[This review has spoilers. Be warned. Be very warned.]
It was a few months ago that I realized that I have totally lost the stomach for today’s mainstream commercial Bollywood. I remember the exact moment when I “turned”—- 25 minutes into the assault on the senses that is “Tees Mar Khan”. “No more” I told myself ” Am too old for this shit.” A line has been crossed and as the tag-line for the Emran Hashmi thriller “The Train” goes “Some lines should not be crossed.” [Yes I have seen that too]. So I stayed off Hindi movies (with some exceptions like “Dhobi Ghat”) using the time saved to revise my next book—”The Mine.” [publisher: Westland]
But there are some things for which exiles may be broken. “Haunted 3D” is one such. There are two reasons for that. First of all, it is directed by Vikram Bhatt, one of the surviving masters of horror, who has to his credit many remarkable achievements. And if that was not reason enough, “Haunted 3D” was the re-launch (those of us who like zombie movies call it re-animation) of, the son of Prabhuji, Mimoh Chakraborty. Only now he is using his original name Mahakshay.One might think this is an attempt to foist Mimoh on unsuspecting audiences as fresh maal but I think this is just a manifestation of Vikram Bhatt’s genius—You walk into the hall expecting to see new talent, and find that the “new guy” is none but that baby-faced dude from “Jimmy” (minus a few pounds), the one whom you thought you would never pay to see again. Startled, you turn to your date and say “Whoaaaaa”, the terror slowly setting into the base of your throat. And the movie has just barely begun.
Rehaan (Mahakshay) is a real-estate agent who is sent by his Dad (possibly from Ooty) to close on an ancient mansion Glenn Manor for the low price of Rs 200 crore. The moment he says “I don’t use drugs Mr. Billimoria, neither am I stupid. MBA kiya hai maine, Stanford University AMERICA se (just to point out it’s not the Stanford in Dhaka he got his degree from), you start taking him seriously, as also the steadily deepening unease he feels while walking around Glenn Manor. Ominous music plays in the background, windows flutter mysteriously, lights flicker, flushes flush spontaneously, chandeliers come crashing to the ground and mysterious hand-prints appear on the window, and an apparition of a woman hangs from the ceiling. Rehaan realizes that a lady from the other world is trying to send him a message. But was it? Is she just beseeching him to quit trying to be a hero? Is there anything significant in the copious amount of blood that mysteriously appears all over the place? Should Rehaan just go to the drug store and get her something?
Soon it is revealed that the secret is much more sinister, by virtue of a letter conveniently discovered by the Stanford MBA. Eighty years ago, in that house lived the comely Meera (played by Saregama contestant Twinkle Bajpai) . Once her parents left for some travel leaving her in the care of a governess. Now Meera had a piano teacher, a certain Mr. Iyer (Arif Zakaria in the type of role which defines a career) who insisted on taking more than a fatherly interest in his overflowing-with-talent protege.
In one of the highlight sequences of the movie, Meera is playing the piano while Mr. Iyer, unknown to her, eyes her ampleness lasciviously. One can see Mr. Iyer trying to wish away the sinful images , trying to exert control by saying repeatedly “B-flat B-flat” to his student as she stumbles while playing the piano. But when the woman in front is majorly a D major, it is tough to keep one’s attention away and as words that begin with F crowd his mind sharply, he yells in barely concealed passion “F sharp F sharp”. But then finally he loses his control and volunteers to teach her a new “sur.” Meera resists his amorous advances and while doing so pokes him with a poker. Mr. Iyer consequently meets a bloody end. The police absolve Meera of the killing once a search of the piano teacher’s house reveals a stash of “personal cheezein stolen from Meera” (in other words, he stole corsets) and even more alarmingly some “asleel tasweerein also”. (Yes even in 1930, one should have always cleaned the cache before logging out).
But as we know, when a man dies in the throes of monster lust, only his hawaas stays alive. It is not long before the ghost of Mr. Iyer starts bothering Meera saying he will do to her in death what he wanted to in life. Soon the servants realize, literally, what giving head means as their heads are found impaled on the gates. And Mr. Iyer then begins doing to Meera all the things that the rapacious ghost from Entity did to Barbara Hershey and that haiwaan from “Hawa” did to Tabu. As Meera says in the voice-over, Mr. Iyer for six days did all those things to her she is too ashamed to write down (Vikram Bhatt, of course, has no compunction in showing these in gratuitous detail). Not able to bear the onslaught of the dead piano teacher any longer, she ultimately took her own life. But that only compounded her pain. For eighty years, the evil Mr. Iyer’s spirit has kept her confined to this house, doing bad things to her and preventing anyone else from coming in between them.
Needless to say, Rehaan decides to save this poor lady. So he travels back in time (in Vikram Bhatt’s world that’s as normal as having a lunch of chapatti and daal—maybe it should have been Haunted 4D because of the ease the dimension of time is moved through). Once he does so, his plan is to act as a cock-block for Mr. Iyer so that he does not get a chance to molest Meera, never gets killed and an evil spirit never created. But things never are as simple as they look. What follows is a twisted tale of horror, terror and more horror, as things fly about all over the place, women make out with women, buttons pop off Meera’s chest, Mahakshay unleashes the Marhabba disco dance at a particular tense part of the story (when lesser mortals would be running away), and love is put to the epic test.
The movie is of course Vikram Bhatt’s. The genre of “romance-musical-horror” is his own and in “Haunted 3D” he combines the vision of Harinam Singh, the sweep of Joginder with the narrative maturity of Kanti Shah. What I love about Vikram Bhatts are the things you learn about the nether-world——Spirits cannot read or write by themselves (they can hear and read your mind), when ghosts want to write they communicate through “auto-writers” (alternatively known as “ghost writers”), you should never utter the name of a spirit (In a chilling sequence, Rehaan challenges the evil piano teacher by shouting “Iyer” “Iyer” “Iyer”) unless you want trouble and that Mr. Iyer’s spirit is most powerful at 3 in the night and weakest at 3 in the afternoon (If he was Mr. Iyengar, I am pretty sure it is the other way round).
While the casting of Mohakhay is applause-worthy, the touch of genius was casting voluptuous Twinkle Bajpai as Meera. She is effectively the third-dimension (the third D) of the movie, “her characterization” bringing great depth to each frame which the camera never shies away from highlighting.
Final conclusion. This movie will haunt you. I guarantee it.