Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tahkhana (1986)

aka The Dungeon

The evil sorcerous son of a Thakur uses the opportunity of his father's death to make a play for the family treasure that is secreted away in a nearby dungeon and can only be found with the help of a map pendant that has been broken in two pieces - at least I think that's part of his plan. He'd also very much like to revive the evil godhood (made of clay and blood, we are informed) he is worshipping through the blood sacrifice of innocents.To keep things simple, he kills his brother and kidnaps the man's daughters to sacrifice them right in the treasure dungeon. Unfortunately for our evil sorcerer, his brother's best friend Mansingh and his men arrive just in the nick of time to ruin his plans and rescue at least one of the children, Aarti (soon to grow up to be Aarti Gupta). Sapna (growing up to be Sheetal), the other sister, is lost in the jungle somewhere together with half of the pendant. Mansingh decides that it's appropriate to entomb his sorcerous enemy in the dungeon alive together with his godhood and take Aarti in as an adoptive daughter.

Twenty years later, Aarti knows nothing of her tragic family history or her lost sister. She's in love with Mansingh's son Vijay (played by some bland guy parts of the internet - I blame the IMDB as the source of this and more errors - insist is Puneet Issar, but who definitely isn't). But the happy cavorting of the young lovers has to come to an end. Mansingh is lying on his deathbed, and before he dies, the old man tells the story of Aarti's inheritance to her, Vijay and his nephews Anand (who definitely is played by Puneet Issar) and Shakaal (Imtiaz Khan), asking them to find Sapna and help Aarti take possession of her birthright. Mansingh also hands Aarti the other half of the treasure map. The question now is just how to find Sapna.

The answer to that question is less pleasant than the usual Bollywood story of lost siblings would suggest. By chance, Sapna stumbles into the hotel Shakaal owns looking for work. Shakaal (and who would have thought that of a character in a Bollywood movie named Shakaal and played by Imtiaz Khan!?) is a proper sleazebag, and so offers Sapna a job as a dancer, but appears soon enough at her doorstep to take what he probably sees as the proper reward for his help.

Sapna isn't the kind of girl willing to prostitute herself though. During Shakaal's following attempt at raping her, Sapna is killed. It is only then that her killer sees her pendant and realizes whom he has murdered; not that he's sorry about anything he's done, mind you. Shakaal takes the pendant for himself and makes a copy to hand to his family once a proper opportunity arises, which will be soon.

Once the untrustworthy treasure map is in their hands, Aarti, Vijay and co decide to move into the Singh family's old mansion near the treasure-holding dungeon. Unfortunately, they're taking Shakaal with them, too.

But the bad guy's attempts at gaining the treasure (and trying to rape every woman he lays his eyes on) won't be the worst of our heroes' problems. The old evil sorcerer has revived his Godhood through his own death, and the unpleasant monster is now wandering the dungeon, killing whomever he can lay his claws on.

Fortunately, the local country strongman and all around swell guy He-ManHeera (Hemant Birje) is around to help put villains and monsters in their place. Or rather pillar-ly looking stone "stakes" into their hearts.

Outward appearances and a longwinded plot synopsis notwithstanding, Tahkhana is one of the less complicated films from the Indian sub-continent I've seen. Unlike many other of the horror movies made by the Ramsay Brothers, Tahkhana doesn't rejoice in the complex net of plots and subplots that make up your typical masala film. At times, the film seems consciously constructed not to be like a masala, what with it killing one of the long lost sisters off very early on. That's just not how a lost sibling plot is done in India.

I wouldn't call the film's plotting tight or lean, exactly, but it is a very simple story told in a comparatively linear way, which also explains the film's rather short (for commercial Indian cinema) running time of less than two hours. Given these time constraints, it's no wonder that there's not much room for comedic relief (although what is there is still painful enough, thankyouverymuch) or minor plots which aren't closely interleaved with the main plot. There's even only room for two musical numbers, both of which are musically forgettable and mildly sleazy - just as you'd expect of the Ramsays.

What there is room for is a number of quite entertaining action and horror set pieces, the former obviously dominated by Hemant Birje and Puneet Issar, who both also seem just too happy to show off as much chest and ass as they can get away with. The Ramsays' films are nothing if not generous with both beefcake and cheesecake; a quality I've always found highly admirable. Apart from that, Birje also is an expert in screen strongman fighting and would have played Hercules more than once if he'd gone to Italy. He's even throwing a few pillars.

The horror scenes aren't quite as great as they are in other Ramsay films. The Hammer worship filtered through an Indian style isn't as convincing as I'm used from the brothers' output, the lighting isn't as freakish, and the film's monster just isn't one of the brothers' best. The big lumbering guy is physically impressive enough, even though his combination of monk's robe, dark oatmeal face and shaggy gorilla costume is more silly than frightening, but he's just a grunting monster without any dimensions of spiritual or human evil, which seems to be a step back for a Ramsay movie.

Given the nature of Tahkhana's Big Bad, the whole film feels more like an adventure movie with an added monster than the sort of silly yet loveable and enthusiastic scream fest I by now expect of a Ramsay film. That's not to say Tahkhana is a bad film; it is entertaining enough. I just don't think it shows the Ramsay Brothers at their best.


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