Sunday, August 19, 2018

Nishi Trishna – review

Director: Parimal Bhattacharya

Release date: 1989

Contains spoilers

Facebook friend Prodosh recently suggested three Bengali films I might like to check out. A quick google was actually successful in uncovering two of those three, with English subs. This is the first of the two I found that I’ve watched/reviewed. The title of Nishi Trishna translates as Night Thirst.

Prodosh suggested that they were both turkeys but, be that as it may, this had some interesting moments and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Nishi Trishna was some thirty years older than it actually is – this is down to the black and white photography that offered the film a visual feel (for me at least) of the Gothic horror films that came out of Mexico and negated the impact of the hideous leisurewear that was sometimes on show.

Mili dies
The film starts with a carriage thundering through the night as a song plays and the subtitles inform us that the song is Thirsty Night. A photographer, Tony, takes pictures of Mili as the carriage idles in the town. A couple of guards question the mute driver and he suggests that they are going to the airport (through the medium of mime). One of the guards spots a coffin in the carriage and suggests that it is smuggling when Mili screams. She is found dead, marks at her throat as the carriage thunders away and Tony cries for them to go after it.

Fangs on show
In the graveyard Mili is being interred (which, interestingly, seemed to be a Christian burial) when the priest notices one of her hands is out of the coffin. They fully open the lid and she seems quite dead but the priest pulls her lips back to reveal fangs. She is buried but, as they are leaving, the cross marking the grave is literally blown out of the ground, the force throwing it away from the plot. The priest tells Tony to be careful as her death was mysterious. Mili's vampiric self does enter into this but is not really story central.

gypsy camp
So, a group of young people intend to go on a trip. One of them, Santana, is the daughter of the hospital administrator Doctor Banerjee – her boyfriend Dr Anjan Das works for her and has to ask for leave. Also going is Paul (Prasenjit Chatterjee) but his employer asks him to go to Gorchampa Palace en route as a mysterious occupant, Mr John, has goods for sale. When they arrive in the region of the castle, there is a gypsy camp near-by and Paul meets Shimli (Moon Moon Sen), a gypsy woman with reasons to go to the Palace of her own. She accompanies the friends and, very quickly, she and Paul fall in love.

Mr John
I won’t go into the story any more as it is flimsy enough as it is without me stamping across it in my size nines. Suffice it to say that Mr John is not the vampire, rather he is the vampire’s servant. There seems less than adequate reasons for everything that goes on; the vampire seems only motivated by the thirst for blood and, whilst there are connections to some of the characters, it does seem that there is no overarching master plan. What is more interesting, however, is the source of the vampire and some play with gender.

the vampire
Gender first. It is made quite clear that vampires crave blood from the opposite sex, with male vampires attacking females and vice versa. This is, of course, hetro-normative and places the symbolism of the attack well and truly into the sexual. However, when we get to the vampire’s origin story – which seems to be vampiric possession of a corpse – we hear the story from Doctor Banerjee. She very much becomes the wise vampire hunter, the Van Helsing, guiding the young vampire hunters in an unusual gender reversal for that role, which was definitely nice to see.

The vampire himself was a corpse and was the subject of an occult experiment gone wrong and was partly rotten due to his cadaverous origin  – the makeup wasn’t fantastic but the black & white will have helped a tad – the fangs were on the side of ridiculous. He slept through the day and was active at night but there was no indication that he would be destroyed or weakened by sunlight. He had full-on eye mojo, was warded by religious artefacts and could be killed by a stake to the heart.

eye mojo
The film was flimsy, which was its biggest issue, closely followed by suffering from low production values. But I was intrigued by that Mexican gothic feel and loved how they gender swapped the wise elder even though the attacks were hetro-normalised. However my interest around that was likely piqued because of some gender-queering that has gone on in a couple of Indian Dracula based novels, which Prodosh has switched me on to. Indeed this did owe some of its broad brush plot points to Dracula to the point that it felt as though it had borrowed from the classic novel. The film as a whole probably only deserves 3 out of 10 but, for the reasons laid out, it is worth a track down.

The imdb page is here.

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