Every couple of months, I get a feverish and uncontrollable urge to watch a Bollywood film. After succumbing to the urge, as I endure lengthy disruptive musical numbers and piss poor comedy sequences, I have to question my sanity. With Bollywood horror in particular, part of me wishes that the musical numbers and comedy bits were hacked out to create a faster-paced viewing experience. But then it wouldn’t be a Bollywood film, would it?
India, 1979, Rajkumar Kohli
The film opens with a loony and speedy intro. We meet a young married couple whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Their driver attempts to fix the car, while the couple try for help at a nearby big, imposing house. From the moment they enter the creepy abode, it becomes clear that it’s haunted as fuck. A ghostly face of an angry ghost appears and tells them his story. This furious spirit is Thakur Jwala Prasad (Raza Murad). In a flashback we discover that Jwala was poisoned by his red-clad wife (Sheetal) on his wedding night. She married him for his money and ran off, cashed up, with her lover. Prasad’s angry soul lives on, killing any bride in red he comes across.
The spirit of Prasad chases the married couple out of his haunted house then WHAM! We cut to what appears to be a totally unrelated scene of a creepy guy (played by the face that haunted my childhood — Amrish Puri of Temple of Doom!) who has kidnapped a bride. He’s forcing himself upon the bride when suddenly he becomes possessed by Prasad’s evil spirit, which I guess just makes him extra evil? He was, after all, already a raper. He turns into a hairy, long-armed monster and kills the bride by crushing her neck with his giant, hairy foot.
The terrified married couple see this go down and run away. The monster chases them, but they manage to escape. Hurray! Uh, but yeah… then they get on a train and the monster kills them. The murder scenes in Jaani Dushman are utterly insane and genuinely unsettling. The camera becomes a wild mess of wild angle lenses and fast cuts, and, while they’re not gory scenes, they’re pretty brutal and unpleasant.
So anyway, the bride’s dead, so is the creepy guy that Prasad possessed. Problem solved, right? NO! We’re only five minutes into the film! We then flash forward some kind of small amount of time. We’re thrown into the middle of some village drama where a local bride has just been kidnapped. No one knows what happened, but we do! It was the hairy bride-killing monster! We begin to meet all the important people in the village. There’s Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar), the benevolent dictator of the village who is considered a literal god by the idiotic villagers. There’s Thakur’s shit son, Shera (Shatrughan Sinha), who likes to molest women, and is confusingly presented as something of an anti-hero. There’s the very fun Reshma (Reena Roy), a sexy lady who cross dresses as a moustachioed man for reasons I didn’t understand. And, best of all, there’s Lakhan (Sunil Dutt), the village’s favourite cool guy and king of horse flips.
A whole bunch of brides start getting murdered left, right and centre, and a romantic tug-of-war between Lakhan and Shera with Reshma in the middle ensues. In-between all this nonsense we get goofy sketches with characters who I think we’re supposed to be blind acting stupid. There were long sequences in this where I honestly had no clue what was supposed to be going on. The film also breaks the fourth wall regularly.
Jaani Dushman acts like the identity of the killer is a mystery, but it flat out tells us very early on that Thakur, the village leader, is possessed with the evil Prasad. It shows him having a sweaty, mental breakdown seeing a bride in red, and we may even hear his inner thoughts clarifying that he is in fact possessed (I could be totally making that up… I can’t be bothered scanning through the two and a half hour running time to rewatch this bit). But nope, we get red herring after red herring, despite knowing full well who the killer is.
According to Wikipedia, Jaani Dushman ‘recorded as Super Hit at the box office.’ I don’t know what that means, but I guess it was a successful film. As messy as it is, it’s not hard to see why it might have been popular. It features a crazy big cast of Bollywood stars, the music is mostly great, the locations are lavish, and the horror is completely wild. There’s some wonderfully melodramatic moments (Reshma distracting Shera with a song and then holding him up at gunpoint), and a few twists that took me by surprise (even though they were largely irrelevant to the plot). And there’s a man wearing a silly monster suit and fangs strangling ladies to death. What more could you want?
I picked up Jaani Dushman from an Indian supermarket on a cruddy bootleg DVD for a couple of bucks. I have no idea if there’s a legit version out there, but please let me know if there is!