At the fag end of Masooda, a character says she does not completely believe in the story she has just heard. That voices what many in the audience might be thinking too. The search for the truth in the third act attempts to solve a puzzle. Clearly, there has to be something more. We might know the answers if there is a sequel to Masooda. But, does it hold enough interest for a sequel? Not quite. And that is a pity. Masooda, written and directed by Sai Kiran and starring Thiruveer and Sangitha is an earnest attempt at a slow burn horror drama that does not resort to gimmicky thrills and loud music to induce the fear factor. If only it had paid more attention to the narrative.
The broad story arc is not new to the realm of horror dramas. The Muslim setting gives it an element of freshness. A series of gruesome murders at a village in Chittoor in the late 1980s and 90s has a ripple effect on a family living in present-day Hyderabad. Neelam (Sangitha) is a single mother who lives with her teenage daughter Nazia (Bandhavi Sridhar). In the middle-class apartment she resides in, there is camaraderie among neighbours. Gopi Krishna (Thiruveer), who lives in the complex, helps the mother-daughter duo with day-to-day odd jobs.
Cast: Thiruveer, Sangitha, Bandhavi Sridhar
Direction: Sai Kiran
Music: Prashanth R Vihari
We get a sense of the everyday lives of these characters and the humdrum of Gopi’s office where he is trying to woo his colleague Mini (Kavya Kalyanram). Neelam is a science teacher trying to make ends meet and Gopi is a good-natured, timid guy who is unlikely to get noticed in a crowd. Nazia suddenly behaves oddly, pushing a deliberately-paced drama into horror mode. Small flourishes stand out — such as Neelam wondering whatever happened to her pragmatic self when she begins to search for a ‘peer baba’ to save her daughter, and Gopi wondering why he is unable to walk away from the situation that is drawing him deeper into a mess. He is a neighbour, not family, after all.
Cinematographer Nagesh Banell captures the middle-class setting in warm hues; there is a pop of red in several frames, as though pre-empting the danger of a blood-soaked drama that will unfold much later. Music composer Prashanth Vihari’s score shifts gears from a comforting melody to uneasy silences where you can hear the smallest sounds that can lead to something spooky.
The narrative takes its time to reveal why Neelam and Gopi should be truly worried about Nazia. Some of the humour also works. Take the scene where Gopi quickly surfs the web on his phone to find ways to chase a ghost! He enacts Gopi with sincerity and is effective in expressing fear with a tinge of innocence. Sangitha as the mother who must gather courage and rise above her trepidation, does not falter. Bandhavi displays the vulnerability of a young girl trapped in an unenviable situation.
The pre-intermission segment sets the stage for a solid horror drama. There is a lot to unearth about a mysterious character named Masooda, as the exorcists led by Rizwan (Subhalekha Sudhakar) and Allaudin (Satyam Rajesh) try to help Nazia.
The technical team pulls all stops to deliver a moody, edge-of-the-seat thriller. Flickering lights, creaky windows and doors, rundown buildings, spooky forests… there is all this and more. But… we never get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Masooda (the Arabic name denotes a good woman). The spooks and the thrills are also not scary enough to raise the stakes.
At the end of 160 minutes, Masooda felt long-drawn and incomplete. I couldn’t help wondering if all that build up was for the underwhelming end.