Friday, July 06, 2007

ghutan: breathe easy or die laughing

[cross-posted on the Passion For Cinema blog]

tum dono.n ne use zi.ndaa kabr me.n dafanaakar ek ghuTan-bharii maut dii hai; aur ab tum log is khulii hawaa kii har saa.Ns me.n har pal ghuTan mahasuus karoge
(father james/ amit shankar)

Before they clashed at the boundary of life and undeath in this Ramsay flick, Aryan Vaid and Heena Rehman already had Fun - Can Be Dangerous Sometime in common. Since Payal Rohatgi featured in the cast of that film, it is safe to assume that it wasn't a complex layered film that intelligently explored the shifting dynamic of human relationships.

you devilish devil to the blood
(father james / amit shankar)

Heena Rehman having learnt from her dismal début in I Proud To Be Indian was quite happy swapping her husband, played by Aryan Vaid, with Siddharth Koirala. Acting as a pouting, piano-pumping spouse who gets bumped off by her husband and returns to haunt him and the audience was a natural step forward.

it's loud and clear in the pages of Holy Bible ... ki marane ke baad ruuh jism me.n daakhil nahii.n ho sakatii; it's anti-Christ
(father james / amit shankar)

Aryan Vaid's oeuvre sports an element of confusion. Mixed with movies like the husband-swapping excursion just noted, Chaahat: Ek Nasha and Market are endeavours like Makrand Deshpande's Danav. There's still a conflict of desire: to be an actor or a buffed toned B-movie staple. But the singular quality that might prove useful for Mr. Vaid in years to come is his resemblance to Arun "VikRam" Govil. The day will come when a biopic is dedicated to the life and career of the man who could play Lord Rama, King Vikram, ill-fated police inspectors (like Inspector Deodhar in Dhaal) or elder brothers and even a mute (Himmatwala). Until then Mr. Vaid can thrive on the loyal following for movies like the suffocating subject of this post.

wo ghuT-ghuT ke marii hai; wo hame.n ghuTan-bharii maut degii
(priyaa / pooja bharti)

While Keshu and Tulsi have moved out to production, Shyam Ramsay continues to take the Ramsay horror train forward. His latest scripted/directed effort Ghutan offers enough chortles from its comfortable opening to the final credit, its[sic] RAMSAY entertainment, which fades to black as a church bell tolls. Fans of Bollywood's First Family of horror will be disappointed by the low coefficient of skin (just some bareback work from Heena Rehman and Pooja Bharti) and the almost complete absence of the incongruous song-n-dance breaks. There are other things that persist, however: The lack of anything remotely scary, the absence of any attempt to invest money in sets that look realistic and the insistence on reusing familiar elements (sudden visitations, a lass in a bathtub being dragged under, an exploding bed) in a most unimaginative fashion.

you're a blind man; your eyes are open; but you see nothing
(father james / amit shankar)

Shyam Ramsay wastes no time by opening the film with a minivan approaching the gates of a cemetery. Womaniser Ravi Kapoor and his like-minded friend Jaggi are here to bury Ravi's wife Catherine. After some drama and exposition, it is evident that she ain't quite dead yet. The solution: coerce her into the coffin, strangle her close to death and drop in a torch for company (mai.n chaahataa huu.N tum apanii maut roshanii me.n dekho). Despite all the ghoulish looks and shoddy mise-en-scène, the scariest moment comes when you hear a background female vocal that sounds suspiciously like Anuradha Paudwal.

Ravi and Catherine spend most of their screen time together tossing abuses at each other. He calls her a bitch (even refers to her as such in her absence) and she calls him a bastard. The smart subtitling department, known for raising the ante of obscenity for innocuous dialogue, decides to pay tribute to Thomas Bowdler here. After all, they figured, only the hearing impaired were going to watch this film. So bitch becomes fool, idiot or woman, while bastard becomes scoundrel.

tum hii ho na? jo ravii ko roz (beat) roz ek nayii la.Dakii supply karataa hai? ... you bloody supplier!
(Catherine / heena rehman)

Mr. Ramsay is not interested in exploring the dynamics of inter-faith marriages. He is, however, keen on exploiting the rich Goan/Christian stereotype. He does this using the supporting cast: there's Catherine's faithful maid Nancy, who gets to scream, witness a murder, walk around drenched in shadow and gloom, get possessed and, as the flying leaping lunging screaming clawing launching Nancy, participate in some of the worst wire stunts in recent times; she even gets to pound her legs furiously against the ground accompanied by the electronic sound sample used for punches in video games. Then there's Catherine's uncle Tom NoLastName (played by Gufi Paintal), who doesn't have too much to do except insist that he always compared Ravi to a rotten apple and fake the clichéd Goan/Christian talk spouting axioms like are tum jaanataa hai na ki jab inasaan God ko pyaaraa ho jaataa hai tabiich candle jalataa hai?.

The film's leading lady Heena Rehman has a lot to do: she has to dress in seductive black, look sad and lonely, play Anu Malik's favourite chord progressions on the piano using actions that would lead you to believe she was doing push-ups, lie on her back quoting poetry by Mirza Zaafar Ali 'Hasrat' ( tumhe.n Gairo.n se kab furasat / ham apane Gam se kab Kaalii / chalo ab ho chukaa milanaa / na ham Kaalii na tum Kaalii) and in the next shot vent her frustrations to the calm Father James. After being buried alive during the opening credits, she appears to break free just like Beatrix Kiddo did in Kill Bill 2's The Lonely Grave of Paula Schultz, only to discover that she's merely experiencing a post-death out-of-body experience. The conversation between her and Father James on the subject of her reuniting with her body features some sparkles of dialogue (including some of that old first-English-then-Hindi business) and ghastly grammar:

Father James: Galatii se bhii ye Galatii mat karanaa waranaa tabaahii aa jaayegii
Catherine : why father why? why can't I enter my body?
Father James: because it's against nature; ye kudrat ke Kilaaf hai; ek baar ruuh ne jism kaa saath chho.D diyaa to jism miTTii ho jaataa hai aur aatmaa parawaaz; agar tuune apane jism me.n dobaaraa daakhil hone kii koshish kii to teraa jism zi.ndaa to ho jaayegaa par tuu inasaan nahii.n shaitaan ban jaayegii; an evil; a living dead

Shortly after this, Catherine's spirit heads to the cemetery screaming "I want my body! I want my body!", echoing the thoughts of the few drooling dudes in the nearly empty theatre that may have dared to screen this film.

Although Amit Shankar imbues Father James with a quiet calm reading and manages a good imitation of Sanjeev Kumar with the angry dilated eyes look, he still can't help sticking to that silly "an evil" bit throughout the film. "An evil what/who?" remains unanswered. He also lends the character's authenticity a much-needed kick in the rump by taking the Lord's name in vain. The other bit player who lends his role some gravitas is Shahbaaz Khan who plays the investigating officer Inspector Shaukat Khan. Most other players are limited to ephemeral appearances: Himani Shivpuri as Priya's mother, a well-dressed widow spouting the usual "your father left behind only debt for us" nonsense) and the randomly introduced Professor Siddarth Nath Bhattacharya, who vanishes after delivering one of the film's most promising lines.

is ulajhan ko sulajhaane ke liye ek gaharii concentration kii zaruurat hai
(Professor Siddharth Nath Bhattacharya)

As the film draws to a close with our lead pair back in the cemetery, you realise that you haven't seen a single song-n-dance sequence. As if to make amends, music director Vishwanath Dixit unleashes one of his creations upon us. The plaintive female voice (Alka Yagnik) belting out what proves to the title song offers a howlarious complement to Aryan Vaid racing to Catherine's grave in slow motion. It's not as funny as what Steven Soderbergh did with Berlin's Take My Breath Away in Ocean's Eleven, but it will have to do. If you manage to sit through all this, don't miss the end credits, which give the title song a chance to breathe again. It's part of that rare breed of film songs that drop crucial plot hints (in this case, the ending) and make for a poor listening experience, if you haven't watched the movie:

ye merii kabr me.n mujhako dafanaa diyaa
dekh phir bhii tujhe mai.nne apanaa liyaa

jo thii merii ghuTan ab hai terii ghuTan
(ghuTan hii ghuTan hai ghuTan hii ghuTan) * 3

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