Saturday, November 29, 2008

Purana Mandir (1984)

Curses! The Singh family could tell you about curses, if the head of their family wouldn't be so damn stuck up. Their troubles began when one of the their ancestors, a thakur (those are always trouble one way or the other) helped track down a nearly demonic sorcerer, rapist, child-murderer, grave-robber and corpse-eater (we are unfortunately not told what he thinks about kittens) named Saamri (Ajay Agarwal). It's not a big surprise that the good thakur knew only one answer to this charming list of crimes: death by beheading. Saamri didn't have much appreciation for capital punishment and cursed the Singh family terribly: each woman of the family, be she part of it by blood or by marriage, will die as soon as she gives birth to her first child until one day Saamri himself shall rise and end the Singh family line forever.

The thakur was less than amused. But he had a theory: If he put the demon's head into a chest hidden in his palace and put Shiva's trident on top, and hid his body at the local temple, there would surely be no resurrection. Pro-tip: If the local priest tells you that burning is the preferrable method to get rid of the remains, listen to him. Those guys not only know Cure Serious Wounds spells, but are also experts in demon recycling.

Alas, the thakur went with his method and so helped perpetuate the curse.

In modern times, Suman Singh (Arti Gupta, dressed in the most astonishing combinations of 80s headwear I ever had the misfortune to behold) wants to marry her supremely creepy, leering stalker-boyfriend Sanjay (Mohnish Bahl, let's not talk about him any further), but her dad (Pradeep Kumar) is strictly against it. (And honestly, I wouldn't blame him for it even without the curse.)

The young lovers think it's the class difference between them that lets Daddy sic his red waiter uniforms wearing henchmen on Sanjay. In truth, the old man has seen what the curse did to his wife, but is for some reason unwilling to tell anyone the truth.

There will be quite a bit of "Nahiiiiin" screaming and melodrama before he finally changes his mind and the young lovers decide on the solution to their problem: birth control. No, wait, that would be reasonable, so instead they pack Sanjay's friend Anand (Puneet Issar, mostly shirtless and mustachioed - I loved him) and his girlfriend into a red chevy impala and drive to the old palace to somehow solve the problem by having the friends act as if they are on holiday and Sanjay flirting with a local village girl - only to get information of course.

You can probably guess that this isn't the brightest idea, but if it leads to phenomena like moving eyes in a picture, giant bodyless ghostheads, headless ghost-bodies, Anand doing Chiba-fu when fighting against local tribals (who very much act like Hollywood Indians crossed with burning-torch-mob villagers), another chase between a coach and a car and finally the resurrection of Saamri himself, I am not going to complain.


I watched Purana Mandir thanks to the magic of the Internet together with Beth of Beth loves Bollywood whose review of the film you shouldn't miss. In contrast to Beth, I prefer Bandh Darwaza, the other film by the glorious Ramsay Brothers on Mondo Macabro's Bollywood Horror Collection Vol. 1 (and where, dear Mondo Macabro, is volume 2?) over it, but both films are very close in spirit. That starts with the similar monster make-up and does not end with the unfair chase scene. The biggest differences between the two films are Purana Mandir's ill-conceived comic relief sub-plot with Jagdeep and (poor) Rajendranath that stops the film dead in his tracks with a disturbingly unfunny riff on Sholay and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and the fact that it stops for a breather a little too often.

Fortunately, the film is still a very fine piece of breathless Bollywood pulp horror with many elements to recommend it.

There are for example the nice, blue-green-red lighted locations and sets that look very much as if Mario Bava's less talented but very enthusiastic Indian twin brother had designed them. I would not want to live in a palace this foggy.

Or the musical numbers that are usually not all that well picturized but feature unforgettable sights like a belly-dancing disco aztec princess or the least seductive dance of seduction this side of Bandh Darwaza.

Speaking of the musical numbers, the best of them comes at the least expected moment. The locals are going to sacrifice our heroes to appease Saamri, the poor darlings are already bound and the knives are at their throats, when the tribals suddenly break out into the most carefree and chipper song and dance number imaginable. There is even torch juggling! I really can't conceive of what the Ramsays thought there, but it's definitely one of the supreme moments of psychotronic film I have had the pleasure to witness.

And how could I not mention my new personal hero Anand again, another proof of the mustachio theory of manliness? Not only does he help his friend Sanjay selflessly, he is also one of the greatest ass-kickers of India, his fighting style a combination of Bruce Lee and Sonny Chiba's breathing in Street Fighter. He even does the two-fingered eye-poke!

Is it any wonder that his girlfriend dreams up a dubious but hilarious nearly-sex scene when she watches him work out!?

Now add to all this Saamri's favorite killing technique - staring really hard at his opponent until the victim's eyes turn white and start to bleed (clear shades of Lucio Fulci here) and a silly but fun final fight that throws logic out of the window for a nice little burning and trident stabbing and you have a recipe for good clean fun with a deep moral message about the necessity to burn undead abominations dead.

The Ramsay's direction style is raw (some would say primitive) and direct. Subtlety is not one of their strengths, even for Bollywood film makers, yet the film achieves what it sets out to do by mercilessly pummeling the viewer with classical masala elements, pulp action and the pulp version of gothic horror (see the steadicam of evil!), leaving me breathless with happy giggling. Problems only appear when the film slows down a little - especially the middle part has some real moments of drag, which are fortunately forgotten as soon as Anand pummels someone again.

It is truly difficult to understand how I could live without films like this for so long.



dfordoom said...

I slightly preferred Purana Mandir to Bandh Darwaza, but they're both great fun. Must watch more Bollywood horror!

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

You should probably take a look at