A genre that I haven’t explored much (and by “much” I mean “at all”) in Hindi cinema is that of the horror film. This is not surprising since I dislike being scared, and even the cheesiest of devices employed by the worst directors can cause me several sleepless nights. Examples of movies that have terrified the bejesus out of me include Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), and I don’t even want to discuss the ramifications of Jaws on my hygiene in 1975.
But if I’m going to call myself a true connoisseur of Hindi film (and I really really want to!) then I clearly need to suck it up; and since Suhan offered to hold my hand (via an online watchalong) I decided that Rajesh Khanna’s foray into the genre would be a good place for me to start.
Red Rose is a Hindi remake (by the same director) of a Tamil film starring Kamal Hassan and Sridevi (1978’s Sigappu Rojakkal). I haven’t seen that version, and am not likely to; and I have long avoided more contemporary horror films (I finally cut myself off after a Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Eraserhead double feature in college), so my main cinematic comparisons with this were the aforementioned cult horror movies of the 70s which I inflicted on myself as a teen.
The film opens with stylish music by RD Burman (which reminded me of all those 1970’s cop show themes), accompanying scenes of digging at night. These are interspersed with Rajesh Khanna in giant aviator glasses trawling discos, punctuated by screams of “No!” as white roses decay into red ones.
Anand (Rajesh) is a wealthy businessman who lives in a palatial mansion. He employs a creepy gardener (Om Shivpuri) whom we meet as he hacks a rat to death and then buries it, planting a rose on top of the grave. Anand himself is a taciturn and morose man, and when his manservant wakes him up for his bed tea there is evidence of a night of debauchery beside him on the bed.
Anand is also a very rigid kind of guy as evidenced by his closet, organized by day of the week (although he seems to mostly only wear white; either that or the scenes in the film only take place on Tuesdays).
His home decor is dominated by the color red, and as he leaves for work every morning the creepy gardener fixes a red rose to his lapel at the gate. This morning his routine is a little different, since it’s his birthday—and every year on his birthday he visits the legendary Central Jail.
The jailer (Roopesh Kumar, whom Suhan informs me is Mumtaz’s cousin and an alleged Rajesh chamcha) asks Anand about his traditional visit. Anand tells him that his own father was jailed although innocent, and is today back at their home still living as though still in prison. He likes to visit the jail to bring some cheer to any innocent man who might be jailed there today.
I’m thinking: not so much. At the office, there is a group of young women waiting to be interviewed for a secretarial position. Only one of them—dressed in red—dares to look back at him openly; the rest all drop their eyes demurely. He hires the bold Chitra (Padmini Kapila) after asking the others some strange (and in the US, illegal) questions (“Do you always dress like that?”) and flicking open his musical cigarette case enough times so that we can’t possibly miss the fact that he has a musical cigarette case.
On his way home he sees a young woman going into a department store. Anand has a strange flashback whenever he looks at women, which is always the same.
He follows this young woman into the store. Sharda (Poonam Dhillon) works at the handkerchief counter there; he buys a handkerchief from her and begins to do so daily. I find this extremely creepy (as is his whole manner—he is terse to the point of rudeness), but she is young and naive and it doesn’t seem to bother her. In fact, one of her coworkers, Sheela (Aruna Irani), obviously admires him and is a bit envious of Sharda.
I’m thinking again: not so much. And sure enough, one day Chitra stops showing up for work—not really cause for alarm since she was unreliable to begin with, but still. Then Anand arrives at the store to find Sharda reading a lurid Harold Robbins paperback. He goes to Sheela’s counter instead and buys an undershirt.
A few days later, Sheela disappears as well after being called to a public park to meet a man dressed in white with a red rose in his lapel. At the same time Anand escalates his weird “courtship” of Sharda, and discovers how very innocent and pure she is. Despite his blandishments she won’t sleep with him before marriage, and she likes to pray! She falls in love with him (although I really just don’t understand WHY—he is seriously weird) and we are treated to several requisite “we have the technology” montages to illustrate their blossoming (pun half-heartedly intended) romance.
When they get married at the registrar’s office—Sharda has no family nearby—there are intercut scenes with Anand, the creepy gardener and Anand’s father (Satyendra Kapoor) arguing.
Up unti now, Sharda has irritated me mildly with her hopeless naivete; but now she really begins to get on my last good nerve.
That night, Anand gets a call from his office before they can “cross their limits” legitimately. Missing secretary Chitra’s brother is looking for her, and wants to talk to Anand. His face twitches in what I assume is supposed to be a scary way, but fortunately for my peace of mind I only find it funny.
A friend of Chitra’s brother was the waiter serving her on the night she was last seen with her “boyfriend.” The brother has brought the waiter to see if he recognizes anyone from her workplace as that boyfriend. At home, Sharda is *finally* waking up to the fact that her husband is more than a little bit nutty.
What will happen next? Will the waiter be able to identify Anand? Will Sharda find out what her husband has been up to? What HAS he been up to? And why? Well, you’ll have to watch Red Rose to find out (and also to see an amazing twitchy-face scene on the part of the Superstar).
As for me, well—I’ve grown up a bit I guess. I wasn’t frightened after the first half an hour or so, and by the end I was only annoyed by how really really stupid Sharda is (when you are in danger, girl, don’t stop to pack a suitcase—leave the house immediately), and how misogynistic the story turns out to be (which is, to be fair, a hallmark of lots of slasher flicks). Once again, some poor schmuck has been ill-treated in life by women and (reasonably, it is implied) found his only recourse in murder. Aww. Bad girls deserve whatever they get!
I think the film wanted to be a character study of a psychopath, but it devolved pretty rapidly into cliches of both the Indian and the horror-genre sort. Still, I am relieved that I made it all the way through with no resulting bad-dream fallout, and I would like to thank Rajesh and his hamming for that. (His choosing to play such a negative character when he was still getting hero roles is admirable though.)
Still love you, Rajesh! Mwah!