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Munjya Review: Watch Out For Abhay Verma!

June 07, 2024 13:17 IST
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Despite its horror movie momentum, what draws us to Aditya Sarpotdar's narrative is Bittu's homely universe and sweet struggle to confess his feelings to Bela, not Munjya's malevolent antics, notes Sukanya Verma.

Munjya opens with a reassuring line from bestselling author Neil Gaiman's deliciously dark fantasy, Coraline -- fairy tales are more than true: Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

Where Henry Selick's chilling adaptation sent shivers down the spine in Coraline's stop-motion animated avatar, Munjya discovers a mood for mischief around the haunting hush hush of folk horror and a CGI crafted demon.

Rooted in Konkan's folklore and a sinister imagery evoking the distinctly Maharashtrian soul in the Hindi body of Tumbbad and ritualistic enthusiasm of Kantara, Aditya Sarpotdar's Munjya takes off in the disturbing aggression of an adolescent Brahmin boy's obsession to marry a girl he fancies by hook, crook or black magic.

Except his schemes go horribly wrong, tying his fate to a remote peepul tree of an eerily dense forest no sane mind would dare to set foot in. What lurks about now is a pint-sized 'munjya' armed with the might of a monster and the rationale of a peevish child.

For all its menacing reputation though, it's hard to take something that looks like a barbequed version of Gollum and demonstrates killer doll Chucky's profane manners all too seriously. Sarpotdar (Zombivli, Classmates, Faster Fene) sticks to the cynicism characterising a ghoulish presence, which seeks its thrills in B-movie formulas and timeless jump scares. But it's the nervous comedy of out-of-depth characters tossed in a supernatural rumpus that draws us inside Munjya's small-scale boos and threats.


Years and distance fail to matter when a happy-go-lucky hairstylist Bittu (Abhay Verma), helping his feisty single mum (Mona Singh) run a beauty parlour in Pune along side doting grandma (Suhas Joshi), traumatically comes in contact with the cursed creature hounding his family for three generations.

Meanwhile, Bittu is smitten by Bela next door (Sharvari). Only she has friend-zoned her slightly younger neighbour to date a starry-eyed, sugary Caucasian. But when Munjya eyes Bela, it's up to Bittu, his Spielberg obsessed Sardar buddy (a droll Taran Singh) and a pseudo shaman (Sathyaraj in goofball mode) to put the genie back in the bottle.

Despite its horror movie momentum, what draws us to Sarpotdar's narrative is Bittu's homely universe and sweet struggle to confess his feelings to Bela, not Munjya's malevolent antics.

And Abhay Verma's (The Family Man Season 2, Ae Watan Mere Watan) disarming portrayal of this clueless youngster at the centre -- whether trembling at the sight of the ghostly scoundrel or adorable interactions around the women he loves make it easy to endure Munjya's cacophonous mumbo jumbo.

Mona Singh pitches in her brand of fiery, familiar gusto, of which her sexist brother-in-law is deservingly at the receiving end.

Leading lady Sharvari sticks to her brief -- beam in enthusiasm, scowl in prosthetics but the woman who has Bittu's heart and succeeds in taming Munjya's feral spirit is Suhas Joshi's benevolence personified Ajji (grandmother). The veteran illuminates the screen with her warm presence and elevates Bittu-Ajji's emotional arc into the biggest strength of a run-of-the-mill spook fest.

There are thematic attempts to accommodate Munjya into the Maddock Supernatural Universe, which include Stree, Roohi and Bhediya's recurring blend of supernatural and social issues as Munjya mildly addresses the concept of consent as well as flaunts its picture of positive masculinity in a boy raised by a family of women. Having said that, the post-credits cameos from two of the above franchises are purely gimmicky in nature.

Whether Munjya will return, I don't know. It's Abhay Verma I'll be watching out for.

Munjya Review Rediff Rating:

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