Film Review: Raaz 3

An aging movie star will stop at nothing—including sex with a maggoty demon—to ruin the up-and-coming starlet who threatens her career in this 3D Bollywood horror picture.

Shanaya Shekhar (Bipasha Basu) is a star, from the roots of her perfectly coiffed hair to her perfectly painted toenails. Even her handsome boyfriend, director Aditya Arora (Emraan Hashmi) ranks a distant second to her fabulous career: After three years together, no one even knows they're dating because Shanaya won't risk tarnishing her brand.

But the movie business thrives on fresh new faces like pretty Sanjana Krishna (Esha Gupta), who's already snatched the coveted Golden Screen Awards best actress trophy from Shanaya once, driving the older actress to gurus, shrines and prayers to Ganesh, the elephant-headed god widely associated with both the arts and the removal of obstacles to happiness. When the benevolent Ganesh fails to come through for Shanaya—who not only loses to Sanjana a second time but, assured by her spiritual advisers that the award is hers, suffers the public humiliation of standing up to accept it before the winner's name is called – she embraces the darkness. Literally.

Directed to the deceptively ordinary-looking Taradutt (Manish Chaudhary), an ancient spirit suspended between the physical and material worlds, Shanaya strikes a Mephistophelian deal in a dank, Mumbai-slum alley for a bottle of cursed water. The more of it Sanjana drinks, the further her life will unravel. Of course, it can't just be slipped into the starlet's coffee by some servant or gofer: Shanaya will have to find a person of some significance and standing to act on her behalf. Someone like, say, Aditya…how fortuitous that Sanjana is the star of his next movie.

The fundamentally decent but besotted Aditya allows himself to be suckered into doing Shanaya's dirty work. The trouble is, the better he gets to know Sanjana, the more he likes her. She's intelligent and educated, sensible (making movies is what she does, she says, not who she is), reliable and, above all, remarkably nice. She has some daddy issues—their relationship was affectionate but distant in some way she doesn't explain—but overall Sanjana is the anti-Shanaya and it isn't long before Aditya begins falling in love with her.

But before he reclaims his manhood and stands up to the increasingly witchy Shanaya, poor Sanjana endures supernatural torments that include poltergeist-like messages from her static TV, a creepy clown (à la Stephen King's “It”), and a swarm of giant cockroaches that drive her to flee nude into the middle of a swanky Bollywood party. Not to mention the Euro-horror transformation of her sweet, devoted maid into a cackling, white-eyed zombie.

Like Japan's Ringu series and the Korean Ju-On films, the Raaz movies ("raaz" means "mystery" or "secret" in Hindi) are variations on a theme rather than a linear narrative carried through multiple features; they're connected not by continuing characters (some cast members appear in more than one installment playing different roles) but by the idea of modern-day, urban professionals terrorized by forces regarded as old wives' tales. Though relatively tame by Western standards (the inexplicable MPAA “R” rating notwithstanding), Raaz 3 delivers some effective gore (including the grisly fate of Sanjana's maid and a ripped-off head) as well as lots of steamy make-out scenes. And I've never heard a mainstream Bollywood actress, even one who's courted controversy as consistently as former model Bipasha Basu, deliver a line as frank as, "You're fucking her, aren't you?" (both spoken and subtitled in English; curiously, the subtitles read "You're falling for her, aren't you?").

Though shot in 3D, Raaz 3 was also released flat in U.S. theaters.