Directed by the same guy who previously gave us a good stuff (Ragini MMS) and a bad stuff (Darr @ The Mall) comes another thriller that can be placed exactly between these two in terms of quality.
Mehak (Apte) is a cool young woman who is forced upon unsuccessfully by a taxi driver after which she becomes a patient of agoraphobia, a severe mental disorder concerning open and crowded places. She is helped by her friend Shaan (Misra), who moves her into a friend's place in order to treat her naturally, whatever that means. But Mehak is eternally traumatized by the incident which still gives her nightmares and feelings of anxiety revolving around her new apartment's former owner, an air-hostess who she presumes was killed by her neighbor. As nights pass, Mehak sees things that makes her change here mind and believe that there is a person in her apartment who may be out to finish "some unfinished business."
The setup is fine for a Bollywood thriller film, reminding us of RGV's millennium-closing masterpiece Kaun?. The plot moves with a good speed afterwards as the audience begin playing their usual game of suspect gamble. We think that the person chasing Mehak might be her friend, who also has shades of gray in him and wants to satiate his sexual needs, fitting the perfect description; her widowed sister, who may have some ulterior motive; her specialist doctor, who is just learning to control her fancy new VR headset; her neighbor, whose laughing frequency is rather sinister. It could be anyone and Mehak wants to find out, with the help of Nikki (Dayama), another neighbor. But all that plays around in the first half is let down by the story's lousy second half.
Whenever one sees a thriller film where the main characters sit and surround a simple or a mutilated combination of geometric symbols, he/she knows that the film is falling into the pond of cliché. Phobia eventually does, and then tries to regain consciousness (a la Mehak in countless instances) by revealing the single pole that was supporting this giant of a promising high-rise. The climax is good, but of what use is a building that slants?
The music, as many of my friends pointed out, was brilliant, and at least 2 of my stars go for that, plus the camera work. Apte is terrific and so is Mishra; both do a wonderful job, and this confirms the point that the problem is not in the cast or their performance or in the making, but in the story, which is shallow and only offers one or two gasps, which are purely incidental.
If the writer had put in so much effort as that bloke who has expanded the film's Wikipedia article, the film may have critically fared better. Can't understand the fuss around the film's notability, though. It's a strictly below-average affair even for people who consider themselves fans of the thriller-horror genre.
BOTTOM LINE: Pawan Kirpalani's Phobia is a thriller, with some great performances, which feels at first like a blood-toothed dinosaur in a closet but turns out only to be a one-inch, red-masked lizard. Wait for TV premiere but do not switch between channels during commercials.
Can be watched with a typical Indian family? NO