DIRECTOR ASHVIN KUMAR’S The Forest has lain languishing for a want of distributors since it was completed in 2007. Perhaps the scariest fact driven home by this frightening, tautly-paced film about a man-eating leopard on the prowl, is that movies with a message are marketing nightmares.
The trailer doesn’t help, lulling viewers into believing this is a harmless rickety ride in the forest. Fieen minutes into the movie, fear is on the prowl. The leopard, undoubtedly the protagonist, can pounce onto the screen any moment, and its presence looms threateningly.
Ashvin Kumar chose his cast and crew with care. He shot the wildlife scenes with the Green Oscarwinning Bedi brothers, with the help of animal trainer Thierry Le Portier ( Gladiator). Knowing the complexity of the jungle-thriller genre, Kumar stuck with the basic premise — irresponsible tourists entering a forest with a man-eating leopard. As the leopard plots its way to human flesh, the humans get deeply enmeshed in their own drama of the flesh. Radha’s (Nandana Sen), ex-lover Abhishek (Jaaved Jaffery), and her husband Pritam (Ankur Vikal) are vying for her attention. The characters and their story are complex and nuanced. Says Kumar, “When Jaaved and Nandana meet for the first time, you can sense a history. But you don’t have to say what that history is right away. Spelling out every detail is like looking down at the audience condescendingly.”
Kumar uses people to progress his animal agenda. The subtle irony of an urban couple heading to a lush jungle to combat their own infertility, or the conflicts over natural habitat embodied by the men’s lust for a woman are not lost on the audience. Occasionally, the layered meanings declare themselves on the surface. The animalistic sex between Radha and Abhishek accentuates the wilderness of the movie, till she calls him an animal and spoils the viewer’s satisfaction in unspooling the meaning.
The introduction of a mysterious tribal woman is a cheap trick that adds suspense but does not move the story. An agonisingly long scene of the leopard trying to break into a house is also overkill, with the animal seeming human-like in its manipulation. “Once an animal becomes a maneater, it changes the way it behaves. Remember the leopard that killed 450 people in seven years before it was caught?” argues Kumar. But he sacrifices viewer interest to prove this point.
Shot in a span of just 35 days , there is much to redeem this thriller of the jungle, with its tangles of a love triangle. But is it an ecological thriller? The message does not sink in as the movie proceeds. Yet, the credit roll with pictures of trapped animals flashed on the screen hit the message like a bullet, driving the cruel consequences of habitat encroachment on the animals and on us in a quick, clean strike.
• Animal attack The characters journey into the jungle