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October 06, 2011

Veerana

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Tulsi Ramsay & Shyam Ramsay
Mondo Macabro All Region DVD

In his brief notes about Veerana, Mondo Macabro master Pete Toombs claims that the Ramsay brothers were inspired by the Jose Larraz film, Vampyres. It's a bit of a stretch, I'd say, but it's also not too difficult to identify those films the Ramsays plundered. Just in terms of genre filmmaking, there's bits from Dracula as envisioned by Tod Browning and Terence Fisher, a revolving head from The Exorcist, as well as inspiration from Bava's Black Sunday. The everything plus the kitchen sink approach is most evident in a scene taken from Poltergeist where the witch is sitting in front of a television showing nothing but static. The witch resembles a cross between Jacqueline Pearce in the Hammer horror, The Reptile, and Linda Blair in The Exorcist, albeit with non-existent dental hygiene. For all I know, the Ramsays must have been inspired by Bob Hope in Ghost Breakers, with their own elbow nudging "in joke", as there's a plump comic character, named Hitchcock (!), a film director of horror films, who contributes a measure of self-referential joking to the entire mishmash.

Like any good Bollywood film, there's also time for some singing and dancing as well. But what makes Veerana of interest is not only how some Bollywood filmmakers attempt to make a horror film to fit within an Indian setting, but the ways in which the Ramsays have also attempted to push what can be shown in Indian films. Totally out of left field are an obtuse reference to the Rolling Stones, as well as what is meant to be some kind of gay joke. According to Toombs notes, the film was cut for censor approval, and only those 18 and older were able to see Veerana at the time of its original release. The violence is relatively mild, but the cutting seems to have affected the more sexually suggestive aspects of the story. Even by current standards, Veerena may well be one of the sexiest movies from Bollywood.

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The witch Nakita, in her beautiful human form, seduces men, and drinks their blood. One of the local men, Sameer, attempts to put an end to this reign of terror. In a significant cultural twist, Sameer is able to put Nakita at bay with an aum symbol, instead of a crucifix. What Sameer doesn't realize, though, is that hanging a witch isn't enough. The spirit of Nakita comes back to life taking possession of Sameer's daughter Jasmin. Jasmin mostly seems to stay in her room, although gradually, the rest of the household realizes that she's been making a habit of taking late night walks out in the woods that seem to coincide with the appearance of several dead men.

As if to make things easy for the audience, Jasmin is played by an actress named . . . Jasmin. By Hollywood standards, she's a bit on the fleshy side, but by Bollywood standards, her appearance here is brazen. With her display of cleavage, shots of her chubby thighs, and two scenes that take place in bath tubs, plus scenes that suggest that sex has taken place, Jasmin, under the direction of the Ramseys, must have made more than a few people blush. It's not quite Elizabeth Taylor encased in a body hugging slip in Butterfield 8, but the effect was probably similar for those seeing Jasmin running around in a black slip that does nothing to hide her voluptuous curves.

Even though they keep their clothing on, the musical number performed by the young hero and his virtuous girl friend, played by Hemant Biieje and Sahila Chadda, is an ode to raging hormones. As if that wasn't enough, another scene cuts to a man reading the Kama Sutra. Curiously, the title has been translated as "Loneliness" although there is nothing to indicate that anyone, even Jasmin (the character), is really lonely or looking for love. And while the Ramsay family kept on making horror movies, Jasmin seems to have disappeared. And while Veerana is of some interest as a horror movie, the real reason to watch this film are the two musical numbers. The singing was dubbed by Suman Kalyanpur, but the body teasing the audience, whether peaking out of a soapy bath tub, or thrashing along the beach, belongs to a one named actress, remembered primarily for this single film.

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Posted by peter at October 6, 2011 07:35 AM

Comments

Peter- excellent notes on the legendary Ramsays. I remember growing up they used to produce a saturday night horror TV series called 'The Zee Horror Show' and it used to scare the living daylights out of us kids. I highly recommend 'Purana Mandir' (The Old Temple)- the film in which they had a better cast but a more audacious plot and the one that strengthened their cult status.

For a better Horror film from the same time-period, check out 'Raat' (Night) by Ram Gopal Varma. It's a killer.

Posted by: Gautam Valluri at October 7, 2011 12:39 PM