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Soap is where the scare is

The next time you sit down to watch your favourite saas-bahu saga, beware! Instead of Balaji actors, the people you see on screen may well turn out to be the dead trying to make contact with the real world! Yes, it is the innocuous daily soap that is the source of all terror in 13B. But before you start to say kya bakwaas hai, let us tell you that seldom has a saas-bahu show managed to keep you glued to your seat in the way the ghostly one in 13B does. The rest of 13B, too, makes for quite an engaging watch.

Attempting to drive home the point that terror lurks in the unlikeliest of places and even in the seemingly innocent objects of daily use (remember the Ring and the Pulse films?), 13B is about civil engineer Manohar (Madhavan) who moves with his eight-member strong family into a swank new address — flat number 13B on the 13th floor of a Mumbai highrise.

In the beginning, all is well with the sukhi parivaar where the saas (Poonam Dhillon) and bahu (Neetu Chandra) bond over their daily dose of television soap. But the bonhomie and bonding soon grinds to a halt when things start going awry. The milk curdles on a daily basis, the neighbour’s (Dhritiman Chaterji) dog refuses to cross the threshold into flat 13B, the elevator comes to a standstill only when Manohar occupies it and his Nokia N73 throws up distorted images when he attempts to photograph himself. A shaken Manohar soon realises that the source of the strange happenings in his house is a daily soap called Sab Khairiyat (which incidentally airs at 1300 hours every day) whose storyline is eerily similar to his own life.

With his family parked in front of the television set each day to catch the latest on Sab Khairiyat, Manohar also finds his life being taken over by the show, for totally different reasons. He misses out on work, halts in front of TV showrooms and nervously asks his wife for regular updates just to see how the next episode — and consequently the next day in his life — is going to play out. With spinechilling results.

While it falls short of being consistent edge-of-the seat stuff, what works best for 13B is the fact that it does not fall prey to Bollywood horror cliches. So instead of resorting to tantriks, Sanskrit shlokas, badly made-up ghosts or women in white, 13B goes the X-Files way bringing in terms like ‘paranormal’ and ‘psychokinesis’ and even striving to explain the happenings through Newton’s law of opposite forces! The tension is heightened by the Ram Gopal Varma-influenced background score (Tubby-Parik) which does give one goosebumps and the nerve-tingling play of light and shade, captured brilliantly by cinematographer P.C. Sreeram.

While the performances may not be extraordinary, the casting seems to be spot on. As a helpless man living out inexplicable trauma, Madhavan towers above the rest. Neetu Chandra carries off the supportive wife act with ease while Sachin Khedekar and Deepak Dobriyal impress with their cameos. Dhritiman Chaterji’s role doesn’t serve any purpose. Still looking like a million bucks, all we can say is ‘welcome back Poonam Dhillon’!

The actors may be perfectly cast, but 13B is far from perfect. Parts of the film slip into the outlandish and at two-and-half-hours, 13B is just too long. Add to that a completely unnecessary sexual innuendo track between Madhavan and Neetu (with an analogy between sex and tandoori chicken, if you please!) which leaves a bad taste in the mouth because of how blatantly unfunny it is. Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s music is another sore point with Madhavan lipsyncing to a forgettable number on a beach, dressed in a sherwani!

All in all, 13B is a pretty uneven ride but has enough to leave one a little shaken and slightly stirred. The insinuation at the end that the mobile phone may be the next source of terror does leave you feeling a litttle uncomfortable. Is your phone ringing?

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