Seven students are driving back from a trip to Goa, and most of them are teasing one of the others. He may be muttering threats carrying a knife to slice up his apple, but nobody is intimidated and he is the butt of every joke, despite the efforts of Shruti (Sameera Reddy) to tell them to calm down. Suddenly, a car tyre bursts and they have to stop on the road in the middle of the jungle. There's no one else about, and when the students discover that the jack is missing they realise they are stuck there all night until a helpful someone passes by. Six of them then decide to look for shelter rather than stay huddled in the car, leaving the vicitmised one alone and in the huff. They stumble across an apparently abandoned house and settle in for the night, building a small fire and telling ghost stories - but there's something scarier than a ghost out there in the dark...
Darna Mana Hai was scripted by Atul Sabharwal, Rajnish Thakur and Abbas Tyrewala and is unusual in Bollywood films for not including any musical numbers. Sure, there's a song over the opening credits that may fool you into thinking you're getting a James Bond instalment (which also has the novelty of having someone going "AAAARGH!" during the introduction), but musically that's your lot. The narrative plays like a cross between one of the British Amicus anthology horrors of the nineteen sixties and seventies and an American slasher of the eighties, or more probably, Scream. Every so often one of the students (the females are far more attractive than the males, for some reason) will wander off into the night, looking to see what's happened to one of the others for instance, and not come back. Regardless of this, the others continue to spin their yarns.
There are six of the short stories, probably more than you really need and they are of a somewhat flimsy quality, but value for money has always been a concern for Indian films. First up is the clichéd tale of a young couple driving back home through the night and the husband trying to scare his wife only for the car to break down and something out there to give them both a fright; it's not a great story but it sets the tone adequately. Next, a fashion photographer checks into an isolated hotel and is dismayed by the owner's stern attitude to smoking; this is superbly played for sinister humour, but painfully needs a better twist. Thirdly, a choppily edited segment where a teacher who always has to punish a little girl for not doing her homework is disturbed when she starts completing it with uncharacteristic skill; it has a strong enigma - why is the teacher so worried? - but again a middling resolution.
That's not all. For the fourth story, a seriously wacky chiller is on offer about a young housewife who fancies buying apples for her husband and gets some cheap from a strange stall holder who tells her she won't forget him. Cue much paranoia about the fruit, and a particularly weird ending that cannot fail to amuse. Penultimately, an equally crazy variation on the vanishing hitchhiker urban myth which ends being simply silly (where did the car come from, for a start?). And lastly, something reminscent of a celebrated Twilight Zone episode with a suicidal student unable to win the heart of the woman of his dreams granted the power to stop people in time simply by calling "Stop!"; this one has a good twist, and is a fine one to end on. After that, we return to our main story and a drawn out finale. Oddly, there's a lack of overt moral lessons from the tales other than to take the supernatural seriously, as the film simply presents its terrors as novelties. Still, Darna Mana Hai is diverting up to a point, but too lightweight to really make an impact. Music by Salim Merchant and Suleman Merchant.