If VK Prakash is trying to scare the wits out of you, through Praana, he succeeds, to an extent. He has successfully decoded that what really sends chills down your spine is the anticipation of something horrible about to happen, more than the happening itself.
So with Nithya Menen, the sole actor in the film - except for a few blurred or unfocused faces in a crowd and the presence of a television - we wait for it to happen. The background is established in those first few safe scenes that mostly every horror movie has – scenes you hold on to preciously for you know any moment now, the music would change and the eeriness would creep in. Those are the scenes in which you learn about Thara – also the name of Nithya’s character in OK Kanmani – she is a writer, speaking and fighting for different freedoms, and her book Music for Freedom has released at a time when there is a lot of intolerance towards writers. Rajesh Jayaraman, who wrote the story and script, might have got the germ of his idea at the time of Perumal Murugan’s book ban.
Thara does not fear the protesters shouting out threats. She speaks boldly, rejecting the protection offered to her, and you hear Nithya’s voice picking out word after word, stressing each of them carefully. It could be a character trait or it could just be Nithya’s Malayalam.
What has to be really appreciated before you go into the haunted house that Thara would go in search of (of course she would), is how the director easily lets you forget that this is a one actor film. There is not one boring moment in the film, not one moment when you wish there was at least one more actor. It’s engaging throughout, and really, you just need one person out there to relate to. Now imagine a haunted house with no one inside. Why would you care what happens to it, it’s just house and furniture.
But when it’s people, one or many, you are with them. Especially if it’s just the one. You watch the curtained dark windows and doors, you look at every object more suspiciously than the protagonist. And VKP makes sure you do. Even as you expect it, the background score hisses at you suddenly and doubles your heartbeat (musician Arunvijay has done his job well here). So you become wary of a doll that just wouldn’t stay at one place, the long corridors, and the unopened doors. Kudos to PC Sreeram’s shots. Even through the eeriness, you appreciate the charm of living on top of the hills, when Thara opens a window and her brown-black curls stand out against the green outside.
The first half goes on in this manner, without dragging, without repetitions, but not to worry, there are regular doses of panic attacks. With only Thara, the writer who decides to challenge the presence of ghost in a house by bringing video cameras with her and fixing them at every room. And surprisingly enough, none of this shakes her so much as it shakes you. In addition to the “supernatural” disturbances, there are also the human attacks, the intolerant society shooting balls at her house or burning her book outside her door. Calls from concerned friends asking her to move out, Thara brushes away. (Why, Thara, why wouldn’t you listen to them and give your poor viewer some moments of peace?)
The second half breaks the suspense that the first half ends with, and therefore it's not something we can discuss much here. Let’s just say it’s less scary, less effective, and if you are the kind who gets some sort of rush by being scared, you’d miss the happening first half. But the pace is just right. VKP does it all almost perfectly – the arrangement of scenes, the order of it, the alternating black-and-whited parts that make sense later on. Almost, because there are flaws - untied lose ends, a less than satisfactory ending to a tale that started off well, varied topics (including child abuse) suddenly packed in without properly sewing it all up together.
Nithya has beautifully chosen her comeback to Malayalam cinema. She displays the right emotions as Thara who is someone not easily scared (unlike this writer), has a certain determination about her, and is perhaps at times, stupidly bold. Remember it’s just her, and one person makes so much of an impact – if she had even slightly faltered at any moment, it could all have come crashing down. You are to take every moment seriously if horror should be horror. She can’t afford to relax, look amused, exaggerate or underplay her expressions, for, that would easily take away the effect. Nithya carries it off all so effortlessly.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.