Jungle fever has never been more contagious. Every corner of the Sri Lankan jungle as shot with mesmeric skill by the cinematographer Surjodeep Ghosh is filled with danger.
There lurks a diabolic unknown (Agyaat) monster in the treacherous greenery.Ram Gopal Varma has always been a master of manipulative terror. His camara range is constantly petrifying amd persistently resonant. The sequences in Agyaat are ceaselessly shot in a way that suggests the presence of lethal characters and entities whom we and the people on screen cannot see. Only feel.
In this endeavour to evoke ghoulish visions of omnipresent danger Varma is vastly aided by the sound design.
Sound designers Dwarak Warrier and Leslie Fernandes go easy on the eerie sounds and beguiling banshees. Instead there are chilling eruptions of noises that you probably hear in the wilderness but don’t pay attention to as being anything remarkable. The sound includes snatches from Hemant Kumar Mukherjee’s immortal ‘Kahin Deep Jale Kahin Dil‘ from that old shiver giver ‘Bees Saal Baad‘.
That was bees saal baad. This is well into the new millennium. The perils of modern life such as cut-throat competitiveness often lead to the throat being literally cut. Who knows who’s doing the film unit in Agyaat (a far cry-and scream-from Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s imperiled film unit in Khamosh)? Maybe it’s their own fears and ambitions that are killing them. The crew’s calm cinematographer (Kali Prasad Mukherjee) finally commits suicide. The spoilt bratty superstar’s spotboy (Ishteyak) is pulled into a gruesome death even as he chants mantras to protect himself.
While in Varma’s previous comparatively-tacky horror outing Phoonk, God felled the Devil, in Agyaat nothing works. You are doomed in the jungle. No force can protect you. As one member after another of the film-within-film gets eliminated, Varma seems to be spoofing spooking and spiking Agatha Christie’s 10 Little Indians (made into Gumnam in Hindi).
There are dollops of tantalizing irony in the way the typical and tight hierarchy in a film unit evaporates as imminent peril puts the people into perilous positions. The repressed spotboy’s outburst against the spoilt superstar (Gautam Rode, every inch the despicable brat) is a masterly manoeuvre designed to show how fear melts all class differences. Portions of the brief supernatural whodunit is unintentionally funny. But all said and bodies dumped, Agyaat gives us enough spine-chilling moments to make us wonder at the end, who the hell is killing all these people???
The grisly plot weaves in humane moments. Hindi debutant Nitin Reddy(confident, honest and with a skilful body language extended into the jungle ruggedness) and his assistant Sameera (Rasika Duggal, cute) have this very believable bum-chum bonding that perhaps Shah Rukh Khan and Karisma Kapoor from Dil To Pagal Hai would recognize.
But then they wouldn’t be vaught dead (oops!) in this chilling and ominous jungle.