Ezra – A Malayalam Horror movie about a Jewish dybbuk that I found hilarious

ezraA new Prithviraj movie is worth a 40 minute drive, and his latest is Ezra which finally came to a few US theaters this weekend (it released in Kerala on Feb. 10).  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood and I met to see a matinee, and the movie was playing at a theater that doesn’t usually play Malayalam movies, so there was a sparse crowd.

I didn’t see the 2012 horror film The Possession, but remembered the trailer with the family finding an antique box that turns out to house a dybbuk, an almost demon like spirit that possesses the body of a living person (from Jewish folk lore).  The Yiddish word that dybbuk is derived from is “cling”.  There was even a handy featurette for the The Possession movie explaining dybbuks:

 

The Malayalam film Ezra, directed by Jay K, is not a direct copy of The Possession but it is obviously inspired by it.  The Possession film, in turn, is inspired by The Exorcist, as the possessed person is a young girl.

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In Ezra, the possessed person is Prithviraj’s young wife, played by Priya Anand, who buys the dybbuk box while shopping for their new house in Kerala.  The couple have moved to Kerala from Mumbai for Prithviraj’s job with a nuclear facility.  Priya has a strained relationship with her parents because she married a Christian.  The box has ended up in the antique shop, because the last Jewish person has died in Cochin.  One of the most ancient Jewish diaspora communities in the world used to be in Kerala, but as this article says, the numbers are down to the double digits.  That last Jew dying releases the curse put on the dybbuk in the box.

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I don’t generally seek out horror films.  They’re not my thing, but it’s Prithviraj.  Horror movies don’t need to have a big budget to be scary.  This one relies on the usual dark haunted house kind of jumps and scares.  It’s just not tight enough of a movie.  There’s a lot of excess time spent establishing that Prithviraj and Priya are a loving couple (song montage!), and then a lengthy back story on how the dybbuk got in the box.  Jay K has used a lovers prevented from marriage story which is similar to the one in The Dybbuk Russian/Yiddish play from early in the 20th century, but he makes it interfaith, to mirror our modern couple.

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Yes, that’s a real hamsa Jewish amulet still used to ward off the evil eye.

I have several issues with Ezra.  I did jump a few times, but it wasn’t scary enough for me, and the narrative should have been tightened up.  Horror films shouldn’t be two and a half hours long.

But the biggest thing is that the movie made me laugh, which I don’t think was the intention.  I didn’t grow up Jewish, but my husband is, and I’m on the board of our synagogue.  The way the rabbis and the Jewish people in this movie dressed made me giggle hysterically.

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For someone who only knows Jews from Seinfeld and Woody Allen movies, I guess dressing up rabbis in Catholic bishop vestments seemed perfectly logical.  How else are Mayalalis to know that the rabbis characters are clergy if they don’t have white priest collars?   And the tallit (the prayer shawls) are worn in the movie like sari scarves wrapped this way and that.

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For the record, rabbis in the US generally just wear suits and the small yarmulke skullcap, but Hassidic rabbis, who practice Kabbalah (mystic Jewish faith) would look like the below, and I actually found a Chabbad rabbi in Kerala.  Jay K, Google is a wonderful tool.

The exorcism scene made me laugh the hardest, because they had to drag in 10 random Jewish tourists to complete the ritual (yes, many Jewish prayers need a minyan of 10 Jewish men, so that’s real).  It was the random tourist thing with their weirdly draped prayer tallit that made me guffaw.  That, and the HUGE shofar horn the rabbi had to blow.

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Prithviraj, I love you, but your red eyes were much scarier in Stop Violence.

I have another bone to pick.  The flashback for the dybbuk’s story goes back to 1941, and Ezra’s father actually says that the Jews want to take over the world.  Argh.  Let’s think a moment just what was happening to the Jews in 1941.  Again, smh.  That deserves a double Seth.

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There were some Jewish touches they got right, like an older rabbi gives a priestly blessing over some kids, a hand gesture familiar to Star Trek fans, because Leonard Nimoy used the Cohen hand position for Spock:

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I could see how The Possession would have been creepier just because a child was the one possessed.  I wouldn’t urge you to race out to the theater to catch Ezra.  It’s not Prithviraj’s best, and it’s not the greatest horror film.  It’s an okay timepass once it comes on streaming services.

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8 thoughts on “Ezra – A Malayalam Horror movie about a Jewish dybbuk that I found hilarious

  1. Aa February 27, 2017 / 4:28 am

    Thanks for this review 🙂

    It’s as authentic as it gets, and predictably the movie falters!!! I thought you might want to kill us after watching this… Hilarious is okay, I guess.

    And how was the Hebrew? Or was it Aramaic?

    The movie was supposed to give an insight into the Jewish life in Kochi and that was how it was promoted. But instead we got the same old wine! The people in Kerala have accepted it, and they know nothing about Jewish rituals…

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    • moviemavengal February 27, 2017 / 5:37 pm

      AA, I don’t speak Hebrew myself, but I didn’t recognize the prayers in the movie. For instance at the funeral in the beginning I didn’t hear the Kaddish,, or the prayer of mourning which I hear at every service at our synagogue. I don’t understand the Hebrew words but I’m like a Catholic who recognizes the cadence of a Latin mass. I I did note that at least the rabbis in the film were reading from the books from right to left, from what to English readers would seem to be the back of the book to the front. And some of the pictures they showed, like during the credit sequence ARE diagrams from Kabbalah, and are in our regular prayer book at our synagogue.

      It was a mishmash. Really interesting that it was promoted as giving insight into Jewish life in Kerala. I suppose in one sense the flashback of the Jewish trader Ezra probably was accurate in that role and that his father was a Zionist. From what I understand, many of the Jewish community in Kerala emigrated to the new state of Israel after WWII.

      I suppose I give them brownie points for even having Jews in an Indian movie. That Jews want to rule the world line was just so jarring though. Would have been more sympathetic to the filmmakers intentions if that was not in the script.

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    • moviemavengal March 1, 2017 / 2:18 am

      Thanks for that article link! Really interesting about the copper plates from the king.

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    • moviemavengal March 3, 2017 / 5:49 am

      Thanks so much for posting this! Super interested in that multi-starrer movie he’s talking about with people from the other industries.

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      • Mohzin March 3, 2017 / 6:03 pm

        This is the two post which Prithviraj Posted on his Facebook page which he menioned in the interview on the Sexual assualt that happened to his co star Bhavana ( Heroine in ivide and also starring in Prithviraj’s current project which is in shoot)

        Post 1

        Woke up today morning to the horrifying news that has by now been reported, misreported and sensationalized. As disturbing as it was, I refrained from saying something on what happened to one of the most beautiful girls I know because I knew whatever I or any one among our fraternity say, will only be fodder to click baits and TRP mongering. By now, all that can be said about the security of women in our “matriarchal/matrilineal” God’s own country has already been said. And yes..as a man who has to share the responsibility of a society that bears this shame, I hang my head! But please..the most we can collectively do at this moment..is to respect the guts of this girl. I was supposed to start work with her in a week, and she told me that she’d like not to come back in front of the camera so soon..and so is pulling out of the film. I know this girl..I know how brave she is…if it’s affected her enough to make her stay away from what she loves the most..I can only imagine how harrowing it must have been. Yes..please let us have an effective investigation in place and please let’s bring the bastards to justice asap..but please..let us also not allow anyone..ANYONE..to celebrate someone else’s misfortune. WITH YOU MY FRIEND…will look forward to hanging with you as soon as you’re up to it..and yeah..be who you are..and don’t let today dictate the rest of your life. Love always..Prithvi!

        Post 2 ( 4-5 days after the incident)

        COURAGE
        ———–
        Some of the most poignant moments in my life have been punctuated with moments of incredible courage. Courage from what I have now fully realised are God’s most benevolent yet intricate creations. WOMEN!
        From a mother picking up pieces of a suddenly derailed life, to bring up two young boys to be the men they are today..to a wife who at the fag end of a 40 hour labour, just as she was being cut open without an anaesthetic, holding my hand and telling me “It’s alright Prithvi”..I have repeatedly been dumbfounded in realising how much of a lesser being I am in the company of the women in my life.
        And today..as my dear friend walks in to the sets to kick start the shooting of her new film “ADAM”, I once again bear witness to an extraordinary moment of courage from an extraordinary woman in my life! Today..she makes a statement..a statement that will echo through time, space and gender..that no one or no incident has control over your life but YOU! A statement that will now be part of counselling sessions and pep talks around the world. A statement that you my friend..are making in a million unheard voices!
        And to those voices I apologise..for at an age and time when I wasn’t wise enough..I have been part of films that celebrated misogyny..I have mouthed lines that vilified regard for your self respect and I have taken a bow to the claps that ensued. NEVER AGAIN..never again will I let disrespect for women be celebrated in my movies! Yes..I’m an actor and this is my craft! I will whole heartedly trudge the grey and black with characters that possess unhinged moral compasses…but I will never let these men be glorified or their actions justified on screen.
        Once again..ladies and gentlemen..stand up and applaud for her! Behind the gutsy spunk, there is a vulnerable celebrity who knew well enough what this decision of hers would mean to a life under constant scrutiny. But she also knew..that she had to see it through…for that would set an example..light a torch that will show a path for many to follow!Today she makes a statement..
        A statement of extraordinary courage!
        Fanboy for life…dear friend..fanboy for life!
        Love always,
        Prithvi.

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