That Phobia is not everyone's cup of tea is established in the opening frame itself with this intriguing quote of Franz Kafka: A cage went in search of a bird. What follows next is arguably one of the most significant prologues in Hindi Cinema; miss this and you won't get the essence of the film. Mehak Deo (Radhika Apte) is a painter and is narrating a creepily uncomfortable joke to her male friends at a party: An old man has been ogling at her because her face resembles his bitch that was killed in a car accident, eerily on the same day when Mehak was born. She then leaves the party in a taxi with her best friend, Shaan. On the way Shaan gets down and invites her to spend the night with him. She spurns the offer and continues in the taxi. The cabbie takes her to a secluded spot and rapes her. READ MORE BELOW
After the opening credits, we see that Mehak has become a nervous wreck consequent to the rape and is being administered Virtual Reality therapy to cure her of Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces). When the therapy makes little progress, Shaan rents out an apartment and moves her there to recover. Rest of the film plays out in the claustrophobic confines of this apartment, whose former tenant, a stewardess named Jiah, has mysteriously vanished into thin air. Spooky things start happening. Mehak's traumatised mind plays tricks on her and the director plays tricks on our mind. There is a black cat and a black spider, both important symbols in case you want to psychoanalyse the film later.
Just when you feel that the director has pulled out all stops and you have sorted out all the conundrums, the film shifts to a different plane. Some extremely subtle hints are dropped, so fleeting that you will miss if you blink. Phobia is an extremely clever film; it is revived miraculously from the precipice of an almost hilarious ending. Director Pawan Kriplani goes for the jugular, just when your muscles were beginning to relax. Radhika Apte more than lives her part. Background score works non-intrusively on the subconscious.
At the visceral level it is a solid thriller with a potential to wet your pants. But at the psychological level, it makes you think long after you have left the cinema hall.
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