Previously on Zombos Closet of Horror:
Zombos, IL and Glenor discovered a rather large hole in Zombos' closet. Apparently caused by an equally large mouth with sharp teeth. The exterminator has been summoned. While Zombos and IL polish off their second bottle of a delightfully delicate claret while waiting for the exterminator, serious questions still remain. What took a big bite out of Zombos closet? Will the exterminator arrive before they have to break open the case of Olorosa cream sherry? Can a Bollywood-horror film actually be successful without singing and dancing? And why is Iloz Zoc, Zombos' astute valet, writing this in the third person?
It took a few attempts to get Shripal Morakhia's Naina into the DVD player. After the first bottle of claret, my coordination deteriorated rapidly. I finally loaded the disc, and we were soon watching this intriguing Bollywood-horror remake of The Eye.
With a matter-of-fact tagline that reads, 'Twenty years of darkness, seven days of hell, no one could survive it, SHE DID,' we did not have very high expectations. But the claret made us stronger and more daring. I was also sorely, disappointed that there were no documentaries, commentaries, or any extras on the DVD.
Then there are the cultural differences: How would a Hindi version of The Eye fit in with the melodramatic and religious aspects of Bollywood cinema?
"Bring on the dancing and singing Gopis," hiccuped Zombos. "If I could stand it in Rocky Horror, I can stand it here."
"There were no Gopis in The Rocky Horror Picture Show," I told him.
"Not dressed as such, but the premise is the same."
"Point taken," I conceded. "But there are no Gopis, nor singing or dancing in this film."
"What? Impossible! I thought that was a contractual requirement for every Bollywood film?"
"Apparently horror films are excluded from that requirement." I concluded. I started the film.
The opening sequence shows the accident that leaves the young Naina blind, intercut with a bloody cesarean-section that reveals a still-born baby girl who suddenly comes back to life as Naina's parents are killed in the accident, and an eclipse of the sun. We are then brought some years later to a point where Naina is ready to undergo a cornea transplant operation.
Urmila Matondkar plays Naina with a bit of melodrama — after all this is a Bollywood film — and her overly grandmotherly grandmother (Kamini Khanna) rarely leaves her side. Yet, the coloration of the film, the cinematography, and, to some extent, the somber, bittersweet piano score are more indicative of a J-Horror-styled film.
Naina speaks briefly to a boy undergoing numerous brain operations, before she undergoes her surgery, but the scene is marred by the use of a really bad bald wig on the boy. At least I am sure it was a bald wig and not a bandage: either way, it confused both of us enough to distraction. Reading the subtitles, one also gets a sense for the poetic dialogue often used in Hindi films. I should add that it is also damned difficult to take notes when reading subtitles. No wonder you don't see many reviews of Hindi horror.
She undergoes the operation, and soon begins to see, through her blurry vision, creepy dark figures leading patients away. She also starts to hear spooky sounds, and has visions of dead people. Strangely enough, just about every dead person she sees is dressed in clean white, neatly pressed clothes. It is comforting to know that there are laundries in the after-life. No sense of fashion, just laundries.
Grandma soon pulls out the eligible bachelor photos for Naina to see, now that she can, and starts working the old marriage magic on her. But Naina is becoming more and more melodramatic as her visions become more unnerving. As Hindi cinema tradition would have it, the psychiatrist grandma brings Naina to for help is handsome, eligible, and infatuated with her loveliness immediately — it's love at first sight for both of them. A somewhat derailing Love Boat romantic montage ensues, and the horror portion of the film is put in the backseat as love is in the air.
"Wake me when we get back to the dead people," said Zombos.
I took a long sip of claret. Finally, we were back on track with the horror portion of our film. I nudged him awake.
Naina sees more dead people, and they now see her. From hanging guys (by the neck, that is, still dressed in clean white, neatly-pressed clothes, mind you) in restaurants, to little girls with little curls in hallways asking, "have you seen my mummy," she quickly becomes one highly strung individual. Her psychiatrist boyfriend thinks it's all in her mind (no, really), and she can't convince grandmother that creepy black figures and dead people are driving her to melodramatic heights.
Then there is the elevator scene. All I shall say is that it works well, had us on the edges of our seats, and is a super J-Horror-with-Bollywood-nuance encounter. After it, she is back in the hospital, and seeing more creepy black figures. A walk-through the morgue, as she follows eerie sounds and black figures, is done with her as the only moving figure in a frozen scene of doctors, nurses, and bodies in various stages of dissection. One frozen, scooped-out individual provides a bit of a surprise for her, and is done in typically graphic Bollywood fashion.
At this point in her travails, she begins to question God. You don't see that very much in your typical American horror film, unless some victim or madman is yelling an expletive. She questions why God is showing her these sights. Before we can find out more, though, Intermission appeared on screen and the film stopped. You certainly don't see that anymore in American horror films either.
I half-expected to see a dancing bag of Buttery Sally Popcorn and Mr. Straw jumping into a cup of Coke, singing "Let's all go to the concession stand, and have ourselves a snack," but Intermission remained resolutely on screen.
"Thank god," said Zombos. "I really need to take a p–."
"I'll get the sherry and Coke. "
"Capital idea!" he said, hurrying to the bathroom.
While we wait for intermission to end kiddies, let me direct your attention to this article on BMJ.com, which details the concerns that Indian eye specialists raised when the film appeared in the theatres. The article mentions the onerous task of getting cornea donors due to "strong religious beliefs of reincarnation and related superstitions." It goes on to quote Dr. Ajit Sinha:
At this juncture all those who will watch the movie will definitely have an impression that after corneal grafting surgery the patients will get supernatural experiences and hence it will create a setback to the movement of eye donation. The donor and recipients both will be scared to come forward," he added.
The article is an interesting look into the cultural impact of films in India. Okay. Zombos is back in his seat, and the sherry and Coke are on the table. Let us continue with Naina.
END OF INTERMISSION
While Naina is riding the train, talking to the psychiatrist on her cell phone, a revelation occurs, forcing her to suddenly question not only God, but herself. It seems she is not the victim. She is not even herself. Someone else, the person whose corneas she now possesses, is the real victim.
The story now shifts, and Naina drags the reluctant shrink boyfriend with her to a place she has seen in a vision. Naina is now a woman with a mission. She stops being the victim, and now becomes the hero, which, in Bollywood cinema is usually left to the boys. This sudden shift in the story woke up Zombos and myself. It was daring, plausible, and suspenseful.
The film at this point becomes more than a one-note horror story, which is so often the case with American efforts. Naina overcomes her fear. She demands to know what happened to the eye donor, and in another, more traditional, twist to the story, which introduces the religious and philosophical reasons for why the dead people are appearing to her, she is provided with a definite plan of action. She must save the spirit of the eye donor who is suffering an endless cycle of pain and limbo.
And the story is not over yet! It seems that death will not be stopped, and the creepy black figures collect in the thousands (at least that's what the subtitles say) for the — say it with me — climactic ending.
Elements of Naina are similar to Premonition and Sixth Sense, true, but the mixing of J-Horror and Bollywood sensibilities provides a story that is part-horror, part-mystery and wholly worth a view by the Americanized horror-head looking for something out of the ordinary.Powered by Sidelines