Trying to understand a movie like Ragini MMS 2 (RMMS2, henceforth) is a futile exercise. It’s not that the movie is especially complex. It simply has some of the worst English subtitles I’ve ever seen in a Hindi movie.
The plot is so full of self-references that I’m getting a headache just trying to summarize it. The “found footage” from the original Ragini MMS inspires a director named Rocks (Parvin Dabas) to film a fictional reenactment at the haunted house where the allegedly real events took place. Basically, RMMS2 is a (real) movie that tells the story of the making of a (fictional) movie that is a rehashing of some (fictional) found footage that was the basis for another (real) movie.
Rocks explains that he elected not to cast any stars in his movie in order to allow the audience to become absorbed in the story. In reality, it’s RMMS2 director Bhushan Patel’s meta way of explaining to theaudience why they just paid for tickets to a movie with few known actors.
The film reaches its self-referential apex when Rocks introduces his lead actress: Sunny Leone (Sunny Leone). Like the real-life actress, Sunny the character is also a former porn star, something we’re never allowed to forget as she strips, licks, and fakes orgasms through the rest of the film.
The film crew arrives at the house and ignores all the signs of its haunting. The only one who doesn’t is the movie’s writer, Satya (Saahil Prem), who apparently insisted on filming at this location, though it’s never explained why.
While the film crew unknowingly prepares to die in gruesome ways, psychologist Dr. Dutta (Divya Dutta) tries to figure out what caused Ragini (Kainaz Motivala) from the found footage to lose her marbles. Ragini tells Sunny — who meets the young lady at an insane asylum while researching her film role — that she’s been possessed by a witch. Dr. Dutta, woman of science, concurs.
This is particularly funny because the movie opens with a disclaimer that it is not trying to promote superstition. It then proceeds to use science as a tool to validate superstition. The Archeological Society of India posts a sign near the haunted house warning people to stay away after sunset. Dr. Dutta — who must be good since she’s from New York — performs an exorcism. Try that in New York, and they take away your license.
These mixed messages about superstition are still clearer than any information conveyed by the English subtitles. There are large stretches of the film in which the subtitles disappear entirely. That includes all voice-overs, such as Dr. Dutta’s vital explanation of the witch’s origins. And, for some reason, one of the nurses at Ragini’s insane asylum is never subtitled.
The English subtitles for spoken English dialogue are terrible. When Dr. Dutta says, “Built in 1920,” the subtitles read, “Built in 1930.” Sunny says, “Global warming,” and the subtitles read, “Not yet.” The name of the character Gina (Anita Hassanandani) — who sports a visible tattoo of her own name written in English — is always written as “Tina.”
Lest you think this is a problem just for non-Hindi speakers, the witch’s Marathi dialogue isn’t subtitled either.
Sunny Leone is actually pretty good in the film. She’s obviously sexy, especially in an effective dream sequence number near the movie’s midway point. She’s intense and scary during a scene in which the witch takes control of her body.
The scene itself is somewhat subversive, playing with the anxieties someone like Leone provokes in a culture in which on-screen kissing only recently lost its taboo. Her possessed character howls “Fuck me!” at Satya, turning what would normally be an enticing offer into something grotesque and terrifying.
But I’m wary of giving RMMS2 more credit than it deserves. Why does Sunny become aggressively sexual when possessed by the spirit of a grieving mother? And, if the spirit is just looking for absolution, why the need for an exorcism?
The answer to both question is, “Because this is what happens in horror movies.” Conventions are used because they are conventions, not because they serve any narrative purpose. The truth is, Ragini MMS 2 hopes that you’ll be too distracted by Leone’s cleavage to notice the gaps of logic and poorly-matched subtitles.