Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bandh Darwaza – review


Directed by: Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay

Release Date: 1990

Contains spoilers

Bandh Darwaza is also know as “the Closed Door” and is featured in the DVD set “The Bollywood Horror Collection Volume 1”. I must admit I approached the film with some trepidation as, though I have seen clips from Bollywood films, I had never before seen one in its entirety. I was looking forward to the experience but my trepidation came from the knowledge that I was going to review the film. For those who do not know Bollywood films invariably contain song and dance sequences and obscure comedy characters and, of course, this is not the norm in Western cinema. I was afraid that I would loose some of the nuances that an Indian audience might pick up on. I must also state that I am unable to match actors with characters unfortunately.

The MasterThe film itself starts with a voice over about a place of evil, Black Mountain, and the Master – who is the vampire. It is interesting that, although very stylised, the film makers made the vampire (referred to as a demon through the film but following the standard conventions) very much a Western style vampire as India, as most places, has its own vampire like mythology. We shall look at the vampire in more depth later.

A couple, Pratrap and Lajo, visit a priest as she has not conceived in the last five years. The priest tells them to be patient but Lajo fears for her position as her mother-in-law is trying to convince Pratrap to remarry a fertile woman. Her maid, Mahau, is part of the Black Mountain cult and persuades Lajo to go there for help. The Master lays with her and she becomes pregnant and she is told that if it is a boy she may keep the baby, but a girl must be given to the Master… Of course it is a girl.

Staked... by knifeLajo refuses to hand over the baby and so Mahau poisons the mother and steals the girl. Pratrap travels to Black Mountain and kills many of the cult and then finishes the Master off with a knife to the heart. As he dies we hear his voice saying that he will have the girl.

This is the prologue before the titles and lasts some eighteen minutes. You should be aware, if you are going to watch this, that the film is of epic length coming in at some 145 minutes.

Cut forward eighteen years and the girl, Kaamya, is now grown. She is in love with Kumar, who runs her father’s factory but he loves a girl named Sapna. Kumar is also good friends with Sapna’s brother, Anand, and his wife, Bhanu.

Sapna has been in Bombay, at college, and on her return home gives a lift to a mysterious woman who wants dropping off at Black Mountain. The woman leaves a book in her car and Sapna tries to return it and accidentally witnesses a black magic ritual and the sacrifice of the woman. No one believes her but, when she and Kumar return to the temple in the mountain, she finds the book.

There is a party for Kaamya, who really does try it on with Kumar and so Sapna leaves but is found by the woman, worryingly still alive after being sacrificed, who wants her book back. Sapna tries to return it but Kumar turns up and, having not seen the woman, throws the book away. It is found by Kaamya.

The next day, Kaamya throws herself at Kumar but is spurned. She is driving away when the woman appears in front of her. She tries to brake, but the brakes fail and she crashes. The first feedShe awakens in the temple and she is told that she can use magic to ensnare Kumar but she must give herself to the cult – she agrees. She does use magic, calling Kumar through the night and then, of course, has to pay the price. One of the cult resurrects the Master through his own blood and she becomes his first snack and his slave. The Master turns his attention to the other women folk.

Light across eyesThe vampire himself does conform generally to Western standards. He sleeps in a coffin, has fangs and drinks blood. His eyes are hypnotic and it is interesting that the filmmakers used a light over the eyes technique as often employed in Western films. When he bites someone he gains a control over them.

He fears the sun, although in a moment of exposure though pained he does not immediately burst into flame Burned by a holy symbolHe also fears holy symbols. Later in the film he is held at bay by an Aum symbol and when one is pressed against his head it burns. Given the origin of the film, this made sense. Less so was the fact that he is prevented from entering a coffin by the use of a crucifix – one wonders why this particular icon was used. He is immensely strong and yet, it would appear, fearful of men as, whenever one of the men folk appear, he runs off.

His ultimate manner of destruction, however, is very unusual…. And that’s all I’m going to say on that, if you want to know what it is you’ll have to watch the film. Note his clothing does involve a cape, again we can thank Western influences for his choice of attire. There is an indication that he can turn into a bat.

The film itself is not of the most pristine quality and, indeed, the DVD producers warn us of this before the film starts – the storage of the original film was not the best. That said I have seen a lot worse being transferred to shiny disc and it does not detract from the picture that much. The music however… It is not the style of music that is the problem but the rather jarring eighties synths that are used. This brings us onto the dance routines.

Sapna indicates her love through danceI found these absolutely fascinating. I cannot, having nothing to use as a comparison guage, tell you whether these are good or not in the grand scheme of Bollywood. They do, to the uninitiated like myself, come across as very unusual, however. We simply are not used to such song and dance being added into the flow of a film and it is difficult to say whether they provide a relief or break the flow of atmosphere – probably a bit of both.

The acting seemed somewhat melodramatic, but this seemed to fit rather well. The costumes, however, suffered the same fate as costumes in US films in the eighties. Although this was shot in 1990 the costumes were very eighties with hideous leisurewear - but what can you do. There were also some awful effects used. There is one cult member with a Mohawk hair piece and bald cap – you can clearly see the cap. There is also a scene where the Master leaps through a window that was clearly a plastic covering. These little things are a shame.

fight sceneThe fight scenes had a slapstick feel almost and came across almost like martial arts in a Hong Kong movie. The participation of Sapna was strange in that sometimes she would scream like a helpless person and yet at other times she kicked ass. I was astounded, also, as one of the characters came to a sticky end. a sticky endThe gore in the film is almost none existent and, whilst the death has nothing on modern Hollywood, it really did jolt when it occurred.

This is fascinating cinema. I believe, from what I have read, that the other film on the DVD set – the non-vampiric Purana Mandir – is a much stronger film and I look forward to watching it. From an uninitiated point of view, however, I really have seen nothing like this and it made it worth watching for that reason alone. It was also worth watching to see how the Western vampire was given a very familiar and yet, at the same time, different feel. We have elements appearing straight out of the seventies vampire movies such as the coach (cars are used through the majority of the film) carrying the coffin. Heck there is even an obligatory mob of villagers with torches scene. Yet, despite the familiarity there is a flavour which is purely Indian in nature.

The vampire attacksFor a score I feel that I am not going to do this justice one way or another. Perhaps I’ll score too high as I was fascinated by what I saw. Perhaps too low because of the nuances involved that went above my head. I feel that 5.5 out of 10 is about as fair as I can make this – but urge you to gird yourself for a long experience but give this a go.

The imdb page is here.


Corroding-Halo said...

sounds hilarious!

crabstix said...

Melodrama, cheesy music and in your face dance routines, 80's costumes and dodgy effects... Sounds like 21st century Indian cinema verite to me. Every bollywood film is almost exactly like every other bollywood film, just differing in degrees of seperation,,,though not by much. (Check out the bollywood 007s, Rocky's etc) It has a lot to do with the culture and religion of the region. They like their gods familiar, and bollywood stars are just the newest gods after all in a rich and divers panoply. Sounds a regular hoot though.

House of Karnstein said...

This one is worth the price of admission alone for Ajay Agarwal's
vampiric performance. The Ramsay's seemed heavily influenced by Hammer and Bava on this one, of course mixing in their own brand of gaudy Indian flavour. I like it and would give it exactly what Taliesin gave it 5.5. out of 10 (spot on mate). Bandh Darwaza remains my favorite Ramsay film out of the 7 I've seen. Fwiw, Agarwal's performance in Purana Mandir is also excellent and on this particular film it seemed to me the Ramsay's were indebted to the 70's Spanish horror boom movement, especially the films of Paul Naschy. This MM 2 dvd set is a great introduction to the fascinating world of Bollywood horror cinema.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

HofK, I have to say that my biggest problem with Bollywood horror is the inaccesability of the flicks... By saying that I mean to say - come on DVD producers, more Bollywood horror subbed and out there for a whole new audience :)

Prodosh said...

After the coffin with the Bible and the crucifix, there is a second coffin with the Quran and a Muslim artifact in it. He is repelled by both, and then gets the Hindu AUM thrust at him. A truly modern Indian vampire who respects the country's multi-religious ethos!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Prodosh, thanks for that - I didn't pick up on the Quran. That makes more sense of the crucifix and indicates a fear of the symbols of divinity no matter their religious source - and as you mention it takes into account the diversity of religions.