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|February 26, 1999||
After Satya, Ramgopal Varma returns to his first love -- the thriller. Kaun bears an uncanny resemblance to a horror film -- for some time at least.
Kaun has six principal elements, Urmila Matondkar, Manoj Bajpai, Sushant Kumar, the house, the rain and Sandeep Chouta's background score.
The story starts and ends in one stormy night. After her parents go out, the nameless character that Urmila plays is home alone, and the solitude apparently gives her the creeps. As she fiddles around trying to keep her mind occupied she hears news of a killer on the loose, one who murders women alone in their houses. Heartening stuff, really,
Bajpai -- whose character is also nameless -- knocks on her door, apparently having got the wrong address. After some time he knocks again, seeking to use her phone. Urmila refuses. Sometime later he knocks again, seeking to come inside since he's dripping wet and it's very cold outside. Urmila asks the persistent young man to find solace in his car.
But he comes back yet again because he's locked his keys in his car. Though the prudent heroine won't let him in, she lets him have a cheese sandwich; thereafter he hangs around outside, watching the television within.
At this juncture Sushant Kumar makes his appearance, claiming he is a police inspector. After a while, the identities of both Manoj and Sushant become suspect.
Urmila infuses her character with just the right amount of paranoia. Bajpai plays a totally different role, where he is irritating, likeable and scary, changing from scene to scene. He plays a person who never loses his cool and he clearly enjoys the part, particularly the bits where he is trying to pacify Urmila and when he is sparring with Sushant.
Sushant was first seen in Satya as the local hoarder whose face is slashed by Satya. In Kaun he doesn't have much of a role, though he gives his best to what little he has, making it believable.
The many elements within the house are used to good effect -- the fish tank, the bedroom, the hall, the phone, the eerie attic... The director uses a lot of the standard props -- like statues, paintings, the rain -- to keep the tension high.
The film may have drawn some inspiration from Wait Until Dark and Yash Chopra's Ittefaq, but it has nothing in common with their stories or characters.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when Manoj and Sushant try to make coffee. That has a touch of Tarantino. The same feeling popped up in some scenes in Satya. Writer Anurag Kashyab fleshes out the story properly though the dialogues could have done with some more tweaking.
One scene in particular, in which Bajpai cracks an old, old joke, is the first glimmer of lightness in the film. But the very staleness causes the effect to subside well before the next scene comes on. And that's effective.
The film starts with a big scare that leaves you feeling silly and, slowly, as the momentum picks up, it draws you in. You prepare for the worst, and end up jumping at shadows. Though the climax is a little long-drawn and leaves you with some unanswered questions, it delivers the required punch.
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