‘Vaastu Shastra’ is an (Asian) Indian ghost story made very much in the style of American horror films. It ignores Bollywood conventions like forced comedy and periodic musical interludes. Instead it is brief and to the point. A young successful couple moves into a new home and soon finds strange happenings and their son creating imaginary friends. There are lots of odd, unexplainable events. Little in this film will feel new to American horror film fans, but at least it is a nice recombination of older ideas. Saurab Narang directs a script by Charu Du Acharya.
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Vaastu Shastra is like the Indian equivalent of Feng Shui. It is a set of rules for constructing and placing buildings to be in harmony with the laws of nature. In the 2004 film ‘Vaastu Shastra’ we ironically have a woman who checked to be sure her new home was Vaastu Shastra and she still ended up with an incredible array of supernatural and natural hazards. The film is Indian but it is not done even remotely in the Bollywood style. Instead, it is very much in the style of an American horror film. There are no periodic songs. They would undermine the horror effects. So would formula comedy. Really, the film is a pile of what would be cliches in American horror films, but they may be less familiar to South Asian viewers.
A smart successful couple, Jhilmil (played by Sushmita Sen) a doctor and Viraag Rao (J. D. Chakravarthi) her writer husband, buy a beautiful house near Pune. They verify that the house is built according to the laws of Vaastu Shastra, but that is apparently not enough. Instead, it turns out the house is haunted anyway and the new owners are in for a hard time.
They maintain a view that everything they are seeing happen that is out of the ordinary can still be explained rationally, but that confidence does not last as darker things start happening. The late director Saurab Narang (he died of cancer in 2010) despised the graphic gore that has come to be associated with horror films. He went so far as to ask the press to not use the word ‘horror’ in conjunction with his film but instead to refer to it as a ‘scary’ film. He does have a good feel for making the film creepy by staging many of the sequences in dim light or the dark. Ghostly figures appear cloaked in darkness.
The plot of the couple moving into a house that has a supernatural evil is an old one. Much of the plot is like ‘Poltergeist’, but there is a sequence that has the viewer in a low angle tracking shot following the young son Rohan around the house as he peddles on a tricycle that is a direct reference to ‘The Shining’. There are repeated jump shots like having a character move to the left to reveal that there was a hidden ghostly figure standing directly behind him. Sometimes the spirits are invisible to the audience and sometimes not. The house is located near a sinister woods and the soundtrack has very naturalistic sounds of the woods.
Without more that is original, this film cannot play as well outside India as it did at home, but it is a well-made ghost story that generally has a feel of quality. I am led to believe by Internet articles about the film that ‘Vaastu Shastra’ was very successful in South Asia and that the female lead, the attractive Sushmita Sen is very popular in her home country and is a veteran of numerous films.
This film suffers from some very predictable twists of the plot, but it still does have some punch here as a stylish and mildly creepy ghost story. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper(c) Mark R. Leeper 2014