I get a big kick watching exploitation and genre movies from a wide range of countries and cultures. I do, however, draw the line at Bollywood films. I’ve watched a handful and tend to find them frustratingly long and dull.
However, a catch-22 rears its ugly head. While I have no love for Bollywood, I’m obsessed with rip off cinema. I love rip offs of Hollywood films – the more shameless the better. I even prefer Indonesia’s Lady Terminator to the real thing. Blasphemy, I know. Bollywood is, of course, built on appropriated ideas. While I’m not concerned with Bollywood remakes of say The Matrix or Pretty Woman, when I hear that there’s an Indian remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, my curiosity gets the better of me. Combining my obsession with unsanctioned tributes and my love of sharks, I think it’s understandable that I filled my pants with poo when I heard of the existence of a Bollywood rendition of Jaws.
India, 1996, Prem Lalwani
The shark in Aatank is largely irrelevant to the film’s central plot. “Central plot” is probably the wrong wording though. Aatank is a movie made up of several subplots, all as insignificant as the other, running in tandem and having little to do with each other. The shark plot revolves around Jesu (Dharmendra), a local bad-ass and, I suppose, the film’s hero, who is out for the blood of the enormous murderous shark responsible for the death of his (not blood related) brother, Peter (Vinod Mehra). The shark isn’t introduced until an hour into the film when it randomly appears to munch down on Peter’s new bride (Nafisa Ali), so most of Jesu and Peter’s story is filled with dull interactions between the two and a lengthy and entirely unnecessary introduction showing their shitty childhood. The story that takes up the bulk of Aatank‘s running time is a weary plot revolving around pearl smugglers lead by the sleazy Alphonso (Amjad Khan). These plots sort of meet when the shark intervenes in the pearl smugglers’ business towards the end of the film, leading to a hilarious moment where Jesu rather inappropriately murders a man.
Aatank‘s bumbling plot is matched with the expected poor production values. Judging by the film’s aesthetics and considering it was cashing in on a film from the 70s, I was shocked to see the date of this film’s release was 1996. However, doing a bit of internet sleuthing, I found that the film was apparently shot in the 1980s and, due to production issues, was shelved for over a decade. The film looks and sounds awful, complete with murky cinematography and horrible musical interludes that painfully interrupt the plot and extend the film’s already bloated running time. I must say though, its all rather fascinating. Watching Aatank was a similar experience to watching Mahakaal (1993) – Bollywood’s answer to Freddy Krueger – where I felt like I was privy to a filmmaking universe that I would normally be barred from. And as plodding in pace as Aatank is, I never felt bored. Annoyed and bewildered, yes, but never bored.
While the shark in Aatank is a fairly useless addition to the film’s narrative and its screen time is limited, I have to give credit where credit is due. You won’t see another shark like the shark featured in this film. It is hysterically big (its size also constantly changes), zooms through the ocean with its fins and tail entirely immobile and possesses the strength to shatter boats in two. Aatank‘s shark is a screaming, panicking mess attacking anything in its path. Unlike Jaws, where the shark is clearly smarter than your average sea monster, Bollywood’s adaptation is a mindless buffoon, so cartoonish, unpredictable and wild that it gives the film a surreal quality.
Aatank is only for those that are suckers for punishment. If, like me, when you see a goofy clip from a film, seeing the whole thing becomes a priority, then, by all means, track this one down (the entire movie is on YouTube at the moment). But if you can accept that the only scenes in this worth watching can be viewed in just over five minutes, then enjoy the ludicrous stupidity below and save yourself a torturous two hours…