Bollywood horror is truly a unique cinematic experience, for which nothing can adequately prepare you. One of the most popular of these movies is Veerana, released in 1988. It’s a combination of slapstick comedy, martial arts movie, horror film, love story and musical. And it switches between these genres with bewildering rapidity. If you can accept that this is an entirely different approach to film-making and allow yourself to just go with it, there’s a good deal of fun to be had.
The film opens with the execution of the evil witch Nakita. Nakita’s disciples are determined to bring Nakita back to life, and to take their vengeance on the family of the village boss. A decade later the daughter of the family is kidnapped. By mans of black magic the child, Jasmin, is possessed by the spirit of the dead witch. She is returned to her family by the high priest of Nakita’s cult, but she seems disturbingly different and strange events occur around her. The high priest, disguised as a wandering beggar, is taken into the family in gratitude for his having (as they believe) saved the daughter’s life. Cut forward another decade or so to the present day and the bodies of young men start turning up, young men last seen in the company of Jasmin.
There’s also a comic relief sub-plot about a would-be director of horror movies. And there is an attempt to kidnap Jasmin’s sister, from which she is rescued by a passing handsome stranger who just happens to be skilled in martial arts. He is also taken into the family, and they fall in love. And of course that’s the perfect excuse for a song or two. Meanwhile Jasmin is being taken over more and more by Nakita. But just because she’s become an evil witch doesn’t mean she can’t get to sing and dance as well! This is Bollywood.
One of the many fun things about the Ramsay brothers, the makers of tis and several other classic Bollywood horror movies, is that they’re not afraid to go outrageously over-the-top. In every possible way. Lurid colours. Lots of coloured gels. Set that incorporate every imaginable horror movie cliché. Bizarrely overdone makeup. Plenty of thunder and lightning. Incredibly crude slapstick. Fart jokes. Schmaltzy romantic duets. There is no such thing as too much excess. And that’s what ultimately saves the film. If they’d held back just a little it would have all fallen apart.
It’s also, by the standards of Indian movies, surprisingly sexy. There is of course no actual nudity or sex, but there’s a lot of sexiness. The actress who plays Jasmin (whose actual name is in fact Jasmin) is exceptionally hot, and she wears a succession of slinky dresses, even in one case a very slinky black dress which is wringing wet after an impromptu dip in the surf. And she displays a generous amount of cleavage. In fact the movie got into quite a bit of hot water with the Indian censors. There are also some extremely suggestive jokes, almost reminiscent of what you’d expect in a Russ Meyer movie. The Ramsay brothers were really pushing the edge of the envelope as far as sexual content in Indian movies was concerned.
It’s a very odd concoction, but undeniably entertaining. It’s one of the two movies in volume 2 of Mondo Macabro’s Bollywood Horror Collection. If you’ve never sampled the delights of Bollywood horror I’d suggest Purana Mandir from their Bollywood Horror Collection volume 1 as a better starting point. It follows much the same formula but with slightly more coherence and marginally less craziness. If you like that one, then you’ll be ready for extra added weirdness of Veerana.