Saturday 28 October 2023

Raindance 2023: Pett Kata Shaw

This terrific horror anthology sees Bangladeshi filmmaker Nuhash Humayun successfully splice the ancient and the modern, with the results taking the form of a quartet of deliciously creepy yarns which put a contemporary spin on traditional Bengali folktales.  While Humayun has assumed authorial control over the entirety of Pett Kata Shaw, it is not his first experience of portmanteau films, given that he previously directed the first of the eleven segments that constituted 2018 drama Sincerely Yours, Dhaka, which was selected as Bangladesh's entry for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 Oscars.  Pett Kata Shaw—which began life as a Web series on Bangla streaming platform Chorki—has already enjoyed outings at both Rotterdam and Fantasia, and it continues to play international festivals with a Halloween screening at this year's Raindance Film Festival.  A ticket for Tuesday's UK premiere—which takes place at London's Genesis Cinema—includes a couple of nice extras: a Q&A session with Humayun, and a wristband for entry to Raindance's Halloween party.

Pett Kata Shaw kicks off with "Something Sweet", a story in which put-upon sweet shop owner Mahmud receives an after-hours visit from a djinn, who apparently wishes to sample some of the vendor's products.  As you might expect, the rattled, panicking Mahmud has some trouble remembering what sweets this uninvited guest ordered, yet his forgetfulness can't entirely be blamed on the presence of the spirit; it turns out that Mahmud is infamous for his poor memory, but the djinn might just have a way of solving this particular problem.  Next up is "No Girls Allowed", which sees an angler inadvertently lure a malevolent piscivorous demon back to his apartment, where she promptly murders the young man's roommate before turning her attention to the terrified host, who can't afford to take his eyes off her as he fumbles to cook the fish responsible for this nightmare visit.  In the original series, "No Girls Allowed" was transposed with "Something Sweet", but here the running order feels much more effective.

"Hearsay", the third—and quite possibly eeriest—tale on offer here, can be viewed as something of a meta-comment on the whole film.  In this instalment, a young urban couple are hiking through a remote region when they happen upon a village where countless—or maybe even all—Bengali superstitions have originated; exposition is provided by a local elderly couple, who take the time to recount various cautionary folktales.  The bickering hikers—who have strayed far from their intended path—are predictably dismissive of such talk as they wait for help and/or a phone signal, and we all know how horror films treat those who don't heed warnings.  In a neat flourish, marionettes are used to depict the myths and legends that underpin this microcosmic segment.  Pett Kata Shaw is rounded out by "Call of the Night", a sad, downbeat episode in which a man starts to connect the suicide of his ex-girlfriend with a spate of child disappearances in the seaside town of Cox's Bazar.     

While anthology films are nothing new, they generally comprise work from several different filmmakers, which in turn often leads to such projects possessing a certain unevenness.  With this in mind, Humayun's bold decision to serve as writer-director for all of Pett Kata Shaw's episodes pays off handsomely, as his film plays as a remarkably fluid and consistent affair, one that belies its piecemeal origins.  It is difficult to identify a weak link among the segments—each offers something different, although a strong streak of black humour is common to all of the stories.  There's a visual cohesiveness, too, with Tahsin Rahman's gorgeous cinematography uniting the four instalments.  Humayan's adaptation of the source material is so adroit that it's very easy to forget that these are age-old tales, all of which have been passed down orally from one generation to another; indeed, this striking, memorable film, which sees ancient spirits mingle among smartphone users, achieves something of a timeless quality. 

Darren Arnold

Images: IFFR