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The Horror And Comedy In Roohi That Isn’t Only From The Genre

Posted: April 12, 2021

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Saleable actors, a chudail, and a premise that the audience might lap up, does the latest film offering on Netflix, Roohi, deliver?

This movie’s subtitle gives a gist of things to come: “Roohi,” it announces, “two men. One woman. And a demonic spirit inside her.”

Park your intellect somewhere it’s not needed, and step into a laundry list of every stereotype a horror flick can dish out.

In the swathe that is small-town north India, where the question often is –  how can the law can be more important than tradition? – lies Bagadpur, ostensibly the bride-abduction capital of the bride-abduction universe.

Roohi, the bride

A pair of childhood friends, employed as news reporters for a local goon who runs an ‘abduction agency’ in addition to a small-time newspaper, get bullied by him into a kidnapping job with a twist—the potential bride, Roohi, (Janhvi Kapoor) comes with extras: her own personal ‘chudail’. There is an entity haunting the girl that regularly makes an appearance, and let’s just say that unlike mortal women, it feels no pressure to be pleasant or pretty. Hang on, though. We aren’t anywhere near absurd territory yet.

Through a change in circumstances, Roohi needs to be hidden until she can be summarily produced to partake in her own wedding, and our two cons manage to spirit her away, no pun intended, to a completely deserted, mist-riddled forest plonk in the heart of India’s most populous state.

Nope, you haven’t even dipped your little toe into the absurdity to follow.

Meet Afza, too!

Remember when I said you will need to park your intellect? Let’s also suspend disbelief for good measure. Because Con 1 (Rajkumar Rao) falls in love with his abductee, which perhaps you’d expect, but Con 2 (Varun Sharma)—wait for it—decides his soulmate is Afza, the spirit that possesses her.

Even accounting for Uttar Pradesh’s skewed gender ratio and the lack of interaction with the opposite gender, we are to accept that the heart wants what it wants, and in this case, the object of its desire is a demonic spirit with a CGI-generated voice, Brazilian blowout tresses, feet flipped the other way, and a laser flashing from its eyes. Ladies and gentlemen, our camper van has finally pulled up to Crazyville.

The film continues on its not-so-merry way, struggling with its identity as a horror/comedy, and we watch the male protagonists vie for their chosen lady love’s attention as she switches between pallid and possessed.

The filmy Chudail

Flapping in our face throughout the two hours of my life that I will never get back is an extensive Checklist of Chudail-ness:

  1. Female (because between caregiving, laundry, deciding what’s on the menu, and fending off patriarchy, women are also saddled with being the representatives of the malevolent spirit world.)
  2. Marriageable age (and this is important, because we are tutored that a chudail’s ultimate aim and her reason for possessing a woman is the acquisition of a spouse.).
  3. Long hair hanging/flying loose (and not a split end in sight.)
  4. Feet flipped backward (because otherwise she could just beyour wife having a bad day’ as women’s anger is stereotyped.)
  5. Superhuman strength (to swat those pesky men as needed.)

The ending in sight – ah!

At some point through this unintentional horror of a movie, fatigue begins to set in, as we are required to process additional characters, a wedding to a dog, and the grand finale and ostensible plot twist: the female protagonist making her own choices.

When Roohi finally arrives at a decision, a wave of relief surges on this landscape of absurdity. Not just because we’re feminist cheerleaders celebrating self-determination, but because the end is in sight.

This survivor of demonic possession and immature male antics appears equally done with both experiences and wants to get away from at least one entity trying to control her life. Watching what just unfolded over two tiresome hours, can’t say I blame her! Fairly competent acting from three decent actors cannot save this movie, whose real fear factor is its tedious script, that tries to make light of tropes, but ends up tripping over its backward-facing feet.

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