I bought a bunch of Bollywood movies from Eros a couple of holidays back, during one of their unbelievably awesome sales, and I picked up this early Ram Gopal Varma horror/thriller for 99 cents (plus shipping). This movie is definitely worth a dollar, even before seeing it.
Kaun? (1999) is one of RGV’s first attempts at subverting the Bollywood mold. It is a 99 minute film set in one location with absolutely no song or dance routines. While kind of slow in a couple of stretches (you have to sit through almost 10 minutes or Hollywood horror cliche moments before the plot starts), even within these stretches, or perhaps in spite of, you can see a fillmmaker deeply literate in a film grammar outside the norm of his own culture (which if not impressive, is a rarer thing than one would imagine).
Bollywood films are well known for blantantly ripping off plotlines from popular Western films and recycling them into a Bollywood mush (see here and here; more on this when I watch some more of my blind buys). And while this film is not immune from this plagirism/inspiration entirely, it does not seem like a rip-off. It is merely derivative in spirit (I mean that as a compliment, though).
I am predisposed to liking stagey whodunits. Simultaneously asking you to think about what’s happening throughout and beating you over the head with it at the same time, I hesitate to reductively say that am I merely ‘enjoying it for what it is’. That implies that the effort put forth in this film is somehow comparatively sub-standard to its Hollywood predecessors. I would argue, especially with the recent spate of ridiculous recycling going on in Hollywood horror these days, that Kaun? is a better-than-average attempt at the horror/thriller, avoiding the post-Scream influence altogether (maybe more on that after I watch Raaz; a ‘remake’ of What Lies Beneath; my personal marker for ignoring the said Scream zeitgeist).
All in all, not a bad way to spend a holiday evening!