Notwithstanding the accolades
and success of Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, India has yet to influence
the American film landscape to the degree that America has influenced India’s.
Since the rise of home video, India, a country that already devours cinema,
has looked to the west for characters and storylines from which to borrow from
as a means of furthering its own cinematic output. The practice has lead to
a film industry rife with remakesploitation pictures that cater to regional
audiences while providing recognizable, often pop culture American flavoring.
While many Bollywood remakesploitation pictures outright mimic their Hollywood counterparts scene for scene, the majority derive their influences from a single situation or character. Films such as SARKAR and AATANK, essentially reworkings of THE GODFATHER and JAWS respectively, succeed by framing their borrowed plot points within a setting that is relatable to an Indian audience, almost all of whom have predetermined notions of what a film should offer ( i.e. a little bit of everything - comedy, action, musical numbers, etc.). Such practices make for films that while recognizable, are unto themselves wholly unique.
In addition to the sheer number of pictures produced in a given year, where India excels in remakesploitation is in its amalgamations of Hollywood fare, combining elements from a variety of films in order to shape something new altogether. Take for example 2004’s DHOOM, which incorporates elements from POINT BREAK, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and THE MATRIX RELOADED, to name just a few. Or 2005’s NAINA, a take on The Pang brothers' GIN GWAI (THE EYE), itself remade by Hollywood in 2008, which combines elements from THE SIXTH SENSE and Hideo Nakata’s DARK WATER, again remade by Hollywood, to create a distinctly Hindi horror thriller. India should also be given credit for branching out past the U.S. and across the globe in its search of material from which to borrow, resulting in films such as ZINDA, a reworking of Chan-wook Park OLDBOY and 100 DAYS, a remake of Lucio Fulci’s THE PSYCHIC. With remakes ranging from CHACHI 420, a Bollywood spin on MRS. DOUBTFIRE, to KAANTE, an interpretation of Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS, there are simply too many Bollywood remakesploitation pictures to name.
For the third entry in their Bollywood Horror collection, Mondo Macabro presents MAHAKAAL, the Ramsay brothers' take on Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Take away Freddy Krueger’s sarcastic wit and red striped sweater, but leave the crispy face and glove made of knifes. Then dress him up like Tony Todd in CANDYMAN and give him Patrick Swayze’s mullet from ROAD HOUSE and you have yourself a walking nightmare more than suitable at striking fear into the middle aged hearts of college students all over Bombay. Anita (Archana Puran Singh) and her best friend Seema are being haunted by nightmares about a strange, foreboding figure with a deadly glove of knifes. While their night terrors at first appear to be the result of overactive imaginations, both ladies awaken to find themselves physically scarred by their nocturnal encounters. As if Anita didn’t have enough to worry about, she is constantly harassed at school by Randhir, a lowlife nicknamed The Boss, who wants nothing more than a few choice moments with Anita’s tender frame. Thankfully her boyfriend Prakash is not about to let any harm come to his lady, after all, who would he duet with in the rain? Attempting to momentarily forget their troubles and put the stresses of the school week behind them, Anita, Prakash and a group of friends head out into the country to have a picnic, only to find themselves stranded upon their return. Holed up in an out of the way motel, Seema's nightmares turn deadly, setting off a chain reaction of grisly murders that somehow relate back to the death of Anita’s sister, Mohini, seven years earlier.
While it displays touches of the first four films in the franchise, MAHAKAAL is a fairly straightforward reinterpretation of the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. The film maintains several inventive kills from the series, as well as the boiler room atmosphere, complete with metal chains hanging from the ceiling for no reason other than they look cool swinging back in forth in the fog, and goes so far as to replicate segments of Charles Bernstein’s original score. While the demonic villain in MAHAKAAL can’t hold a candle to Robert Englund’s Freddy, the beast holds his own in regards to past Bollywood monsters, though is decidedly more human in comparison to his often Sasquatch-like counterparts. Not surprisingly, MAHAKAAL isn’t India's only NIGHTMARE knockoff; numerous Hindi horror outings would use choice scenes from the series to heighten both chills and kills. However it is KHOONI MURDAA, directed by Mohan Bhakri and released several years before MAHAKAAL, which makes the most in its interpretations of Krueger’s imaginative and gruesome killing streak.
Look past the obvious NIGHTMARE influence, MAHAKAAL is also characterized by several staples commonplace in most Bollywood horror pictures. The horror genre saw a short lived boom in India throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, but eventually the trend fizzled out, due mainly to the repetitiveness of the industry's output. Dramatic, colored lighting effects, borrowed from the films of Bava and Argento became commonplace, as did EVIL DEAD inspired camera work, all which can be seen in MAHAKAAL. Omar Khan, director of ZIBAHKHANA (HELL’S GROUND), puts it best, as seen in the documentary on Bollywood horror found of this release's second disc: there are only so many times you can duplicate the head spin from THE EXORCIST before it loses its impact. One aspect of MAHAKAAL that is distinctly rare, for any Bollywood picture, is the presence of a comedic foil that is actually entertaining. As the boisterous Canteen, the school's seemingly sole cafeteria worker, Johnny Lever is so ludicrously silly that it’s outright hilarious, particularly his introduction in which he mimics Michael Jackson dance moves to the tune of "Thriller." Filled with action, a handful of solid laughs and tolerable musical numbers, MAHAKAAL is a perfect film to play when entertaining a group of like minded, and properly inebriated friends.
Disc Two of Mondo Macabro’s third volume in their Bollywood Horror Collection presents a much more familiar Indian horror yarn with TAHKHANA, also known as THE DUNGEON. Attempting to strike gold twice, TAHKHANA is more or less a rehash of PURANA MANDIR, one of the Ramsay brother’s most profitable pictures. While it incorporates much of the same cast and plot points as PURANA MANDIR, TAHKHANA also displays several signs of a western influence unique unto itself, such as one manically extraordinary scene in which a telekinetic yeti wills a giant boulder down a destructive path, ala RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, towards a male protagonist dressed like Rambo!
On his death bed, Thakur Surjeet Singh bequeaths his entire wealth and estate, including the treasure hidden within the family dungeon, to his youngest son Raghuveer Singh, hence disowning his eldest, Durjan, a practitioner of the black arts. Furious over his father’s rejection, Durjan swears vengeance on his brother, kidnapping his two daughters to sacrifice and thus resurrect the demon god for which he worships. However before blood can be spilt, Raghuveer’s daughters escape from Durjan, only to be separated in the heat of the moment, with Aarti (Aarti Gupta) finding her way home and Sapna (Sheetal) lost to the wilderness. Twenty years later, Raghuveer Singh calls Aarti and her cousins, Vijay, Anand and Shakaal, to his bedside, to inform them of the treasures hidden within the dungeon of Gangapur Mansion and of his desire that they seek out Sapna and finally bring her home. Before they were separated, Aarti and Sapna where each given half of a golden locket from their father, that when combined shows the exact location of the family's secret jewels, so without Sapna, the treasure will remain a mystery forever.
Traveling back to Bombay, Shakaal, played by Imtiaz Khan, meets an attractive woman in desperate need of a job. Looking to take advantage of the innocent beauty, Shakaal has the young girl hired as a dancer for the hotel with which he helps run, but before she can get a chance to hit the stage, Shakaal forces himself into the young girl's room and on top of her curvy figure. Struggling to break free of the motley brute, whose oversized facial mole lends him to resemble a Hindi Aaron Neville, the young girl accidentally kills herself, dropping a necklace that (you guessed it) reveals herself to be Sapna. Eager to find and keep the family's long lost treasure to himself, Shakaal produces his cousins with a fake locket, hoping to distract his relatives on a wild goose chase while he and his cronies makes off with the hidden fortune. However, the group doesn’t make it far within the dungeon before being confronted by a hairy, murderous behemoth. Trapped within the dungeon years ago by his brother, Durjan sacrificed himself to the demon god as a means of resurrecting his master, now a walking corpse that wreaks havoc and destruction where ever it treads. Such a bloodthirsty monstrosity did not however plan on Heera (Hemant Birje, VEERANA), a strapping young man prone to dressing like Rambo, who befriends Aarti and her cousins and brings with him an entire village with which to fend of the evil deity.
With a running time that just barely clocks in at two hours, TAHKHANA is quite brisk, particularly for a Bollywood film. A monster movie at its heart, the film wastes little time with unnecessary comedic relief, relying instead on action, thrills and a couple of prerequisite musical numbers to flesh out a familiar story that, at the time, Indian audiences could not get enough of. While rather straightforward in its delivery, there are thankfully plenty of “what the?” moments for those looking for something out of the ordinary to enjoy, such a when Vijay and Heera get their dates high off of hemp tea, which of course leads to an impromptu musical number in the rain. I also couldn’t help but notice the unexpended presence of underground vultures in both TAHKHANA and MAHAKAAL, who apparently sustain themselves by feeding off of the rubber bats and spiders that inhabit the caves in which they reside.
A breakout from his first starring role as the lead in Babbar Subhash’s TARZAN, it’s clear from his introduction that the Ramsay brothers were looking to capitalize on Hemant Birje's notoriety as a buff leading man, as his character's introduction in TAHKHANA is signaled by a signature Tarzan yell. Rarely scene without a black wife beater and matching headband, Hemant would star in number of Ramsay brother releases including VEERANA, available on volume two of Mondo Macabro Bollywood Horror collection, playing more or less the same role as Heera.
Mondo Macabro presents both MAHAKAAL and TAHKHANA in brand new digital transfers taken from original negatives, both in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality varies, with MAHAKAAL faring far better than its companion piece, but given the rarity of the films, such imperfections are easy to look past. MAHAKAAL actually looks quiet amazing, with an impressive degree of detail and rich coloring. TAHKHANA however suffers from some fluttering in the film and the occasional color wash. Audio is on hand in Dolby Digital Stereo in the film's original Hindi language with optional English subtitles. Tracks for both films are for the most part clear, save for a number of instances when TAHKHANA again shows its age with a bit of background junk. Written by Pete Tombs, text essays and cast bios are provided for both features. Both are insightful looks into the film's cast and the studio that hired and produced them. Besides their popular preview reel, this release's most entertaining extra is a 24-minute documentary on Bollywood horror. Previously available on volume one of their Bollywood Horror collection, the doc is a fascinating look into the film industries of India and Pakistan that will have you craving for more from the hand-painted poster strew streets of Mumbai. (Jason McElreath)
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