Sunday, 17 February 2013

Mahakaal (1993)

mahakaal-221x300Mahakaal (The Monster) might be a Bollywood rip-off of Wes Craven’s 1984 US smash hit Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s a very entertaining one.

This Ramsay Brothers production entered production in 1988 but was delayed for several years because they were beaten to the punch by Mohan Bhakri’s Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off. It was finally released in 1993, by which time the Indian horror boom was all but over. While it’s a late entry in the Bollywood horror cycle don’t let that put you off. It's still a very good horror movie.

Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay directed while Gangu Ramsay was responsible for the cinematography and co-produced the film with Chander Ramsay.

The movie starts with a very impressive dream sequence in which a young college student, Anita (Archana Puran Singh), is menaced by a monster wearing gloves equipped with razor-sharp knives.   When she wakes up her nightgown is torn and she has claw marks on her arm. This nightmare was an uncomfortably real one.

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Anita is in love with Prakash but she has also attracted the attention of Randhir. Randhir is a bit of a bad boy while Prakash is a clean-cut young man. Anita’s father, who happens to be the local chief of police, approves wholeheartedly of Prakash.

Anita’s friend Seema is in love with Prakash’s friend Param. They’re all university students and life is very pleasant for them. Until the nightmares start. Seema has the nightmares as well, and Param will soon find to his cost that the nightmare monster doesn’t pick favourites as far as gender is concerned. He wants to kill them all.

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Inevitably one of the nightmares has fatal results and one of this group of friends faces a charge of murder as a result. No-one will believe the person’s crazy story about someone being torn to shreds by an apparently invisible killer. When the monster strikes again Anita’s father finally breaks down and admits that he knows something that may explain the killings. A few years earlier a crazed killer who wore gloves equipped with blades was kidnapping children and sacrificing them in order to increase his powers in black magic and sorcery. One of the children he kidnapped and murdered was Anita’s sister Mohini. Anita’s father buried the killer alive, but now it appears that wasn’t enough. The killer, Shakaal, has evidently used his black magic powers to enter the world of nightmares. That’s bad enough, but what if he finds a way to enter the real world?

Anita’s father is sceptical of superstitious beliefs in black magic, but even he is shaken. Anita’s mother has no such doubts and consists a holy man, who warns her of the dire consequences if Shakaal is not stopped. The eventual result will be the ultimate horror, Mahakaal.

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The acting is fairly standard by Bollywood standards, in other words it’s generally pretty good. Being a Bollywood movie there is of course singing and dancing but that’s par for the course and it’s one of the charms of Bollywood movies. One of the less enjoyable things about Bollywood productions is the comic relief. Comic relief is bad enough at the best of times, but comedy is a commodity that does not travel well. On this occasion the comedy is provided by Johnny Lever who plays Canteen, so named because (obviously) he runs the university cafeteria. Canteen has a bit of a Michael Jackson fixation (remember that the movie started production in the late 80s) and also has fantasies about being Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, or possibly getting a role in a movie by the famous Ramsay Brothers. He’s initially mildly amusing but the novelty wears off pretty quickly, especially when he starts to pop up as Canteen’s brothers as well.

The most impressive features of this movie are the visuals. There are some spectacular and imaginative set-pieces that compare very favourably with the best horror movies made anywhere. The special effects are mostly good and the make-up effects are excellent. Shakaal is a wonderfully effective movie monster. I personally think he looks more impressive than Freddy Krueger.

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The long running time of 132 minutes may put some people off but that’s also par for the course in Bollywood movies and this one has enough genuine chills to make it worthwhile for horror fans to persevere. And if you like gore you’ll be reasonably happy.

Mondo Macabro’s DVD presentation offers a very good print. It’s paired with the equally entertaining Tahkhana in the Bollywood Horror Collection volume 3. It’s in Hindi with English subtitles. All of Mondo Macabro’s Bollywood horror releases are worth seeing and if you’ve acquired a taste for Bollywood horror then Mahakaal is highly recommended.

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