Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Directed by #PrabhakarMeenaBhaskarPant
Written by #PrabhakarMeenaBhaskarPant
Highways are notoriously eerie spaces, and done right, a chilling highway scene can be sensational. But Barasaat Ki Raat (dir. Prabhakar ‘Meena Bhaskar’ Pant) feels more like a scene than a self-contained short movie.
There’s fun to be had in the concept. Riya (played by Priya Chauhan) is driving along the Delhi-Pauri highway, only to receive a phone call from her mum (who despite only appearing as a voice on the phone, is brought to life by Meena R. Iyers). While driving past a stranger on the highway, Riya jokes with her mum as to whether or not to give him a lift. She soon forgets all about the fleeting stranger, and resumes a casual catch up with her mum. But her mother receives a strange visitor. We overhear the horror as it plays out over the phone, all the while sat in the car with Riya. Her mother screams as a maniacal intruder breaks into her house, ransacking the rooms, and eventually attacking her and Riya’s brother. Riya is helpless, hearing the carnage from the distant safety of her car. Plot twist - when she calls her brother, he and her mother are fine, as if nothing ever happened. But as Riya turns around in her car, she’s in for a surprise.
The fun of the film is somewhat undercut by the fact that we have a plot twist rather than an actual film. And tonally, it’s hard to say whether the film wants to be seen as a serious thriller or a campy melodrama. When Riya’s mother is attacked, we hear what sounds like a Halloween sound effect of Frankenstein’s monster growling. Musically, every subtle moment of suspense is accompanied by a misplaced dramatic shudder that makes the overall film seem playful, even silly, despite the intense subject matter. Perhaps it is a case of trying to make tension build quicker than the story itself allows. This could be resolved by having a stronger narrative play through the phone conversation. Instead, we are on line with Riya’s mother, hearing what feels like the same dialogue spoken over and over again. The twist is executed well, though not unforeseen, as the premise of the film is like the ending of almost any Twilight Zone episode.
There are moments where the director’s stylistic touches shine through and make the film worth a second viewing. The disparity between the image of Riya’s mum on her phone, happy and smiling, ensuing despite the screams coming from the other end of the line. Technology is communicative and yet it can’t quite convey everything. And there are haunting shots of the surrounding highway, with phantasmic motorcyclists going past (credit to DOP, Arvind Yadav). After the release of a film like Charlie Kauffman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), being trapped in a car on a nebulous motorway is full of interesting, absurd, and creativity bleak potential. Though a commendable idea, with fun moments, I’m not entirely sure if Barsaat Ki Raat has tapped into this fully.