evening.
Ironically, the story that I most enjoyed was just a fun prelude and not part of the main narrative. A close-up of Manoj Pahwa┬┤s mouth roaring with laughter was a surprising opening for a horror movie. This was a story of an odious glutton called Satish who ventures through the cemetery on the night of Friday 13 because it┬┤s a shortcut to the cinema. With bombast and bluster he rampages through peeing on a sacred banyan tree and desecrating a tombstone. As with many cautionary tales the outcome of Satish┬┤s behavior is not pretty. What is enjoyable about the segment is that Varma is laughing at himself. The film that Satish goes to see is in fact, Darna Mana Hai and his tirades against its poor quality and Varma┬┤s lack of skill as a director coupled with the bizarre atmosphere in the cinema, are quite amusing. Although the actual story is a familiar one - an urban legend like many in Varma┬┤s selection, its guise is rather fresh and energetic.
The tales that follow pre-intermission are not as satisfying. Initially it seemed as though Satish┬┤s story would be the glue that binds the other tales together and I was quite excited by the prospect. However all such hopes were dashed by the realization that "Dadiji" - the crazy crone would be our narrator. As a linking device, the idea of children listening to the old woman┬┤s tales slows the pace of the narrative and is totally predictable. It┬┤s threaded through the film so that when Darna Zaroori Hai is released on DVD, these moments will be ideal times to go to the fridge and fix yourself a snack or have a chat with your viewing companions.
The two other stories played out pre-intermission are texturally different but both deal with hauntings. The first is about a tortured professor (Amitabh Bachchan) who confides in one of his students (Ritesh Deshmukh) that a spirit-like intruder is destroying his peace of mind. The second involves a lone traveler (Arjun Rampal) who is forced to seek help from a couple (Bipasha Basu, Makrand Deshpande) - a frustrating pair whose pastimes seem to revolve around playing practical jokes and summoning up spirits. The professor┬┤s story has a decent twist to it but the second tale, despite its stellar cast, is a little disappointing because it is too similar to a story enacted by Vivek Oberoi and Nana Patekar in Darna Mana Hai where we were also forced to guess who is real and who is a visitor from the spirit world.
"Spot-the-spirit" continues after intermission although in a more engaging way. There┬┤s another spoof aimed at the Bollywood film industry. It┬┤s about a director - Karan Chopra (Anil Kapoor), who specializes in romantic films but has decided to try his hand at horror. He┬┤s toying with the idea of making a film about a seductive hitchhiker - the embodiment of a malignant spirit. To finish the screenplay he sets off to Khandala discovering along the way that his story is taking on a life of its own as he picks up attractive hitchhiker (Mallika Sherawat). The ending is predictable, as with most of the stories, but the journey is fun.
Post intermission there┬┤s a tale, which teases us with the paranormal but shows that real life can be horrible too. An ordinary couple (Sunil Shetty, Sonali Kulkarni) is pestered by a life-insurance salesman (Rajpal Yadav) with unexpected consequences. There┬┤s a hint in Rajpal┬┤s character of the malevolent fruit seller he played in Darna Mana Hai as well as some other effectively sinister touches underscored by fine performances all around. The last tale - a winner with the audience is about the unfortunate Ajay Doshi who, late one night is forced off the road by a mysterious woman. The next thing he knows, he┬┤s in prison charged with a heinous crime. This is a sparse well-constructed and acted story in the traditional horror vein - a good conclusion? Alas, no, there┬┤s still the tedious resolution of Dadiji┬┤s story to come.
In Darna Mana Hai there was no difficulty in accepting that young adults could tell each other scary stories that happened "to a friend of a friend". There is however a problem imagining an old woman telling children the sorts of urban legends that she does in this film. Somehow horrific folktales or fairy tales would have been more fitting. But ultimately the mismatch between the narrator and story-type does not seem to matter. This is a film that doesn┬┤t take itself too seriously - it┬┤s time-pass, popcorn fare at the most. I do have one small complaint however, and it┬┤s that six or seven stories require a fair bit of work on the viewer┬┤s part to process all the new characters and situations. Is the pay pack of mild horror and light entertainment worth all the effort? From a viewer┬┤s perspective there are lazier ways to achieve a similar result.