Dybbuk review: The community spirit

Set in Jewish mythology and lore, Dybbuk proves that whatever be the religious context, horror in films is essentially the same, spanning between a restless soul and its exorcism

Still from the film
Still from the film

Namrata Joshi

Jay K’s Dybbuk, based on his own Malayalam film Ezra, has all the familiar elements of a horror film right down to a couple choosing to live in a palatial bungalow in the middle of nowhere, one that has haunted written all over it. You can foresee almost everything—what a sinister box holds and can unleash, the eerie that mirrors are prone to reflecting, the showers that are habituated to being sheltering grounds for spirits, the divine objects threatening the evil and the certainty that a priest, whichever religion she/he may belong to, will always sense the spooky in the seemingly normal.

The difference here, for a Hindi film, is locating horror in Jewish mythology and lore. I haven’t seen Ezra but can only presume that this vital bit may have had some solid context and grounding with reference to the Malabar Jews. In Dybbuk it is all about relocating the action to Mauritius. Sam Isaac (Emraan Hashmi) moves from Bombay to the island nation with his wife Mahi (Nikita Dutta) to work for a company that is into nuclear waste disposal. Meanwhile, Moshe Ben Asher, the last Jew of the community—that had moved to Mauritius at the time of World War II—has died leaving behind a house and an assortment of antiques, one of which, a box, gets picked up from the store by Mahi and all hell is let loose.

There is the contemporary backdrop to the fear: that of the dangers of nuclear waste disposal, the possibility of leakage and contamination and what it might mean to the world at large. However, the film doesn’t dwell on it at great length, uses it as a mere plot device. Afterall, why should horror be intellectualized? There are some mild lobs of fear and a twist in the finale pivoting on the point of view with which the story and the scenes are presented earlier by the filmmaker and what the truth involves. Change the perspective and voila.

Ultimately, Dybbuk proves that whatever be the religion, horror is essentially the same, spanning somewhere between a restless spirit and its exorcism. Odd bits about it caught my eye. Characters representing a sprinkling of religions—Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus. The inter-religious romance—Hindu and Christian, Christian and Jew. A Hindi film set in Mauritius about Jew mythology releasing nearabout Halloween. Coincidence?

No animal may have been harmed in the making of the film, but I am feeling very bad for a dog. And still laughing at the usage of the term “interim host”. Saying more on that would be a spoiler and injurious to your enjoyment of the film.

Dybbuk is playing on Amazon Prime Video

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