Friday, July 18, 2014


Release date:
July 18, 2014
Akshay Akkineni

Akshay Oberoi, Parvathy Omanakuttan, Dipannita Sharma, Arunoday Singh, Rajesh Sharma, Omkar Das Manikpuri, D. Santhosh, Hussain Dalal

Pizza is terrifying. There you go – you don’t have to get to the last paragraph to discover the bottomline of this review. Debutant director Akshay Akkineni’s 3D supernatural thriller Pizza – a psychological thriller if you wish to see it that way – is terrifying. 

This is a Hindi remake of the Tamil film of the same name released in 2012. The original was directed by Karthik Subbaraj, and starred Vijay Sethupathy and Remya Nambeesan in roles played here by Akshay Oberoi and Parvathy Omanakuttan. This latest version is what the retelling of a well-told story should be: the screenplay remains pretty much the same, yet there are enough changes in the treatment to improve upon the strong foundation laid by Subbaraj.

Pizza begins with Kunal (Oberoi) waking up from a nightmare. He’s one of those people who doesn’t ‘believe’ in ghosts, yet like everyone who does not, somewhere deep down inside he actually does. Is there a human being out there who can escape a fear of the unknown?

Kunal is a pizza delivery boy who lives with his wife Nikita (Omanakuttan), an aspiring writer of ghost stories. They lead a rather normal life with all the regular problems that young urban couples have. An unplanned pregnancy briefly disrupts the peace at home, since Kunal worries about how they will bring up a child on their modest income, but that quarrel too is quickly resolved. Then one day he visits the home of his boss whose wife, it turns out, is possessed by the spirit of someone called Anjali. And life is never the same again.

How that turn of events leads Kunal to a haunted bungalow is something I will leave you to discover when you watch this excellent spook story, the best to emerge from Bollywood since Ram Gopal Varma made Bhoot in 2003. In the months and years that followed the success of Bhoot, there were many that tried desperately to clone the chills. What they did instead was trot out tons of clichés ranging from ear-splitting, screechy sound effects to women with hair falling over glazed eyes, humans flying through the air, litres of blood and goo, and ominous, mantra-chanting holy men of all faiths. It was hard not to be exasperated, amused and/or disappointed by them all, including Varma’s own lifeless Bhoot Returns in 2012.

The best horror films don’t allow viewers to feel conscious of how they are being manipulated. Just a handful of Mumbai directors – Vikram Bhatt among them – have hit the nail on the head, and just occasionally at that, in this genre in the past decade. While one has to admit that the bar is not high in Bollywood, it’s not fair to judge Akkineni by that: he pole-vaults a mile above it.  

The selling point of the original Pizza was the number of twists in the tale in the second half. Its weakness was that the scares in the first half, while genuine, were too few and far between. When the hero was trapped in that haunted house, there were too many long patches of inaction between the patches of frightening action. The Hindi remake plugs that loophole so thoroughly that it makes Kunal’s time in the bungalow its USP – an extended sequence of unrelenting, heart-stopping, thankfully low-on-gore, gasp-inducing jolts that I confess had me cowering in my seat.

The second half does not manage to sustain the pace of panic, but the job has been done by then. Besides, there’s at least one very neat twist coming up; and much else to like, such as the fact that it feels like a slice of real life in terms of its settings, costumes and the manner in which relationships play out. In the interactions between Kunal and Nikita, especially their tensions over their unborn baby, it also shows that a film does not have to be preachy or “about a social issue” to deliver social commentary.

Sound design is crucial to a horror flick. This one has so much audio clarity that you can clearly distinguish between Kunal’s footsteps on a wooden floor and on a carpet in a deserted corridor. Tapas Nayak is the man behind this delightful detailing. Pizza also uses interesting graphics for its opening credits. The 3D is a worthwhile add-on. And the music, though not as splendid as Santhosh Narayanan’s background score for the Tamil film, is goosebump-inducing all the same.  

The screenplay is backed by a cast that is good even if not as solid as the stars of the Tamil film. Akshay Oberoi is effective but does not have the acting depth of Vijay Sethupathy. Arunoday Singh, who hit the nail on the head with his performances in Aisha (2010) and Yeh Saali Zindagi (2011), is the weak link here, the only one whose appearances in the scary scenes border on the farcical – unlike the others, he looks like that naughty elder brother or cousin who waits around the corner to scare kids with rolling eyes and a loud “bowww”. Omanakuttan’s so-far untapped range is evident here. And Rajesh Sharma as the superstitious pizzeria owner is sturdy as always.

If you haven’t seen the original film then I’d strongly suggest that you avoid it and its plot synopsis on the Internet until you’ve seen this one. I held off watching the Tamil Pizza until I’d seen the Hindi remake this week. No doubt my response to this film would have been different if I’d done things the other way round. No doubt too, my response to the original would have been different if I’d seen it first. Goes without saying that each of us reacts uniquely to every film we watch depending on the sum total of our life’s experiences, our tastes and where we are at that point in time. Be warned: one of my fellow critics at the press preview of Pizza was highly amused at those of us who were petrified by the proceedings on screen. Me? I was scared witless in the first half of Pizza. The second half slows down, but it still had me hooked.

Rating (out of five stars): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):

Running time:
117 minutes

Poster and trailer courtesy: UTV Spotboy

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