A surprise commercial and critical success, Raaz boasted of a gripping plotline, sultry cinematography, a hit soundtrack, and most importantly, gave birth to the “horrex” genre. Also, must mention the unforgettable Malini Sharma.
I hate horror. Yes, I am a scaredy cat and I cannot be bothered to hide it. I blame it mostly on myself. When I was six, I made the mistake of sneaking into the TV room at home, and watching Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat on a summer afternoon. I couldn’t sleep for a week after that, and when I would finally doze off, too tired to stay wide awake, I would be riddled with nightmares. Raat was a scarring experience, and I must add that, while the film was exceptionally made (this is a six-year old’s opinion – I have obviously never rewatched it), it must be traumatising even for adults.
My interest in Raaz, on the other hand, was puberty-driven. I am not ashamed to admit it. The film had beautiful people, and had some generous sex scenes (some would even call them “gratuitous” by 2002 Bollywood standards). But the film-making and cinematography was so hypnotic, that I remember watching the whole film (again sneakily, on a local cable channel, some random afternoon when my folks weren’t around). Was it scary? Yes. Was it unforgettable? That too.
A little research throws up why Raaz is an important landmark for the horror genre in Bollywood. Before Raaz, the only horror film that had been a commercial success was Raat. Raat released in 1992. Raaz, in 2002. In 10 years, Bollywood had produced horror B and C graders, flops, and smut. Interestingly, before Raat, for two decades, Bollywood didn’t make a mainstream horror film (supernatural in nature). The Ramsay brothers and other similar film-makers like J.D. Lawrence, directed smutty horror flicks. Raaz was a well-mounted supernatural and psychological thriller, with slick cinematography and editing, a sexy cast, smart direction, and an edge-of-the-seat climax. Also, true to Bollywood formulae, it had a great OST too. Vikram Bhatt, hot in demand after the back-to-back successes of Ghulam (1998) and Kasoor (2001), was a trustworthy captain for this ship for Vishesh Films. It was also Page 3’s favourite couple – Bipasha Basu and Dino Morea’s debuts as leads. The country had just started crushing on both of them, and Dino went ahead and took his shirt off in Raaz. For years to come (along with a certain John Abraham who debuted with Jism in 2003), Dino Morea remained everybody’s wet dream.
And then there was Malini Sharma. To be honest, Bipasha’s sex symbol status was established in Jism. In Raaz, she played the dutiful, and, later, depressed wife. Malini Sharma was the bombshell. I don’t think anybody from our generation who watched Raaz back then will ever forget the shot of Malini’s svelte silhouette standing at Dino’s office boardroom’s doorway, only to drag him outside by his collar when he goes over to her, peel his jacket off, and devour his neck. Their silhouettes melt and separate, and you feel her enigmatic screen presence even without seeing her face. Or the sequence of her standing behind a tree, her hand reaching out and dropping her last piece of clothing, luring Dino towards her. Malini stunned the audience with her performance, her deep, dark, mysterious eyes, sensual aura, and scintillating chemistry with Dino. Find me a hotter song sequence than Aapke Pyaar Mein. I’ll wait. It is a loss for the industry that she disappeared after Raaz.
A Raagini MMS could happen in 2011, because a Raaz had happened in 2002, and subsequent films like Darling and 1920 had happened in between, where the films tried to scare and titillate at the same time. Horrex is a tantalising combination, and while it has become quite mainstream now, Raaz did it masterfully two decades back. Like the kids say, Raaz walked so that Raagini could run. Thankfully though, in the last few years, Bollywood has attempted to produce better horror content, albeit mostly riddled with clichéd plotlines. Some stand out, like Phobia, Ghoul, and Pari, although no one has been able to match the sheer nightmare that was Raat, or the slow-burning trepidation and sexual tease of Raaz.
Here’s to remembering Raaz, the OG crew, and Dino Morea’s hot bod.