Once a man sleeps with a 'daayan', he will never look at another woman again. A psychotherapist's grandmother told him once. This, of course, is on a light note. In the real version, with a strength that lies in her long,thick plait, she can be either scary or bewitchingly fascinating. Ek Thi Daayan falls in the latter category.
When you have three talented actresses and a film based on a gripping enough short story (Mukul Sharma), there is sufficient reason to keep you interested. But when the narrative catches you by the choti'..er...collar in the first half but loosens the grip in the second half, it ends up killing its own potential.
The ingredients are all there. A wicked stepmom, frightened, innocent children, creepy lizards and witches.
The locale as in most horror films , is an old house in a dilapidated building where the lift does not work. This backdrop with the fabulous use of music and dim lighting, creates just the right mood of fear and mystery.
Bobo (Emraan Hashmi) is a popular magician. He and his girlfriend, Tamara (Huma Qureshi ) plan to adopt a little boy, Zuben. Bobo's last few magic shows are marred by some childhood experiences haunting him. He visits a therapist who helps him recall some horrifying incidents.
As a child, he comes across an old book on witches and finds a way to hell through his own building lift. His secret fascination with the lift makes him highly suspicious of his new enchanting neighbour, Diana (Konkana Sen Sharma) who emerges from the lift out of nowhere. His widower father (Pawan Malhotra) is enamoured by her, much to Bobo's distress. Diana soon makes her way into their little nest as his stepmom.
What follows is a very well made, taut and spooky buildup into an unbelievable world of witches. The entire childhood sequence has the right tone and tenor of wild imagination and terrifying, mysterious encounters. However, the screenplay (Mukul Sharma and Vishaal Bhardwaj),loses the sense of conviction as soon as it comes to Bobo's present.
Emraan Hashmi as the central character trapped amongst the 'daayans', suitably underplays the role. Konkona is simply brilliant in her portrayal of the proverbial stepmom who is both kind and mysteriously evil at once. Her dialogue delivery and expression can chill yet charm, especially when she says to the little girl, " I could just EAT you up."
Huma Qureshi looks gorgeous and fits her part, somewhat weakened by the script. Kalki Koechlin, besides a dazzling smile, displays a very pleasant and vibrant screen presence.
Vishesh Tiwari, the child actor who plays Emraan, steals the show with his totally convincing performance.
Saurabh Goswami's cinematography along with the art department, plays an equally strong role in making the film sufficiently spooky. Gulzaar's lyrics matches Bhardwaj's melodious music throughout, especially in the songs 'Yaaram' and Rekha Bhardwaj's hauntingly rendered 'lautungi main tere liye'.
Kannan Iyer's debut direction is impressive enough but doesn't quite succeed in spooking you out despite the use of lifts, lizards, ‘witchy' sound effects and the lunar eclipse. However, the use of real characters in real life moments, adds more to the chill factor. Vishaal Bhardwaj's mastery at recreating childhood fears is apparent in the first half of the screenplay.
Ek Thi Daayan bewitches, but in parts. Long plaits, however, may not quite look the same again.