Film critics from Peshawar to Pondicherry acknowledge Raj Kumar Kohli’s “Jaani Dushman–Ek Anonkhi Kahani (2002)” (released 5 years ago on August 15) to be one of the greatest horror/ science-fiction movies ever to be made in the history of celluloid. And the reason for that is because Jaani Dushman is one of those rare genre-busting movies where fear operates at many levels—some levels being so subtle that you realize the true horror of what you have just witnessed, many hours or even days after the end credits have rolled, as you wake up in the dead of night , cold sweat running down your brow and the front of your pyjamas wet, with Sonu Nigam’s (as one of the hero’s) effeminate, uber-girlie “bhaiyya bhaiyya” ringing in your ears in a petrifying cadence.
First the story. Monisha Koirala (a college student) and Sunny Deol (an alumni of the same college) are in love, hanging out in an august group of vidyarthis (Akshay Kumar, Suniel Shetty, Sonu Nigam, Aftab Shivdasani, Arshad Warsi, Aditya Pancholi, Sharad Kapoor and assorted out-of-work Bollywood actors) —a group which harbors two rotten apples (Rajat Bedi and Siddharth) whose every waking hour is spent in designing and implementing plans to molest Monisha Koirala.
That’s however not all that Monisha has to contend with. Everybody knows that the one thing every young girl fears is discovering, once she has given her heart to someone, that she was a serpent in her past life and that her snake husband wants her back. Guess what? That fear comes true for the poor Monisha.
As the tale goes, many eons ago, Monisha used to be a serpent (an anaconda most probably considering her considerable size) in love with another serpent (Munish aka Armaan Kohli, son of the director), two kindred spirits who spend their time dancing on top of mountains. One day bunker-buster Monisha gets too passionate with her thumps and a cave gets flattened—a cave in which powerful tantrik sage Amrish Puri had spent centuries, doing what men do when they are alone. Enraged at being disturbed just before he was going to obtain “enlightenment”, Amrish Puri curses Monisha to die, before the sun goes down, as punishment for interrupting his reverie.
Horrified at this curse that has befallen them, Monisha and Munish beg for forgiveness . In a chilling scene too painful to look at, they alternately bang their head on the rocks in front of them, one going up while the other going down, each saying “Hume kshama kar di jiye maharaj” in a masochistic rhythm of skull hitting igneous rocks.
Even though touched by this bone-crunching display of remorse, Amrish Puri tells the twosome that, regrettably, what has left one of his orifices cannot come back.
Monisha has to die.
But Munish can live, trapped inside a tree such that he sees no other woman, till the 21st century when Puri prophecizes Monisha will be reborn again as a woman (till that , she was possibly going to be reborn each time as a man or some other animal ) at which point he can reunite with his mate.
Cut to the present day. Monisha, in a state of tumult having to chose between her present love and the guy who had been waiting for her inside a tree for centuries, is invited to a party by her band of friends. What she does not know is that the evil duo of Rajat Bedi and Siddharth, through an insidiously devious plot entailing the mimicking of the voices of all their friends, have called her one hour before the party begins. Taking advantage of this window of opportunity before the others arrive, they proceed to ravish her, after which Monisha commits suicide. Thinking that all her friends were in on the plot, she threatens a horrible death to everyone, before she enters the netherworld.
This is when the kill frenzy begins. Monisha, an avenging spirit of death with the ability to enter bodies at will and Munish , a powerful icchadharin nagin who morphs into the buxom Rambha (picture to left) and lets out bursts of smelly gas from his mouth (picture above) with equal ease, take revenge one by one on the gay (as in happy) group of pals, dispatching each of them in bizarrely innovative ways while you, the audience, with sweaty palms and clenched teeth, keep asking yourself:
“Who will survive? And what will be left of them?”
Transcending the scary story is the terror that defines the dystopic world director Raj Kumar Kohli paints with strokes of his directorial pen. A world where Suniel Shetty, Akshay Kumar, Sharad Kapoor and Aditya Pancholi are college students, one of whom (Akshay Kumar) even brings a gun to school. A world where Raj Babbar, the principal of the said college, despite being a Catholic priest engages in pagan rituals like seances and presides over boxing matches. A world where Monisha and her female room-mate shower together, with the camera taking as wide an angle possible to accommodate both in the same frame. A world where Sonu Nigam wears red trousers and dances like a cheerleader. A world where people declare ” main to apne Nita se Internet pe shaadi karoonga” . A world where Jaspal Bhatti is a boxing coach.
Truly a twilight zone.
Some of the spine-tingling chills in “Jaani Dushman” originate from the director’s tapping into some of our basest fears (the fear of finding out during suhaag raat that your dulhan is actually a skeleton who likes rough sex [first picture], the fear of being French-kissed by a python [left picture]) while some of the scream moments are brought to life by the depiction of gratuitous acts of blood-letting (Arshad Warsi is electrocuted in a pool in a gruesome fashion—no wonder his most famous role would be as a character named Circuit).
However what really elevates the movie to epic greatness is the terror implicit in some of its lines, the kind of horror that grips you with its significance the more you think of it.
Like when a policeman declares, with a straight face,
Dulhan to naheen hain, sirf unke kapre hain yahaan
And in the following exchange:
Monisha to evil men: “Tum log kisi ki izzat naheen karte.”
Evil men to Monisha: “Sabke izzat karenge to izzat lootenge kiski?
And most of all, in the scene where the entire college is pleading with Monisha Koirala to forgive the evil men, after their first attempt at izzat lootna.
Shetty: Come on Divya, maaf kar de galti kisi se bhi ho sakti hai.
Monisha: Agar ye harkat kisi ne Priety ke saath ki hoti to tum kya karte.
Shetty: Haath paar tod deta, lekin filhaal tumse haath jodke maafi mang rahe hain yaar. Maaf karde
Akshay Kumar: Divya, ek baat kahe tum jaisi khoobsurat ladki ko dekhkar ek mare hue aadmi ka bhi dil dhadak uthe fir to ye jeete jaagte naujawan hain inka kya haal hoga.
Sonu Nigam: Divya, jahan sab log tumhe itna mana rahe hain, wahan tumhe man lena chahiye. Naheen to hum samjhenge tumhe aapni khoobsoorati pe kuch zyada garoor hain. Come on please…maaf kar do unhe.
Any review of Jaani Dushman would be incomplete without a mention of its mind-numbing special effects. Munish flies. Walks on water. Rides his scooter into the sky. Morphs into a man in a black trench-coat and dark shades who avoids bullets in super-slow mo while ripping to shreds all laws of physics. (I somehow cannot remember right now which Hollywood movie plagiarized these effects—”ma” mind must be playing “trix” on me).
That’s not all. In a stunning bit of science-fiction imagination, the “icchadari naag” Munish is conceived as being made of a kind of liquid metal—so that each time he explodes when struck with a rocket from a rocket launcher, he “disintegrates” and reassembles himself, making himself impossible to terminate.
Of course, the presence of such mind-blowing SFX is only to be expected when one of the technical people in charge (as per opening credits) is a person by the name of Kuku Cuckoo.
Summing up, “Jaani Dushman Ek Anokhi Kahani” is a modern classic that combines the snake “nagin” mythology with the latest computer generated special effects (not to speak of a generous garnishing of Sonu Nigam), in the process defining a new benchmark for movie excellence .
But be warned. This is not for the faint of heart or for those who bang their heads against hard objects at the slightest provocation, asking for mercy.