Prithviraj Sukumaran plays ACP Satyajit in 'Cold Case' (screen shot).
I love scary stories. Of ghosts who haunt homes and spirits that are dying to talk to the living. And it’s great fun to watch creepy movies all alone at night, especially when it’s raining outside. You hug yourself to soothe away the goosebumps, and realise that the AC that you usually have on at 24 degrees is at 19 for some reason. Is it because I’m watching the Malayalam film Cold Case that just dropped on Amazon Prime Video?
Normally, I’d say that the hawt Prithviraj Sukumaran plays ACP Satyajit so my AC theory of goosebumps should not work, and we Indians (across all languages) just stumble and fall when it comes to writing a great horror story. Tumbbad was a rare sighting but mostly scary ghost stories stumble and fall before the ghost wandering the castle with a candle finishes singing, ‘Kaheen deep jale kaheen dil’. And yes, you will wonder why a ghost needs a candle when haunting a home.
When the teaser for Cold Case showed up, I was half hopeful and half in dread. Will the annoying child in the film be possessed by the ghost? Will that creepy doll suddenly turn into Chucky (or Tatya Vinchoo for those who grew up on Indian scary films)? Using kids possessed by ghosts and evil spirits is such a trite trope. Thankfully Cold Case manages to creep you out without the child doing a little levitating or upchucking green stuff…
The film starts innocuously enough with a very Yorick-like skull found in a fisherman’s net. I have watched too many CSI/Unsolved mysteries to not wonder: what was weighing the garbage bag down? There was no flesh on the bone, so it should have just floated, no? How did the flesh disintegrate when the garbage bag was intact?
But Prithviraj’s entry was so cool, you don’t think so much. On the other hand, there is a parallel story happening with a TV channel executive Medha (played rather earnestly by Aditi Balan) whose house seems to be haunted. It annoyed me to see hair in the sink scene (seen that in many many movies!), a well that looks creepy (for no reason!) and they show the drain in the sink for so long, I almost expected an eye looking at Medha through the pipes.
The hand on the back device is used really well, and it is super scary each time. The parallel thread continues with Medha trying to figure out why her home is haunted, and ACP Satyajit trying to find out whose skull it really is.
The investigation techniques are really nicely laid out and very logical. But the hero is just collecting that information and piecing it together. Medha has more fun. Suchitra Pillai (still gorgeous, ageless even!) shows up as someone who communicates with the spirits. I just loved the mambo jumbo scene with pentagrams and candles and mirrors and things. I bought into the ‘the dead girl is asking you to help her’ schtick. As they say, ‘Full paisa vasool scene’ that was. Got my money’s worth!
Did I mention that Medha’s kid was super annoying? But the nightmare scene will shake you up. The ghost was winning in my opinion. And I wished they hadn’t turned Satyajit’s boss Malini Aravind so, disrupting the procedures (by stopping DNA work, etc.) for no reason at all! Suddenly you realise that the story is falling apart instead of threads coming together. Do I go downstairs and brew myself some tea? Do I dare open my fridge so late at night? What if…
And the end is so pathetic, I feel cheated. It begins to rain, as it does in most horror films, the explanation of the murder and the reasoning is so awful you slap your forehead and wail ‘Why?!’ at your screen. You seriously want to push some people responsible for approving such a shoddy end to a good story into that well. The epilogue then makes you not care for the cracking glass of a dead sister’s picture. Even ACP Satyajit looks mildly bored and relieved that the Cold Case is over. I wish they had found another ending to this rather interesting haunted fridge story. Just be careful in case you own a red refrigerator.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.