exclusive by Devansh Patel
Take for example during the cold months of the winter of 2008, the release of a horror film called '1920' becomes a national phenomenon. Would-be viewers stand outside for hours in bad weather to get a ticket, and the lines in Mumbai City were said to circle entire blocks. The film about demonic possession becomes a cult...a Phoonking success. Then suddenly you open your eyes and face the reality.
According to the director Vikram Bhatt, his new, spruced-up version of last years Bollywood hit Bhool Bhulaiyaa is not being labeled a "director's cut'. The reason is simple: director has stated loudly and frequently that he regards the original period horror flick 1920 as his definitive cut. So let me figure out what was so definitive about the film. The story is based in the pre-independence years of India. Arjun Singh Rathod (Rajneesh Duggal), a rajasthani architect fights his royal family for Lisa Taylor (Adah Sharma). Both get married in the court and start living happily till one fine day Arjun reads out a letter to Lisa saying that he would get a 20% increment in his salary if he gets successful in demolishing the beautiful period castle to make way for hotel. And that's when the horror film starts unfolding slowly in front of your eyes. The couple are seen arriving through the mist in a horse driven chariot to live in the haunted castle. But as soon as they step in their new home, spooky events start to take place every night. It is the locked door in the castle which is haunting Lisa. Soon, however, Lisa is hearing strange noises and experiencing violent tantrums and seizures. As her condition worsens and she begins speaking in an inhuman voice, the army of attending doctors and the father of the church (Raj Zutshi) advises calling in spiritual help. After examining Lisa, the priest agrees to assist in an exorcism, which will be performed by the priest himself. But way before that, the locked door opens up and you see a life size painting of Gayatri devi (Anjori Alagh). It was Gayatri's past which was troubling the present Lisa. To find out the solution to the problem Arjun Singh Rathod heads to meet the only woman who knew about Gayatri. What happens next is for you to experience.
I have always believed that horror films churned out of Bollywood are overrated. It is a creepy and atmospheric film that contains a few viscerally shocking scenes. 1920's strength is that it places character development on the same level as the horror elements, but it is not a ground-breaking motion picture. It is also a bit long, with a setup that could have accomplished the job with equal effectiveness in about 2/3 the time. There are instances when the first hour of the film noticeably drags. The addition of the second half, although extreme, does nothing to alleviate this problem. In fact, if anything, it exacerbates it. And there's certainly nothing in the myriad of newly included moments that makes 1920 a better motion picture.
Although the beginning portion of the film unfolds slowly, it accomplishes the aim of introducing the characters and highlighting their relationships. The real turning point comes when the door opens up to reveal Gayatri's past. It reminds you of the Salman Khan and Amrita Singh starrer 'Sooryavanshi'. At that moment 1920 shifts into the fifth gear. Every sequence subsequent to this one raises the stakes a little higher as one door becomes the focal point of a war between the forces of good and evil. Despite not containing many special effects (other than Lisa's spewing white and rustic gook at just about anyone who comes near her), the movie makes forceful demands on the makeup crew. Their success is mixed. The layers applied to Adah Sharma effectively transform her innocent face into a mask of torment and ferocity. The same kind of kudos goes to Anjori Alagh's make-up, who comes across looking exactly like what she is: beauty personified. Her wet hair look, her long white dress and the cut of her costumes made her look like a perfect Raj Kapoor heroine. Rajneesh, in some scenes had a bit more of than the usual puff n pancake routine.
Speaking of the two debutants, Rajneesh was rock solid as the architect who quietly exhibits the torment of a man of God who is losing his faith. Of course, the standout was Adah Sharma in her first major motion picture role. The strength of Adah's performance in 1920 was her innocent face. I mean, you just can't see the beautiful Anjori take over from the cute and petite Adah. Vikram Bhatt did the casting right but brought out one of the worst one minute blunders ever to take place in a horror film. Adah running around and playing hide n seek in the penultimate scenes laughing out loud. So much so that the press who were invited for the special screening couldn't stop imitating her laughter. So here's a horror film, a period horror which makes you laugh and that Mr Bhatt is the last thing a film maker wants to hear. On the flip side, I would've loved to see more of Anjori Alagh in the film. She came across as an actress with a lot of potential, she had less dialogues but her eyes did most of the talking. I always say, "For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it".
The cinematography was decent enough to make it look like a period film. Direction was good. Vikram Bhatt gets four on five for that but in the dialogue department, things didn't look that great. It suffered big time with predictable cliched lines and besides the Hanuman Chalisa and the melodious tunes of the piano there wasn't much to talk about Adnan's music.
It will be interesting to see how 1920 fares during its release. The film does not boast of a 'hatke' film. As a Bollywood columnist working in the U.K, I've seen viewers fleeing from the movie in shock and of stunned silence reigning throughout packed theaters while watching noir cinema. To add a bit of humor, 1920 is sepia. One generation later, much is different and movie-goers have become desensitized to the kinds of images presented in horror flicks. Indeed, there were instances when audience members seemed to view the film as an exercise in high camp. However, regardless of how movie-goers react, there is nothing dated about 1920 except the backdrop, the sets, the castle, the costumes, the candles....and ofcourse, the script.
Rating - **