Purani Mandir, released in 1984, has been my first glimpse into the world of Bollywood horror. It was apparently one of the most successful of all Indian horror movies. I don’t think there’s any point in trying to judge this as a conventional horror movie. It just has to be taken on its own terms. It doesn’t play by the rules of western horror movies. At a point in the movie where an evil unstoppable demon is rampaging about killing everyone in sight and the hero and heroine are chained up about to be sacrificed to the goddess Kali – it’s time to bring on the dancing girls! In fact it’s time for a big-production song-and-dance number. This is Bollywood, and a horror movie includes lots of elements that western audiences don’t really expect to find in a horror movie. There’s the singing and dancing. There’s an extended comic sub-plot, which is really only funny if you’re familiar with the Indian movies that it’s sending up. There’s a very involved romantic sub-plot. If you can accept these things, and if you can put up with the first half of the movie which can be heavy going, then there are considerable pleasures in store for you.
The plot involves an evil demon which was beheaded by the Raja of Bijapur. The demon placed a curse on the raja’s family – all the female members of the family would die in childbirth. Two hundred years later, in the present day, the daughter of the current raja has fallen in love. Her father, knowing of the curse, tries to prevent her from marrying her young man. The lovers, accompanied by a friend who just happens to be a martial arts expert, set out for the ancient palace of the rajas of Bijapur, to find a way to lift the curse. Along the way they encounter an incompetent bandit, a mysterious wild girl who lives in a lake, some crazed villagers, and find several opportunities for song-and-dance numbers. As the movie progresses, it becomes more and more insane. Insane in a good way. The second half of this film is non-stop weirdness, mayhem, over-the-top gothic imagery, terror, madness, and song. Ajay Agarwal is a frightening and effective monster, while Arti Gupta as Suman is a likeable and suitably beautiful heroine. The movie tries to be sexy, but censorship in India is strict. So there’s a shower scene in the movie, but for reasons of decency the heroine wears her bathing costume while she’s showering. It all adds to the fun and madness.
The Mondo Macabro Bollywood Horror DVD release includes this movie and Bandh Darwaza and includes (as always with Mondo Macabro) some great extras. Both movies look reasonably good (despite Mondo Macabro’s apologies for the dubious state of the surviving prints of these films). I loved this movie.