Monday, February 16, 2009

Dhund Do Me Like That

(originally published in September 2007. The only other Bollywood movies I had seen at this point were Partner and Fanaa. Kind of a strange and circuitous journey I've been on! Re-reading this now, I have a perverse desire to revisit Dhund, since it's where His Irfanness first caught my eye).

I just saw my first Bollywood film a few weeks ago at the local art deco theater, so I’ve been busy checking out all the others I can find from the public library. When I heard about an Indian horror movie called The Fog (no relation to any of the Hollywood movies with the same name), I rushed to watch it. The consensus: Bollywood song and dance isn’t the most obvious fit with suspense, at least if this movie is any indication.

A young woman refuses to drop out of a beauty pageant, despite the insistence of a psycho who makes Scream-like telephone calls and kills her dog (off-screen, and not believable enough to disturb this animal lover). When she wins, he comes after her and her friends, who have to kill him in self-defense…or did they? They attempt to cover up the crime from her policeman uncle, all the while suspecting that he might be alive and out for revenge.

Irfan Khan, dramatically billed as the one-word "Irffan," is great as the sinister but oddly charismatic Ajit Khurana, in a role that would clearly be played by Benicio Del Toro, if there was going to be an American remake. Which, thank goodness, will never happen. Whenever he tosses back his greasy hair, there's a dramatic musical chord. I totally want that to happen in my everyday life. He also dresses like he's out of the Matrix, and eventually, after “killing” him and hiding his body, so do the wholesome young couples, becoming all dark sunglasses and black glossy jackets.

The musical numbers were a little on the blander side than most of the Bollywood I've seen so far, except in the way they express that very American 80s horror theme: the return of the repressed. After we’ve sat through their interminably cute, "wacky" courtship, the two couples go to a "farmhouse" (actually pretty much an enormous country resort) unchaperoned, on a "wet wet night." The song lyrics and the dance moves get more and more overtly sexy. Then, suddenly, the girls turn all innocence again, and send the boys off to get bring them dinner. After all that heavy breathing, abruptly stopped dead in its tracks, it's only inevitable that Ajit Khurana shows up at that moment to kill the beauty queen.

Later, at a party, there's an even more provocative dance number, all about a young woman who's "come of age," which seems to utilize traditional Indian dress in the same way Brittney Spears used to use the schoolgirl outfits. Again, almost immediately, guess who makes an appearance?

Other than Irrfan, the only really memorable part of this movie is the big tub of blood. Personally, I've never had occasion to move a dead body, but I've seen Blood Simple, so I can understand that the participants might not be operating at their peak efficiency. Still, one would think that if you were removing a dead body from a giant plexiglass bath tub, you'd drain the water before, or at least during, the removal operation. Just seems like that would make it easier for you. Then, if you could leave that tub full of Koolaid-red bloody water for a week without anyone noticing, that's not a resort where I'd want to stay. But at least it provides the set-up for one of the most delightfully ludicrous suspense sequences I've ever seen.

One of the cute young couples sees her uncle, the police inspector, on the road to the resort, at the same time they're en route to belatedly drain the tub. He was there before and he didn't notice anything, so unless he's driving all the way out there to take a bath...Oh, forget it. He spots them, and they get in a weird, slow-driving car chase as they try to beat him there. Then, they rush in and ... pull the plug! They watch anxiously as the water empties, the camera cuts dramatically back and forth, and he marches in just as the last of the red water is bobbling in the drain.

There are at least a half dozen logical problems with this whole scene: why did they stand around in the bathroom instead of trying to distract him when he got there? Why, in that huge house, did he go straight to the bathroom? He had no prior information about it that we ever hear of. Nobody asked, "Gee, why are you barging into the bathroom?" He didn't ask, "Why are you two standing by the bathtub looking so tense?" Wouldn’t it have made more sense to close the bathroom door and have the girl yell, "Just a minute, uncle, I'm not decent" until the water drained? And yet, it all made me laugh really hard, which is more than I Know What You Did Last Summer ever did.

There's a completely out-of-nowhere revelation at the end, which sort of explains what the heck was going on in the beginning with the fire at the waxworks, but raises even more questions. I would NOT recommend this movie, unless you know you have a high tolerance for this sort of thing. Parts of it are an endurance contest, but once the suspense finally kicks in, it has its charms.

For some perverse reason, there’s always more to say about the bad movies than the good ones. Still, I do like some movies that are actually good, so here goes.

Shutter seems to cover I Know What You Did territory too, especially early on, in the scenes that show how a hit-and-run can put a real strain on a romantic relationship. Maybe crossed with the Ringu subplot about how the doomed characters' faces get distorted in photographs.

One night a photographer and his girlfriend hit a young woman with their car and impulsively leave the scene. When they start finding strange shadows in his pictures, and his friends start turning up dead, it eventually becomes clear that it wasn't an accident at all. The woman was an old girlfriend that protagonist Tun wronged at the instigation of his loutish buddies, and she may or may not be a ghost already. He and resourceful new girlfriend Jane track down her hometown, and arrange a proper Buddhist funeral and cremation for her, in the hopes of helping her rest in peace.

Like The Eye, another Thai tale of the supernatural, the storyline isn't wildly original, but it's executed with subtlety and style. The ghost scenes are especially well-done, neither too much nor too little. And certainly the spooky Natre is a much more well-rounded antagonist than one usually sees in movies: still attached to the man she loved in life; understandably seeking revenge; and leaving shadowy messages to lead Jane to the truth about what happened in the past. I appreciated that last part the most. It's not just that her spirit wants revenge. Her spirit wants somebody to know what happened to her, and to judge it wrong.

I also have to mention a delightful detail: at one point Tun, in urban Bangkok, is seen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word "Minnesota."

Sadly, unlike Dhund, this is already being remade in English. With, uh, Dawson's Creek's Joshua Jackson and the girl from Transformers in the leads. If you like the quieter, eerier brand of Asian horror films, do me a favor: order the original from Netflix, and let's all put the remake completely out of our minds. Otherwise, someday we're going to be haunted by the ghosts of movie characters who are really annoyed at what Hollywood has done to them. Then it'll make perfect sense when the Ring-like girls come out of the tv sets.

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