As a companion piece to its predecessor, Ragini MMS 2 is fascinating. As a stand-alone movie, it suffers an identity crisis. Following the original film’s found footage premise, this sequel follows a production that is making a fictionalized version of the original, “real” movie. The original is serious and straight-forward, but the sequel mixes comedy, horror, romance, and sex. Following a movie or play’s production is a time-honored plot but the complete tonal shift can be difficult to overcome.
The sequel takes full advantage of its star, Sunny Leone. Leone got her start as an adult actress and model, but has made the switch to mainstream film. In fact, she is playing herself in this film. Still, Ragini MMS 2 features partial nudity, sex scenes, and lesbian kisses, and is more sexually graphic than typical Bollywood horror movies. However, Leone is depicted as intelligent, and has the agency to say no to various advances. She is more fully fleshed out than many heroines.
Sleazy director, Rocks (Parvin Dabas): Is it hot or is it just you?
Leone: Global warming.
The movie also comments on this hierarchy. Many of the in-universe actors are television actors, who are seen as being “lesser” than film actors. And of course, adult film is seen as less than that. The in-universe scriptwriter thinks movies are beneath him; he writes novels. These layers are laid out very clearly in an early seen (as is the idea that these distinctions are rather silly):
Leone, on meeting the scriptwriter: I read your last novel!
Scriptwriter, Satya (Saahil Prem): You can read books?
In the world of the sequel, Ragini MMS was an actual movie, Ragini is a real person, as are her experiences. While the original concluded by saying Ragini got medical and psychiatric help, here she is still in a mental hospital. The first film’s ghost possessed Ragini and passes to Leone when Leone visits Ragini for research. The film is being shot at the “real” house where the events of the first movie took place. Ragini and Uday’s possessions are still there. (Also, the house is completely different, but I imagine most people don’t watch these movies back-to-back like I did.)
Besides filming in the house, the cast and crew also stay in the house. This is a good thing for a horror movie, as that means there are more characters to kill, as well as more opportunities for sexual situations. Thanks to the ghost, we get to see many of the male characters’ fantasies, though none of the women’s.
As the bodies pile up, Dr. Meera Dutta (Divya Dutta) comes to the rescue. She is treating Ragini for multiple personality disorder. While watching a video of Ragini at home, Dutta’s housekeeper realizes that Ragini is possessed by a witch. By reversing the video, Dutta can hear the witch’s words, and luckily the housekeeper can translate from Marathi. The witch explains, “I liked my daughters but I love my son.” We eventually learned that when she was alive, the ghost killed her daughters in order to save her son’s life.
Once Dutta realizes what has happened, she rushes to the house. By now, nearly everyone is dead. She reads out religious chants to exorcise the ghost. When that doesn’t work, she realizes the ghost is in a toy rattle; destroying the rattle destroys the ghost. Dutta is a scientist, yet it is religion that saves the day. She is a well-educated professional, but it is her housekeeper who realizes just what is happening.
I disliked the movie when I watched it, but in rereading my notes and writing this review, I have to change my mind. This movie isn’t the perfect feminist film, but it does feature a lot of women in interesting, complex roles. By working together, the women are able to defeat the ghost. It is made clear to the audience that the men are acting gross and sleazy, and that Leone is right to turn down their advances. However, almost all of the women are sexualized, Leone in particular. In typical horror movie form, the characters engaging in sex and other vices are killed. Though the deaths are less about vice and more about the ghost just wanting to kill everyone.
A movie isn’t feminist just because it has a lot of women in it, but a movie isn’t un-feminist just because of sexual situations. Through all the sleaze, the movie asks us to question hierarchies, and that is a particularly feminist message.