Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Veerana – review

dvdDirectors: Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay

First released: 1988

Contains spoilers

Veerana is part of the DVD set, ‘Bollywood Horror Collection Vol 2’ and given that vol 1 had the flick Bandh Darwaza on it, we are not doing too badly for vampire movies… If this is a vampire movie?

I questioned this when it first came onto my radar as it seemed fairly much a witch movie in the write ups that I read. However, given that the film has been subtitled as ‘Vengeance of the Vampire’ I decided I’d give it a go – after all there is a definitive cross over point between the vampire and witchcraft genres in Western cinema. Information on the DVD actually suggests that the Ramsays were heavily influenced by the José Ramón Larraz' masterpiece Vampyres and that this was based loosely on it. Well, being generous, blink and you’ll miss any similarity – I’ll mention that later.

Nakita in her coffinWe start off in an evil temple dedicated to Mahakal – the master of evil, as represented by a huge devil statue. Within the temple is a coffin, the ornate stone lid slides across to reveal the occupant. She is Nakita – a witch – and we notice, with our Western vampire lore, that she wears a bat pendant at her neck. Bat pendants are always a B movie favourite decoration and as the film certainly is aware of Western horror we can safely say she wore that design for the obvious reasons (beyond its mystical purpose) - vampire accessorising! Of course she is not the only evil afoot in the temple.

wizards and cone headsThe temple is home to a cult of devil worshipers led by a wizard called Baba. There are also sort of stone cone headed creatures, whose purpose was unclear within the film. The cult have a man captured and Baba tells him that “this night, Nakita will quench her thirst by drinking your warm blood.” Which, in a vampire sense, kind of settles it really! She enters his cell and removes the bat pendant. She transforms into a creature (her witch form I guess) and starts stabbing away with a ritual knife.

The village Thakur (Vijayendra Ghatge) is informed that a body of a stranger has been found. The villagers say he is the victim of a witch who sucks all the blood from men’s bodies. The Thakur’s brother, Sameer (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), is sceptical but one of the villagers claims he saw her once, she turned into a bat and attacked him – hence the scars on his face. Sameer decides he will hunt down the witch, if she exists, much to the concern of his wife, Preeti. The Thakur gives him an aum sign.

in witch modeIt seems it just takes a short night time car ride to find Nakita, he gives her a ride to her house – a ramshackle mansion that is her lair. That last sentence – incidentally – is the entirety of the blink or you’ll miss it moment lifted from Vampyres – and I’m being generous associating the two together. We then get the strangest hunt sequence ever. She says the room is her bedroom, he pours a drink, she comes onto him, he says that only water (not alcohol) can quench his thirst, leaves the room and runs a bath (!), he invites her by saying they are both hunters and she strips and gets in, he pulls off her bat necklace, she transforms, he gets out of bath to retrieve aum sign from his jacket pocket!

capital punishmentThe witch is then seen in the village square, a bag is placed over her head and she is hung. When all have gone home, the Satanists take her body and vow to bring her back. The Thakur’s daughter, Jasmin (played as an adult by Jasmin), needs to be taken to school – Sameer offers to drive her. En route the car overheats and he has to get water. Baba causes Jasmin to fall asleep and takes a lock of her hair, tying it round a fetish. The fetish is put in a bottle and the bottle is placed in Nakita’s coffin. The girl is drawn to it. She is pulled into the coffin by the dead witch – Sameer tries to save her but is approached by sword wielding cultists.

Baba appears at the Thakur’s home with Jasmin. He spins a story of a storm, of Sameer being killed and washed away and of finding Jasmin. For his help he is given a job as a man servant. Preeti soon realises something is wrong with Jasmin and ends up being hung from a ceiling fan for her insight. We get moments that are The Exorcist like and The Omen like. The Thakur sends his niece Sahila (played as an adult, I assume, by Sahila Chaddha) away to school near her granny in Mumbai. We cut forward many years.

Jasmin as JasminJasmin has now grown up and is want to sing of love both in the bath or wearing lingerie and, whilst she protests eventually, she doesn’t actually seem to care if the hired help watch her. The hired help, incidentally, is part of the comic relief and yet has some serious moments – I’ll get to the comedy aspects soon. As well as having serious moments in the main plot he also has a sub-plot going on that is lifted from “The Cat Came Back” – it is a sub-plot utterly devoid of main story impact.

goon grabs SahilaThe Thakur has sent for Sahila to come home and Baba arranges for a large goon to kidnap her. She is travelling with a rotund man who thinks himself a horror film director. The goon attacks and she is saved by the just-happens-to-be-passing-by Hemant (Hemant Birje). Following this they all stay at a guest house – the sum total of the stay seems to be to have one bedroom farce gag with Sahila and Hemant, a song and dance routine, and a gay gag (of a level of 'I’ve dropped the soap') with the director guy. This takes us to a look at the comedic and song aspects.

singing in the seaFirst song. We know that song and dance are major parts of Bollywood films. In this I was less sure about the inclusion than perhaps I was within Bandh Darwaza. Jasmine has a song – which fits the film – however she seems to sing the same song over and over again. Be it in the bath, in her nighty, in the sea or in a silver dress trying to seduce her cousin's prospective man; it is all the same song. There is only one song between Sahila and Hemant and it is a doo-wop type track with a film sequence that takes in boats and roller coasters but has little – conceptually – to do with the film. All in all that is the entirety of the song aspect.

Comedy foils are also a mainstay of Bollywood films but, in this case, one felt the comedy aspect went too far. Given (or perhaps because) this was a horror there seemed a large amount of comedy. From my experience there tends to be a comedy foil (the rotund director was that in this) but this had many other characters fluctuating between main character and comedy character. Hemant was meant to be the action hero and Sahila was the not-evil girl, who ends up in distress. Yet they were also mainstays of the comedy. The comedy worked very well but the flicking of the use of character between comedy and horror made you question serious scenes whilst you were waiting for the comedy input.

green eyes = possessionThere is not a lot else to say plot wise except that the Thakur gets a psychiatrist to look after Jasmin, who keeps seducing and killing men whilst turning into witch mode. Baba is not content with the girl being possessed. He intends, as well as destroying the family, to sacrifice her on a certain night so that the actual body of Nakita can be reborn. We notice that as well as rotating heads and limbs and turning into the monstrous witch, Jasmin's eyes change colour from brown to vivid green (the contacts didn't quite fit if I'm going to be honest) when the spirit is upon her.

turning into a batOther lore that is vaguely vampiric as we know it involves turning into a bat – it is not just mentioned at the beginning but actually happens towards the end of the film – and being warded by the aum sign. Jasmin hunts at night but her possession is not limited to then and she has a tendency to rotate her head – ala the Exorcist. It is interesting that the Thakur seems to realise what is going on but is unable to act against his daughter.

crumbling before a holy statueWe do get a dissolving at the end – but it is not in the sun. In fact it s before a holy statue. The actual witch premise almost has a Bava overtone in its set up but the film itself does odd things. A promise by Hemant to follow Baba the next night ends up with a daytime chase with Baba in a horse drawn carriage followed by Hemant and Sahila in a jeep. The fact that it is daytime (rather than night), that Sahila is in an inappropriate cocktail dress and that the jeep can’t catch a carriage means little. It is here that the film falls down.

MahakalI have read that some deem this as one of the finest Bollywood horrors made. I felt it struggled. The comedy aspects overwhelmed the mix, the songs were limited (as bizarre as that may sound from a Western viewer) and there were inconsistencies through the film. For me, it was not as good as Bandh Darwaza. That said I found both Jasmin and Sahila incredibly easy on the eye and it was fun (be wary of its length, however). 5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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