This psychological thriller is also a poignant social commentary on the patriarchal drive to dominate, discipline, control, and police women
Director: Ajay Bahl
Writers: Ajay Bahl and Pawan Soni (original screenplay by Guillem Morales and Oriol Paulo)
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Gulshan Devaiah, Kruttika Desai, Abhilash Thapliyal
A psychological thriller about a woman (Gayatri), an anthropologist by profession, with a degenerative eye condition, something she shared with her twin sister (Gautami), who has died under mysterious circumstances. As she slowly starts to lose her vision her struggle to find her sister’s killer (she is convinced that her sister was murdered, although the police think otherwise) lands her in a complex maze of deception. And she has the killer’s undivided attention. Would she be able to see the truth with her blurring eyesight, before it is too late?
The taut thriller that sees Taapsee give another stellar performance; she is in almost every frame and she brilliantly anchors the scenes. The story unfolds in a dreary and cold, bluish-green (symbolizing the unnatural and sickly) rain-lashed world that looks like an extension of Dobaaraa, Taapsee’s earlier outing this year. And it is by design. While Anurag Kashyap’s movie was an adaptation of Oriol Paulo’s script of Mirage, Ajay Bahl’s is an official remake of Guillermo del Toro-produced Guillem Morales’s Julia’s Eye—a movie co-written by Paulo. In fact, one can call this a trilogy of sorts for Taapsee. Earlier, she had starred in Sujoy Ghosh’s Badla, which was based on Paulo’s The Invisible Guest. It seems the actor who was also seen in a string of sports dramas, has finally found the right genre that aligns perfectly with her acting style and talent. Not only she blends the right amounts of vulnerability, fragility, and resilience and creates the perfect protagonist for a psychological thriller, but she also excels in the reaction shots that are so crucial in creating the right impact for such movies.
The biggest surprise this thriller throws up is Abhilash Thapliyal as Gayatri’s attentive, efficient, and mild-mannered caregiver, Deepak. The popular RJ made his movie debut as an actor in the 2018 Taapsee Pannu-starrer Dil Juunglee. He is an example of a
brilliant casting choice. Apart from being a powerful performer with an uncanny screen presence, he makes optimum use of his experience as a voice artiste while playing an ‘invisible common man’ (effective use of The Faceless/ Invisible to Normals trope) and the results are stunning. The movie also stars Gulshan Devaiah and one wishes the ace actor, who had won hearts earlier this year with his immaculate portrayal of Guru Narayan, a gay man in Badhaai Do, had a bigger role to play in the scheme of things, but he is flawless as Gayatri’s romantic partner, Neal. Veteran theatre and television actor Kruttika Desai plays Mrs. Radha Solanki, Gayatri’s brooding neighbor with a Gothic undertone, a character that might remind one of Miss Havisham.
The best parts of the movie are courtesy of the original (although since the movie is not officially available in India, hardly anyone would have seen it, and hence Blurr would be viewed mostly with fresh eyes). The degenerative eye condition is the plot point of Lars von Trier’s 2000 Björk-starrer Dancer in the Dark, while the trope of twins having a mental connection has been used and abused in Bollywood over the years. The story, with its chills and thrills, is essentially an almost blind/vulnerable woman stuck inside a house trying to fight off/escape a potential killer and utilizes the Alone with the Psycho trope.
An ode to psychological thrillers in general and Hitchcock in particular, the original can also be regarded as a spiritual sequel to The Orphanage (2007). The under-lit gothic settings replete with a creepy, creaking dimly-lit house trying to protect the fragile
protagonist from a bleak and hostile nature heightens the suspense. But it is the visual style and the perfect pace that makes the original such a delicious watch. While the title, Julia’s Eyes, as well as its Eye Scream moment, instantly brings to mind the iconic scene from Luis Buñuel’s 1929 French silent short film, Un Chien Andalou, there is a scene neatly echoing the blind heroine of Wait Until Dark (1967) switching off the lights and making use of the darkness to escape her attacker, and it leads up to one that is bound to remind the audience of the climax of Rear Window (1954) involving the camera flash sporadically illuminating the frames.
While the original was shot by ace Spanish cinematographer, Óscar Faura, Bahl, himself also a cinematographer having shot his debut directorial, BA Pass, puts his trust in Sudhir K. Chaudhary (whose earlier credits include this year’s best thriller Drishyam2,
the Hindi version of the Malayalam sequel) to shoot this faithful remake. And Chaudhary does a stunning job. Although shot in the picturesque hills of Uttarakhand, it is largely location agnostic as the movie mostly unfolds within enclosed spaces. Apart from the edgy and often distorted camera angles, lighting is a crucial part of this world of sporadic visions and blurring realities. The impact is further heightened by Ketan Soda’s riveting background score and Manish Pradhan’s crisp editing. But neither lost sight of the plot and the substance is not martyred on the altar of style. With dialogues like ‘Ankhein bandh karke logoko dekho, aur behtar nazar aatey hai,’ and ‘Har sheher hi har sadak par, hazaron log hai jo kisiko yaad nehi rehte’, written by Ajay Bahl and Pawan Soni is stark, effective, and layered.
This psychological thriller is also a poignant social commentary on the patriarchal drive to dominate, discipline, control, and police women. It reflects the society where women’s voices are brutally throttled, their perspectives unceremoniously dismissed,
and their vision ‘corrected’. They are forced to fall in line and conform to the prevalent narrative. The only ally they have is the sisterhood they form.
In the movie, none of the men, including her boyfriend and the patronizing police inspector, believe Gayatri; she is dismissed as delusional, making her an easy victim of a stalker. The more she tries to convince the men about her situation, the more she finds herself isolated. Because, men prefer women to be seen not heard and the more you scream and shout the more you get tagged as the ‘difficult woman’, your truth is considered a fever dream emanating from your ‘insanity’. And when Gayatri is told, “koi aapki baat nehi sunega, sab aapko pagal samjhte hai…” it is something most women can relate to.
Then there is the neighbor who simply wants to take advantage of a woman made extra vulnerable by her loss of sight. The main antagonist is an incel, who needs a woman who is completely dependent on him; he wants to control every step of this
woman (because that is the best and easiest way to feel like a ‘man’) to feed his ego. He surreptitiously clicks pictures of her when she is at her most vulnerable and almost fetishizes her plight.
It is the women who rally around one another. Be it the group of blind women or the neighbor’s daughter, it is the women who not only believe and understand the seriousness of the goings-on; they are the ones who also alert her to the impending dangers. This sisterhood of sorts points out how women need to be each other’s allies to protect themselves from and fight against male oppression. They need one another to see better when the vision starts to blur.
It is also a story of how society can be brutal in alienating some people, how it feels when you become ‘invisible’ to society, and how it can eventually blur your vision leading you to cut ties with reality. While Gayatri slowly gets isolated from the world
both literally and metaphorically, her tormentor is also someone whom society fails to notice—he is an entity that people see but don’t seem to remember or recognize, it is as if he is a walking shadow of himself. He feels like he is made of see-through cellophane. He thinks that maybe the people who don’t have eyesight would have the vision to see him.
Blurr is a faithful and well-executed remake of an edge-of-the-seat, true-to-its-genre thriller. When viewed as a fresh film it is an exciting watch that keeps you hooked till the very end. After Pink (2016), Badla (2019), Game Over (2019), Loop Lapeta (2021),
Haseen Dillruba (2021), Dobaaraa (2022); with Blurr, Taapsee establishes herself firmly as the queen of thriller movies — she is not the next Urmila Matondkar but Taapsee Pannu, the first of her name. She completes her Oriol Paulo trilogy in style.
You can watch it on Zee5
Here’s the link to Dobaaraa review, Pannu’s earlier outing this year.