Human beings are voyeuristic in nature. We may cry ourselves hoarse denying it, but the fact remains that we are fascinated with grisly images – of blood and gore, of pain being inflicted, of the human mind gone rogue. Call it one’s basal instinct, or a certain primitive pleasure derived from watching such images, but that is the sole reason why we are enamoured with serial-killer sagas and crime capers.
The West is particularly awed with psychopathic killers. They’ve produced a humongous body of work dealing with serial killers of every hue. The trend, in recent times, has caught on in our country too. Of course, we are still miles away from making a Silence of the Lambs or a Psycho or The Bone Collector, but we’re getting there, slowly and surely.
The latest serial killer movie to hit the Indian content space, albeit in the digital arena, is the ZEE5 Original movie, Posham Pa. The name has been taken from a traditional children’s rhyme, which tells kids that if they do wrong they’ll have to go to jail, eat jail food, and so on. The movie starts with the rhyme being whispered in a spooky voice while two sisters sit by a lake, their faces hidden from the viewers. The beginning is quite chilling and sets the perfect tone for the horrific story to unfold.
Directed by Suman Mukhopadhyay and written by Nimisha Misra, Posham Pa is a fictionalized account of the sensational case of the murderous trio from Maharashtra, which had captured public imagination in the 1990s.
A middle-aged Maharashtrian mother and her two grown-up daughters were in the dock for kidnapping and murdering numerous kids ranging in age from 9 months to 2 years old. Yes, they did not spare even a 9 month old. In fact, it was one of their more brutal murders. They had bludgeoned the kid to death with an iron bar, because he just wouldn’t stop crying. And the trio had committed all the murders in sane mind and sound consciousness. There was nothing remotely psychotic about any of them. They were vicious monsters, all three.
It was also the first instance since 1955 when women were awarded the death sentence, which, in India, is reserved only for crimes that are declared graver than the gravest. The mother died in lockup in 1997, while the daughters are still on death row.
In Posham Pa, however, the writer has tweaked the true story to give it cinematic appeal, mostly in the way she has characterised the mother and the two sisters. The mother, PrajaktaDeshpande (Mahie Gill), has been portrayed as somewhat unhinged and psychopathic; while the two daughters have been depicted as victims of circumstance, prime examples of the age-old debate of ‘nature vs. nurture’. The younger daughter ShikhaDeshpande (Ragini Khanna) voices as much, when she asks in one of the scenes, “If I had been born in a different family, to a different set of parents, would I have been like this?”
Prajakta is predominantly harsh with her older daughter, Regha Sathe (Sayani Gupta). Regha is regularly beaten by her mother,mercilessly enough that it becomes heart-rending to watch. The mother has sex with truck-drivers and wayfarers in her dingy home, and then drugs them, robs them of valuables and smashes their heads with a heavy rock, all this while Regha watches unemotionally. Years of conditioning have rendered her impassive to the horrors perpetrated by her mother. Shikha, at this time, is still to be born.
In a particularly gruesome scene, the blood from the man Prajakta is slaughtering at that moment splashes onto some of the white rice that Regha is eating. The little eight-year-old girl nonchalantly picks out the blood-stained rice, keeps it aside and continues with her meal. To call the scene horrifying would be an understatement. The red against the white made our blood run cold.
In another equally ghastly scene, when a very hungry Regha is pestering her mother for food, Prajaktadrags Reghato an isolated spot, catches hold of a stray cat and ruthlessly kills it by banging its head against the wall. The action is enough to scare the living daylights out of the tiny Regha and to shut up her demand for food.
We are made to understand that Prajakta does what she does because that is the only recourse she has for survival and to provide food for the two of them.
The birth of her step-sister, Shikha, eases things for Regha, but only marginally.
Regha grows up into a severely traumatized, socially inept woman. She is manipulated into a life of crime by her mother, who knows the right buttons to press, to get Regha to do her evil bidding. Shikha is spared the beatings and the horrors, and hence is more confident, somewhat educated and comparatively tougher. All three embark on a life of crime and murders, willingly (in Prajakta’s case) and unwillingly (in the daughters’ case), before karma, and the police, catches up with them.
The entire narrative is told through the perspective of a couple of documentary makers, who seek to tell the story from the POV of the two women on death row (the mother is already dead, having died in lockup). The documentary-makers, Nikhat Ismail (Shivani Raghuvanshi) and Gundeep Singh (Imaad Shah) piece together the disturbing story through the broken accounts of the two sisters.
Regha is less responsive to the two. She is deranged and unstable, haunted as she is by the murders she has committed and the ghost of her mother. It is left to Shikha to narrate the sequence of events and that is how the story unfolds before our eyes. Terrifying details spill out into the open, and an intriguing twist plays out towards the end of the narrative.
But in the midst of all the gory details, the writer and director forget to highlight a crucial aspect of the storyline. While focussing on the how, they fail to explore the why. Why is Prajakta the way she is? Why does she commit all those gruesome murders with such cold-blooded nonchalance? The scene with the cat suggests psychopathic tendencies in her, but the writing never delves deeper into any of it. Net result – we hardly feel invested in the characters, except maybe Regha’s.
The movie also comes across as a misguided attempt on the part of the writer to coax audience sympathy for the trio, and lend some kind of logic and reasoning to the spate of murders committed by them, when, in fact, there’s none. The real-life woman whom Regha portrays is neither unbalanced nor crackers, nor has she been coerced into a life of crime. She is actually quite shrewd and ruthless, and quite the mastermind of most of the crimes the trio committed.
That said, the only thing that keeps us glued to our seats, and goads us to watch Posham Pa to the very end, is the performance of the female protagonists. All three are excellent, especially Mahie Gill and Sayani Gupta. The latter’s unhinged act is brilliant, as is her characterization.
Regha’s mental imbalance manifests in the form of compulsive hair-pulling from the scalp, called trichotillomania in mental health parlance, which causes her to become bald from the fore-scalp. Her bald look is simply outstanding, lending her the perfect dash of deranged and desolate.
Mahie Gill proves yet again that she can breathe life into any character, even that of a heartless killer.Ragini Khanna is suitably impressive as the guileless killer with secrets to hide.
The sound effects of the movie are its other standout feature. The schunk-shluck-shqwelp sounds when the heavy rocks makes contact with the heads of the victims, and the splash and squirt of blood on the walls and body parts, are enough to make one’s blood curdle. The effect is spine-chilling and hair-raising, and we are suitably moved. The edgy background music adds to the unnerving quality of the movie. Likewise, the tiny ‘pluck’ sound we hear when Regha pulls a strand of hair out of her scalp.
All said and done, the movie has been made with a lot of heart, and it shows. Except for the niggling ambiguities in the plot, Posham Pa is quite a good watch, missing ‘must-watch’ status by a whisker.
Meanwhile, 3/5 is our rating for Posham Pa.