The new South Asian American film “Evil Eye” uses a central theme of reincarnation and a mother-daughter duo to address toxic relationships and intergenerational trauma.
Produced by Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Jason Blum, it is the first commercial horror film made by South Asians with and with South Asians.
In the film, the protagonist Usha Khatri lives with her husband in New Delhi, while their daughter Pallavi lives in New Orleans. Her excruciating past experience leads to an almost obsessive relationship with marrying Pallavi and protecting her from a perceived curse.
She has a number of evil eye jewelry – protective talismans used in various cultures – around her home and gives Pallavi a similar bracelet.
“Evil Eye” borrows parts of Indian mythology such as rebirth and karma as Usha’s spirals of fear when she thinks Pallavi’s new friend Sandeep is a reincarnation of her former abusive partner.
Although the film is labeled as horror, critics point out that it contains elements of a thriller thematically, as the narrative contains real-world dangers such as psychological manipulation and the long-lasting effects of abuse.
The film, which was released on Amazon Prime on Tuesday, stars Sarita Choudhury, Sunita Mani, Omar Maskati and Bernard White.
It is part of the anthology series “Welcome to the Blumhouse” on Amazon, in which various actors and filmmakers are presented. Blumhouse Productions also co-produced Netflix India originals such as the zombie thriller “Betaal” and the dystopian supernatural drama “Ghoul”.
Evil Eye writer Madhuri Shekar told NBC Asian America this was her first attempt at the genre, and she looked forward to adding an extra layer of culture to the audience.
“I didn’t want to make that conscious, but the first time I saw the film, the shivers down my spine as I looked at the South Asian woman from everything. It’s so personal to me, ”she said.
It helps that the film was made by brown people not only in front of but also behind the camera. The 90-minute film is made by the brothers Rajeev and Elan Dassani, who helped create Netflix’s Arabic science fiction drama “Jinn”.
“It’s not really easy to find that support, but it was important to have producers and creatives on board who understand the nuances,” said Shekar, who based the story on her award-winning 2019 Audible piece of the same name.
South Asian representation in Hollywood thrillers and horror films is rare.
British films like “Black Lake” and “Darkness Visible” deal with South Asian thrillers, but in the US few recognizable names have shaped the genre in general, including M. Night Shyamalan and Aneesh Chaganty, who directed John Cho in 2018 “ Searching “.
Rajeev Dassani said that a film like “Evil Eye” serves as a tool to help across cultures. “The story has specific and authentic themes, but it is also very accessible to people around the world who can enjoy and understand it. There’s just one hunger for unique stories from cultures we’ve never seen before. “
The effects of karma and reincarnation have been studied in several Indian blockbusters over the years, including “Karz” in 1980, “Karan Arjun” in 1995, and “Om Shanti Om” in 2007.
Evil Eye gives the theme a twist by portraying cultural viewpoints and family dynamics between second generation Indian immigrants and their parents.
Usha can’t help but get involved in Pallavi’s love life as they try to bridge the distance between them by talking on the phone every day.
The family and social pressures of marriage on an Indian woman is a stereotype that Shekar approaches through the lens of a generational trauma that is unconsciously passed on from Usha to Pallavi.
“Horror only really works for me if there is a deep emotional part,” she said. “As a young mother, the worst thing in the world for me is to lose my family. What if you can’t control when something bad happens to a loved one? I wanted to show that. “
In doing so, the film continues the recent trend of films using horror and thriller as a means of social commentary.
Over the past three years, successful commercial outings such as Get Out, Parasite and The Invisible Man have made full use of their genre, basing it on a story about current affairs, whether racism, social inequality or abuse.
Under its predictable outline, “Evil Eye” is an attempt to do something similar.
“It’s always great to use pieces of our own heritage and mythologies in a way they have never done before, as a metaphor to comment on how things like toxic masculinity and gas lighting work,” said Elan Dassani.
Rajeev Dassani added that the key to a gateway is to speak to something that the audience may not even realize is hitting them. “We’d love to see more South Asian films that address cultural fears and hope that ‘Evil Eye’ will open those doors.”
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