As someone who writes genre fiction (Please buy “The Mine” if you have not yet), I always strive to layer in my elements. In other words, I try to hide the real horror of the story beneath the surface of the narrative such that what is being shown is as important (if not more) than what is being implied. Two levels (the outer and the inner) is the maximum I can handle and that too with difficulty. Which is why I doff my cap to Vikram Bhatt, a true master of horror, who effortlessly handles four, five, six and even sometimes seven layers of horror with consummate ease.
Case in point, Vikram Bhatt’s latest blockbuster Raaz 3 aka Raaz 3D aka Raaz the Third Dimension. It has caught the world by storm, getting reviews from NY Times (link) and LA Times (link), setting box-office records in India and perhaps, most impossibly, reviving the career of Bipasa Basu. Raaz 3 has seven layers of horror, which keen readers will note is the same number of circles of Hell envisioned by Dante. This, I believe, is not a co-incidence because sitting through Raaz 3 is like descending into the deepest depths of the Devil’s Lair.
So what are these seven layers you ask. Well, here they are. In no particular order.
Bipasa Basu: It is said that the greatest raaz or secret is that which a woman carries her in her chest. No woman symbolizes this more than Bipasa whose chest contains many secrets, including but not limited to its provenance and chemical composition. In Raaz 3, she plays Shayna, an actress whose best days are behind her, as she searches for that elusive critical hit that would propel to her to the top. Some experts point out the similarity in situations between the character Bipasa plays and her own. In that she, of late, has been having a poor time at the box office, overtaken as she has been by younger and keener talents. This was of course before Raaz 3 was released. Now when you consider that in Raaz 3, Shayna obtains success by taking the help of evil spells of an undead black magician, that elusive terror-within-a-terror, the horror that comes from what is not said but implied, becomes evident.
Emran Hashmi: Affectionately called “I am a man kiss me”, Emran Hashmi displays his full repertoire in Raaz 3— from the pursed lips of intense emotion to the pursed lips when trying to kiss. Here he plays an arty movie director from the Roman Polanski-Mahesh Bhatt school of awesomeness who gets seduced by his girl-friend Shayna to pour evil spirit-juice into the water of the heroine of his movie, Sanjana, who is Shayna’s rival. The horror here is not that the lady does not use evil-spell-removing water purifiers but that Emran Hashmi, in one night of crazy terror, fornicates with Sanjana just to knock her out of a hysterical state. In the process, he adds one more terrifying line item to Bollywood’s “Situations when good men are forced to have sex even though they don’t want to” , namely “When heroine has become hysterical”, which now occupies pride of place along side “When heroine falls into ice and needs body heat to be revived” (Aa Gale Lag Ja, Ganga Yamuna Saraswati)
The new heroine: The Bhatts are known for “discovering” generic looking heroines whose utility is limited to being the other lip for an Emran Hashmi kiss and giving horrifyingly significant sound-bytes [Link]. They light up the marquee for a movie or two, their amazing acting abilities tomtommed by sympathetic PR, before they get replaced by another similarly generic body, in the same way that “business analysts” on foreign assignments are continuously replaced by newer and less expensive talent from the home-country, all so that bill-rates are kept low. In Raaz 3, a horrifying new talent is unleashed, replacing another equally horrifying talent, because the new girl “does not ask questions” [Link]
After doing a very successful Murder 2, in which she was very uninhibited in her sex scenes with Emraan, Jacqueline was the right choice for Raaz 3.But as she inched towards shooting, Vikram found that there was a hesitation in her demeanour about the costumes she would wear. This, being a horror film, required her to be scantily dressed and wear clothes that would be visibly provocative,” he says.
“When Vikram told her how he would create the illusion of nudity in this scene, it made her uncomfortable. At this point Vikram and the costume designer of the film had huge differences and Vikram felt that it was time for him to put his foot down. He needed a girl who would not ask these questions. That’s where Esha came in. She trusted me completely, which is why I stepped in for 15 days to co-direct the shoot of that sequence,” adds Mahesh.
Theirs not to question why. Theirs but to take it off and die. If this is not horror, I do not know what is.
The Third Dimension: Raaz 3 is called Raaz 3: the Third Dimension because Vikram Bhatt truly understands that the essence of 3D is DDD. He showed that in Haunted 3D [Link] where Tia Vajpayee’s depth of talent was artistically visualized by adroit camera work. Raaz 3 continues that tradition. In Vikram Bhatt’s expert hands, the power of the z-axis is fully exploited, as Bipasa Basu thrusts out her Pyar ki Bhasas time and time again, in a way that would make the man who made the comparatively mediocre Hugo, one Martin Scorcese’s blood run cold.
Cockroaches and Maggots: Some horror tropes are eternal. The creaking door. The creepy kid. The wannabe heroine who strips because the challenging role “demands it” and then tells the press how intense the act of disrobing is. To that, Raaz 3 brings something new— an intrusion of horny cockroaches rushing out of the sink forcing the heroine to disrobe and run naked into a party. If cockroaches ick you out, well then you ain’t see nothing yet. In a spectacularly choreographed scene, Shayna fornicates with a maggot-infested corpse as the price of her fame, alluding terrifyingly to what heroines have to do and with whom in order to climb the slippery pole of stardom.
The Bhatts: They have given us some of the most nightmarish imagery over the years. Pooja Bhatt. Arif Zakaria’s hair in Jism 2. The lusty Iyer of Haunted 3 D. Jackie Shroff as Samara, the creepy girl from Ring, dead in a well. An endless line of cross-border vocal and visual talents.
Recently I saw a segment on a Zee show where the Bhatts, sitting together, were gloating over the success of Raaz 3. Mahesh Bhatt, in his customarily modest way, called critics blood-sucking mosquitoes whose job it is to suck life-juices from, I suppose, gigantic reservoirs of tastiness, tastiness of the kind he possesses. He then went on to say how Raaz 3 has been appreciated by NY Times (so suck it desis) which proves, in the most QED way, that Indian critic has it for the supremely talented Bhatts.
But the terror of the Bhatts do not stop there at merely dancing on the graves of their enemies. Or their less is more policy where they make their heroines wear less for more impact. Their true spine-tingler is that they draw inspiration for their works from affairs of real life, their own real life affairs. (Arth, Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Ayee and Woh Lamhe is about one woman [Link], Ankahee is about another [Link] and Raaz 3 yet another [Link]. For lesser people, this washing linen on celluloid may be considered exploitative. But of course not for the Bhatts. For them, it is catharsis, an artist’s expression of pain. If you think otherwise, you are a blood-sucker.
Vikram Bhatt: If the Bhatts are the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family of Indian horror, then Vikram Bhatt is Leatherface, the principal orchestrator of mayhem. Just as Leatherface loved nothing more than to skin innocent victims, cut them up and then stitch them together to make macabre masks, Vikram Bhatt likes to hack together sequences from different sources—a bit of “Ring”, a cut of “Insidious”, a scrap of “X Files”, an eyebrow from “Faust”, a wing from “Black Swan”, a page from “It”, a limb from “Jagged Edge”, a finger from “The Entity” to create pastiches of enduring horror.
Like Raaz 3.
Truly a master.