Hooray! A Hindi horror film that isn’t horr-ible! And it’s even a teeny bit suspenseful in parts (although I am easy to scare, admittedly). It contains all the elements essential for the genre: a cast of unknowns (except Helen! in one song, and Imtiaz, and Satyen Kappu) (oh! and Dhumal) (okay so not that many unknowns, except for the leads), some gratuitous sleaze, a large mansion, a careless if not mad scientist, creepy background noises, and a graveyard. The latter leads me to speculate that perhaps the dearth of horror films in Hindi cinema stems from the Hindu tradition of cremation, leaving only a minority of the population in India available to become zombies. There are also a few lovely songs which don’t intrude at inappropriate moments and a mostly coherent story with pretty minimal CSP interruptions. And the fashions and sets are Early Seventies Candy Floss at its most eye-popping.
So Yay! Ramsay Brothers! Yay! (Why didn’t you quit while you were ahead?)
We meet Raja (Surendra Kumar), who comes to the cemetery every day to lay flowers on the grave of his wife. He makes sure to tell the Joseph the Christian gravedigger (Habib) that although he is a Hindu, his wife was Christian.
Our hero thus established as an exemplary—and vulnerable—man (in less than two minutes), we can get right to the villains of the piece. On his way home, Raja hears a woman screaming for help: she is being pursued by some no-good types with sweet sweet loving rape on their minds.
They manage to tear a good part of her blouse apart before Raja arrives and rescues her with some stiff awkward kicks and a few tight slaps. An older gentleman (Satyendra Kapoor) lurks behind the trees observing the scene with satisfaction. Raja offers the girl, Anjali (Shobhna), a ride to his house so she can repair her clothing.
It’s never clear to me why Raja doesn’t just take Anjali to HER house, but if he had then…you know, no plot. Raja lives in a huge haveli which seems to consist mostly of hallways (all the better to lurk in), with his two servants Chanchal (Smita?) and Ramdas (Dhumal). He has a laboratory where he spends his time pouring liquids from one vial to another in front of an array of creepy looking containers.
That night Anjali dresses up in one of Raja’s dead wife’s nighties and proceeds to seduce him by slipping into his bed, pretending to be frightened. It’s pretty rrrrracy!! by Hindi movie standards, anyway. Men, it seems, are completely helpless in the face of a determined woman in her nightgown!
The hilarious cut-away to this incongruous couple on Raja’s bedside table, heavy with symbolism:
Anjali calls her Mamaji—who unsurprisingly was the man lurking behind the trees. He willingly (and greedily) gives his consent for the marriage. Raja and Anjali are duly married and embark upon their life together. There are just a few small hitches: Anjali is already in love with a man named Anand, who is away traveling; she is worried about his reaction when he returns and finds her married. Mamaji himself drinks like a fish and it doesn’t take him even a day to start asking Raja (via Anjali) for money. Even dim-witted Ramdas notices when he pockets a silver chamcha or two from the dining table.
If this were not all bad enough, temptation arrives in the form of another girl. To be honest, I could not keep any of the three main girls—Anjali, Chanchal and now Meena—straight; they all looked the same to me except that Chanchal ran around in a tribal girl outfit.
Raja meets Meena (Pooja) after she tumbles into the lake while singing a lovely and lively song, “Ek Panchhi Banke” (songs are by Sapan Jagmohan, and are terrific).
Raja and his very bad Elvis wig (poor guy, he’s so young too!) pull her out and take her home. Chanchal recognizes her as being Ramdas’ niece. Anjali (being the last girl he rescued and in a position to know why she should worry) is jealous, but he brushes her aside. He is already smitten by poor unconscious Meena, and he sits and frets by her bedside all afternoon (while we gape at her cleavage).
She recovers her senses the next day to everyone’s relief, and Anjali tells Raja that Uncleji is coming to visit again.
Later Anjali attempts to seduce her husband with a striptease, but he isn’t very interested and their awkward grappling is thankfully interrupted by Meena singing a bhajan. A very pretty one! but still. Anjali for one is not pleased.
(I love the tape player playing the music for Anjali’s striptease! My dad had one similar, although not as…plaid.)
When Mamaji arrives, he tells Anjali that her Anand has returned and that he’s told him that Anjali is away. Anjali tells him that it’s not going to be easy to get any more money from Raja—she wants to leave. Raja meanwhile is pouring more liquids into other liquids in his crazy lab, and things are beginning to bubble uneasily (and redly). He’s interrupted by a scream from Anjali and rushes out as something spills over.
Anjali and Mamaji of course want more money, and with Meena, Chanchal and Ramdas as mute and shocked witnesses, Raja and Anjali have the mother and father of all showdowns, airing all of their dirty laundry. Recriminations are flung, accusations made, and it culminates in Raja opening his safe and flinging money at his wife and her uncle.
He storms out back to his lab and loyal Ramdas scurries to close the safe and lock it (yay Ramdas!). A distraught Raja fails to notice that some of the bubbly liquid has spilled into his carafe of water, and he pours a glass and drinks it. Moments later, clutching his chest, he passes out on the floor to the great distress of Meena.
A doctor is called, and while they wait Meena prays to not one! but three different deities as Anjali leafs casually through a glossy magazine. I giggle at the subtlety of it all (also, Anjali is wearing a satin dressing gown and Meena a white cotton sari, of course).
When he regains consciousness, Raja is paralyzed from the waist down. Anjali stops the doctor from hospitalizing him, saying that she’ll take care of him. Riiiight. Then her lover Anand (Imtiaz Khan) discovers the truth and arrives on the scene to confront her. He understands very well the kind of woman she is!
This causes me to reflect upon the fact that I actually have way more in common with Anjali than I do with Meena! Oh no!!! Anjali manages to persuade Anand that Raja is abusive and she is scared of him. Mamaji decides that they have to kill paralyzed Raja, and convinces Anjali to convince Anand to do it. Poor Anand—I felt very sorry for him throughout this movie; he seems unable to say “no” to the awful woman he loves, but he’s not a bad guy really.
Anjali and Mamaji send the servants and Meena off to a fair, leaving Raja alone with them. Anand reluctantly injects Raja with poison procured for the purpose by Mamaji, and Raja dies.
Or does he? The rest of the film revolves around the increasing tension between Anjali and Anand as strange happenings begin to occur in the big creepy mansion. For one thing, they are unable to find the key to the safe; and then when they do, it’s empty! There are sightings of a zombie-like figure, strange footprints, and so on.
Interestingly, although everyone is terrified at night, it’s business as usual during the day. It never seems to occur to any of them that maybe they should take advantage of the daylight and LEAVE. Ah well. That is the stuff that horror films are made of, I guess; nobody has ever claimed they are logical. I mean, Raja went to great pains to let us know that he is a Hindu; but still, he is buried by our nefarious threesome instead of cremated.
I enjoyed sitting through this—beyond the fabulous (and sometimes blinding) early-seventies style, the film moved along at a decent pace and once we were supposed to be scared even managed some moments of tension (at least for me, but as I said: not that difficult). The characters were engaging, especially the bad guys, although of course I was rooting for poor taken-advantage-of Raja (if not pious too-good-to-be-real Meena).
And the icing on the cake: Helen has an uncredited appearance in a wonderful bar song complete with Satyen Kappu doing a little jig and pouring out the requisite VAT 69.
Fun fun fun! I give this horror film two thumbs up!