Like a moth drawn to a flame, I have been fascinated with the horror genre for as long as I can remember. From my adolescence, I loved listening to ghost stories from my grandmother before drifting off to sleep.
I almost religiously watched shows like the 'Zee Horror Show' and 'Aahat'. During my teenage years I have vivid memories of watching films like 'Exorcism of Emily Rose', 'The Ring', 'The Grudge', etc at 3 AM. It was intentional, and it was awesome. I still do it at times, as long as I don't have to wake up in the morning.
Even though one can argue that I have become desensitised to the genre, I don't think there have been that many films that stood out in recent years.
When 'Pett Kata Shaw' was first announced, needless to say, I was particularly excited. An anthology of scary short films based on Bangla myths and folklore – directed by Nuhash Humayun – son of the legendary Humayun Ahmed – what could be better? The path was laid out for 'Pett Kata Shaw' to be as successful, or even more so, as 'The Conjuring' in the country.
The last horror film which resonated particularly well with the Bangladeshi audience was 'The Conjuring'. A mainstream success; it had well thought out characters, a good story, and what made it stand out from a sea of trashy films were the type of scares it had; it was very similar to the stories I had heard from my grandmother as a child. The movie included a haunted house, a spirit pulling a girl by the hair, whispers in the dark, possession of a spirit, and so on.
The film was very reminiscent of Bangladeshi folklore. And to add fuel to the fire, the line "based on a true story" during the opening credits helped quite a bit. After watching the movie, a friend – who I shall not name – told me, "The only reason they had such a hard time dealing with the demon was because it was really a Jinn, and they were not Muslims." I almost died laughing, but I think the statement goes to show how similar it truly was with Bangladeshi folklore.
Nuhash has been testing the waters with the horror genre as of late. His horror short film 'Moshari' – which has not been released locally at the time of writing this review – has received a lot of praise from an international audience. While 'Moshari' was the talk of the town at international film festivals, 'Pett Kata Shaw' was announced to be released on the OTT platform Chorki in Bangladesh. It was our first taste of what he had to offer.
However, going into the series, it is imperative for one to separate the hype from the actual show itself and the son from the father. Expectations need to be kept in check. 'Pett Kata Shaw' gets a lot of things right, but it was not flawless by any means. In fact, the first episode 'Ei Building ey Meye Nishedh' was enough of a let down that I almost wrote it off.
However, being the horror addict that I am, I did end up going back to it eventually.
The first episode left very little for the imagination. There was a dump of exposition from the start, and while the costume design for Shirin Akhter Shela's witch was phenomenal, there was just too much of her. She was on display throughout and it was just desensitising. The runtime also didn't help, the short had very little to say and it dragged on for about half an hour.
Perhaps the episode would have benefited if it took the approach of 'Lights Out' (the short film), a 10-minute runtime and scary reveal at the very end.
The series, however, picks up from the second and third episodes. The second episode 'Mishti Kichu' told the story of a Jinn, and 'Lokey Boley' (third episode) dealt with superstitions. These shorts were a testament to the fact that Nuhash is a great storyteller. His characters were multifaceted and deep. The episodes had good stories to tell, and the direction and settings were mesmerising while inducing a sense of dread throughout.
The music and score did a decent job the majority of the time to reel in its viewers, the acting was spot on from a very talented cast, and the use of practical effects was a brilliant addition to the quality of production.
However, I felt some major reveals were almost spoon fed to the audience, which it could do without.
Without spoiling anything, an example would be the identity of the Jinn. I don't think he needed to be named, the explanation of why he had a limp was enough for anyone to figure out who it was.
The fourth episode, 'Nishir Daak', however, knocked it out of the park. The story was layered and had enough ambiguity that left room for speculation. It had just the right amount of unsettling imagery, and the special effects – though used very conservatively – looked spectacular. In short, it was scary and interesting.
Most people are not scraping the bottom of the barrel for more scary content, or to discover hidden gems. In my experience, scary films lean more towards a miss than a hit, what scares you is very subjective and it varies from person to person. It really doesn't help that scary movies and series have become an incoherent mashup of weak story telling with uninteresting characters and jump scares.
In the end, 'Pett Kata Shaw' made me wish there were more than just four episodes in the anthology. I particularly enjoyed Nuhash's bold storytelling, he did not shy away from complex topics of religion, gender identity, mental health or suicide. He also steered clear from common genre tropes – particularly jump scares and overreliance on CG.
From the second episode, the series matures at an incredible pace and it left me, as a viewer, wanting for more. I hope Nuhash comes back for a second season, and inspires other filmmakers in the country to experiment with the genre.