I normally avoid writing reviews that give away “surprise” plot twists or the ending. However in this review, I am going to give way a minor spoiler (in that I give you the back story in the beginning whereas it is revealed half an hour before the end—however I do not reveal the “shocking” climax though I am sure all of you will figure what it is an hour into the movie, you will never see how it is accomplished). If you have a problem with that, I suggest you leave immediately. Of course some may argue that the moment Vikram Bhatt decides to direct a movie, it is already ruined and so it is difficult to spoil it any more than it already has been.
I do not agree to this above statement needless to say. Vikram Bhatt is a rare talent.
Talking about his movie 1920 as part of the pre-release hype, Mr. Bhatt said this:
It’s a very new attempt. It’s a supernatural film and is set in the 1920’s. It starts in Rajasthan, then goes to Bombay, to Delhi and then to the Himalayas. We have tried to recreate all these places in 1920. It’s a love story and it’s a spooky story,” says Vikram.
Now most fans of V. Bhatt’s work (and I count myself as one of them) know that all of his celluloid creations are dark tales of horror, even when he is not consciously attempting to make a movie of the horror genre. In other words, even his sweet love stories are terrifying.
Such is his caliber that the feeling of “Why did I waste three hours of my life watching this? I am three hours closer to my death” will grip you even after the end credits roll as a voice whispers into your ears “Vikram Vikram Vikram Betaal Betaal Betaal”. And one even more important thing Bhatt admirers accept as the bible. When he says it is a “new attempt” what he means is “Yes yes. I know I know. My movie has striking resemblances to a Hollywood product. So shoot me.”
In 1857, a owner of a huge haveli goes away to fight the British leaving behind his fetching daughter and the maid and the maid’s daughter. An injured Indian sepoy, with long hair that covers his face (The Ring Ring…) is found wandering the palace grounds and is taken in for rest and succor. Soon a dangerous secret is revealed. The sepoy is actually a traitor, working for the British. Once his cover his blown, he kills the maid by throwing her into a well, the exact same well that Samara, the undead girl in “The Ring”, lives. The maid’s daughter escapes with a message from the fetching daughter to her freedom-fighter dad. And what does the comely daughter do? Does she also run away? Does she kill the traitor? No. She doesn’t cause she is in a Vikram Bhatt flick. She stays back and seduces the traitor, locked with him in passionate embraces at different parts of the palace ground, while a song goes on in the background. Needless to say, something horrible will happen. Soon.
Fast forward to 1920. A couple moves into the haveli. The wife does some of the things that people in horror flicks just have to do—wander around deep at night with curtains flying, strange voices whispering, spooky pianos playing, lights flickering to the accompaniment of unmistakable disembodied guttural groans of someone with a bad case of constipation trying to pass stool in the shadows.
Such ominous things can portend only one thing.
Yes you got it.
And before you can say “The Exorcist”, the wife starts behaving exactly like the Linda Blair character in the 1973 horror masterpiece. Yes the same alternate voice. The same whitened face. The same floating in mid air. The same body contortions. The same bed-shaking. The same exorcism ritual.
Of course one must understand that this is not an “inspiration”. After all Vikram Bhatt is different from the S. Guptas of Bollywood. For while “the Exorcist” was made in 1973, this movie is, as the name suggests, set in 1920. And we all know which year comes first temporally.
And to be honest, 1920 is in many ways very different from “The Exorcist”. For one, unlike the “Exorcist” there is no shocking scene of blasphemy—like the famous sequence where the possessed girl pleasures herself with a cross or when she yells to the priest (who had recently lost his mother) that his dead mother orally services men in Hell (you can look up the original line on IMDB if you havent seen the movie). Understandably, Vikram Bhatt does not want to get into any controversy regarding his movie, unless of course it is a controversy that helps movie promotion like whether “Ankahee” , a story about a psychotically obsessed beauty queen, was based on his real life affair with one such silicon angel.
It’s not just about removals of plot elements. Vikram Bhatt also brings in value. Many critics, including myself, have always felt that “the Exorcist”, while full of profanity and green vomit, lacked one thing. And that was a jhakaas item song. That shortcoming is made up as amidst all the doom and gloom, an item number by the perennially demoniacally possessed Rakhi Sawant is inserted by the savvy director to give the audience some “release”.
One of the things that pisses me off about many horror stories is that just in order to frighten you, they sacrifice logic for scares. Not Vikram Bhatt. As I watched the Christian priest (played by Raj Zutshi whose effort in doing this role with a straight face is a testament to his emotional control) trying to exorcise a Hindu girl with the Exorcistian incantations “In the name of Jesus…” I kept thinking to myself —-“How can taking the name of Jesus work? The possessing demon is Hindu (name Mohan Kant) after all……surely this man is not taking this opportunity to do a “conversion”? ” Suffice to say, the climax (which included the possessed woman doing a break dance) resolves all such conundrums logically to such a satisfactory extent that there should have been a Q.E.D. along with “The End”.
The performances are needless to say top notch, with special mention made of Rajneesh Duggal (who in an interview said he had slapped a gay man) whose histrionic skills are nothing short of horrifying as also the special effects which were very screen-saverish in their sophistication.
If I had any complaint, it was that Deepak Parashar, India’s horror icon, was not given a role, Huma Khan had no “shower-before-murder” scene and the dancing “Khooni Dracula” (in this video he is at the very back dancing surrepititously) did not make his spectacular entry.
Ah well, I guess I have to wait for 1921, the reported sequel to 1920, for that.