Thursday, September 06, 2018

The Zee Horror Show: Dahshat – review

Directors: Tulsi & Shyam Ramsay

First aired: 1994

Contains spoilers

When I reviewed the Indian film Neighbours, a friend, Prodosh, informed me that not only had Shyam Ramsay directed that but essentially had made the same film as an episode for Indian horror anthology TV series the Zee Horror Show, under the title Dahshat (for some reason listed as Dehshat on IMDb). I had a search for it and found the episode, cut into 6 parts, on Daily Motion – with English subtitles. It was a poor print and low resolution (so apologies for the quality of the screenshots.

Vishal is the primary protagonist
Essentially both this and Neighbours are almost exact lifts of the classic US flick Fright Night. There are differences between each of the Ramsay versions as Neighbours added in a prologue section and the vampire began as a witch/vampire and then was a vampiric spirit that possessed an individual. The biggest change is gender swapping characters, so in Neighbours the main protagonist is female rather than Fright Night’s male protagonist. In this the protagonist, Vishal, is male (as in the original) but lives with his father rather than his mother. The vampire, Nakita, in this as in Neighbours is female – however remember that the Fright Night team added a female antagonist in their 1988 sequel Fright Night Part 2.

from Bandh Darwaza
So, Vishal is a teen lad who loves horror films, in fact, as we meet him, he is watching the Ramsays’ Bandh Darwaza. His father comes in and switches it off, bemoaning his love of the genre and suggesting his college work is suffering. In this version of the tale it seems the parent is right as Vishal has a nightmare of the vampire from Bandh Darwaza coming out of the film (with a spectacularly crap bat on show) and entering Vishal's room looking for blood. His resultant scream brings his father and their servant running.

Priyanka and Sweety
Sweety is Vishal’s girlfriend and, as we meet her, she is making a convoluted excuse to her uncle to get out and see her friends. I say convoluted because not only will they all go back to her home for her birthday celebration but she never seems to have a problem getting out for the rest of the film. She meets Vishal and Priyanka but mutual friend Rahul is not there. He eventually makes an appearance, bandaged up and telling the story of an encounter with a sumo wrestler and being run over by a cart. It is here that sums up where I struggled. The acting is affected, more pantomime than anything else, and this comedy character/moment just wasn’t funny.

Nakita, the Mistress
Be that as it may they go to Sweety's birthday bash and her Uncle’s friend, horror author Indrajeet Nath attends. Vishal is a huge fan and they start talking about his latest book where he describes an evil spirit that, should it roam the earth for a hundred years, transforms into a human form to suck blood and pass on its curse. At this point it is mentioned that they cast no reflection. Later that night Vishal spots a car arriving at neighbouring plot #13, a disused house – a coffin is carried inside. From this we have the standard Fright Night plot of the lad not being believed and eventually getting reluctant help from Nath.

blood at mouth
The main other changes are that the two servants are both vampires as well, and that it is Vishal, not Sweety, who is taken by the vampire and needs rescuing. However, where the servant was not a vampire in Fright Night, the vampire in Fright Night Part 2 did have vampiric servants and the kidnap of the male protagonist has more to do with the gender of the vampire – Charley in Fright Night part 2 was taken and needed saving. It seems likely that there was some degree of lifting from the US sequel as well as the original. There are other changes that have a minor impact, such as the police being called in at the finale but their presence was short lived. There is a major lore change however.

bat thing
When Nath goes to test the vampire, he brings with him a mirrored cigarette case (which is how he eventually detects them) and a vial of holy water (from the Ganges). Nakita has given the time they should arrive and takes the water and drinks it. Why did it not work? Nath had forgotten that holy items do not work at dusk! Clearly a noodled rule to explain the scene. Beyond that it is the holy aum symbol in use, and too long an exposure to the symbol can (apparently) melt a vampire, and the aum also tops the stake. There is a skeletal bat like creature, the design of which seems to be lifted from Dandridge’s bat form in Fright Night but which is just mentioned as a guardian of the lair.

using the aum
Unlike the later film this does not have song and dance moments (though it has a bizarre and scene inappropriate use of a Star Wars theme at one point in the show) however it does overstay its welcome. Some of the more comedic moments could have been shaved out and that might have improved the pacing. The acting is universally poor throughout and very stagey and affected in places – with, for example, the kids laughing together feeling unnatural and stilted. The effects aren’t brilliant and there is even some casual “slut shaming”. This occurs with a delivery guy flirting with Sweety when looking for plot 13 (it is a scene repeated in Neighbours and the delivery guy is found dead the next day). Vishal is jealous but cannot blame the guy, the problem is her and her mini skirt (that is not actually mini at all) .

Of course, the quality of the print did not help, however one has to say that this was considerably poorer than the later Ramsay film. This had the advantage that Vishal was much more useful as a protagonist than his gender-swapped counterpart in Neighbours. It must also be said that, in both cases, it is fascinating to see the interpretation and re-imagining of the original classic – but possibly only for hardcore genre fans, casual viewers beware. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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