Ek Thi Dayaan: Bollywood’s Modern Witch Myth

Published August 16, 2016 by rmpixie

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Ek Thi Dayaan (2013, 2 hrs, 15 mins)

I haven’t seen a Bollywood film for quite some time now.  I used to work in a library situated in Toronto’s Little India, where I would come across a heavy rotation of Bollywood DVDs, magazines and TV series.  I finally took the plunge one day after asking a co-worker what she would recommend and was seduced right away.  From comedies like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998), to traditional love stories like my all time favourite Taal (1999) and yes, the songs still make me cry, those colourful cinematic smorgasbords with dancing and singing interjected into the meat of the film worked their way into my heart.

Bollywood has been throwing its hat into the horror ring for decades too, with 1949’s Mahal, said to be the first true Hindi horror film, the ghostly comedy Bhoot Bungla from 1965, and coming to the forefront in the 70’s with the Ramsay Brothers fun and schlocky low-budget horror films.  There are a couple of cool short YouTube clips about the brothers and their impact on the horror genre in India: Part One and Part Two.  They opened the floodgates for modern horror, and now there are many, many films drawing on things that go bump in the night Bollywood style.

 

 

(Unfortunately, Bhoot doesn’t seem to have a proper trailer with subtitles, but watch this one for the feel of the film.)

 

One of the more memorable films for me is Bhoot (Ghost). Directed by Bollywood’s controversial horror maverick Ram Gopal Varma, this 2003 multiple award winner tells the story of a man who scores an apartment for a steal due to its previous resident’s suicide.  Things get weird when his wife is tormented by the former resident’s ghost.  It impressed me with the creepy atmosphere, nary a traditional musical number, and could stand up to any J-horror at the time.  Unfortunately, I would soon change jobs, and access to films weren’t as easy as sifting through returned items.  I fell off the Bollywood bandwagon until my sister, who still has her finger on the Bollywood pulse, recently passed 2013’s  Ek Thi Dayaan (There Was A Witch) my way.  She swore up and down that it was one of the better, less schlocky horrors she’s seen in a long time, so the horror boyfriend and I settled in for the 2 hours and 15 minutes of foreign horror fun.

Adapted from a short story Mobius Trips by Mukul Sharma, Ek Thi Dayaan tells the tale of celebrity magician Bobo the Baffler (Emraan Hashmi), India’s answer to Criss Angel and David Blaine, who has a dark past.  He’s haunted by his sister Misha who died when he was just a boy, but he can’t remember any details of her death.  His doting girlfriend Tamara (Huma Qureshi) wants to get married and adopt Zubin (Bhavesh Balchandani), a boy they befriended at a nearby school, but his distant demeanor and jumpy nature puts a damper on their plans for the future.  To move forward, Bobo decides to get to the bottom of his fears.  Visiting his childhood psychiatrist, he succumbs to a hypnotic trance to access those memories.

Those memories leave him even more confused than before, but he pieces enough together from his buried past.  After losing their mother, 11-year-old Bobo and his younger sister (Sara Arjun) try to make a life for themselves with their doting father Sharan (Pawan Malhotra).  Bobo is preoccupied with a book on the occult, and decides that a finicky elevator in his building is a direct ride to Hell.  When he and his sister fool with the elevator, a mysterious woman named Diana (Konkona Sen Sharma) appears.  She immediately charms his father who invites her to be their governess, and soon his wife.  Bobo is determined not to like her, and mistrusts her to the point where he believes she is a witch and out to sacrifice them.  When a double tragedy destroys the family forever, Bobo has to face his childhood delusions and trust that the deaths that stole his innocence and family wasn’t the end result of supernatural forces.

That’s the film in a spoiler-free nutshell, but there are plenty of juicy details in between.  Being a Bollywood film, there’s a quick interval between the first and second hours (which is actually a shorter film than usual.  Most clock in at 2 ½ to 3 hours).  In this case, it’s as if director Kannan Iyer presents 2 different films.  Bobo’s recounting of his childhood has a Harry Potter-esque feel to it, while the second half embraces a more traditional horror film, bringing up distant comparisons to Rosemary’s Baby, and even Anabelle.  Once you get past the slightly ridiculous name of the main character and focus on the musical numbers (of course!), some cool special effects and fun jump scares, you’ll find yourself with a great contemporary South Asian horror film.

While the story gets a bit patchy from time to time, the production value is fantastic, and the performances aren’t of the usual Bollywood fare; bringing a touch more substance than you would expect.  It seems that the horror genre gives a lot of theatrical wiggle room for the performers to explore. The kids in the first half were quite good, and there’s some great possession performances later on in the film.

One fun fact that caught my eye was the disclaimer at the beginning of the film stating that the filmmakers don’t stereotype women as witches.  This strikes me as a really interesting angle.  Even though the witch myth has been used to keep women’s power at bay, from a feminist view, the disclaimer actually acknowledges the mistreatment of women throughout the ages globally, and specifically in India, that have been ostracized or accused of being witches for being childless, widowed or single.  In a 2013 interview, Iyer mentions that he went to great lengths to avoid the typical village dayaan or witch folklore, and the disclaimer also puts an enlightened spin on it as well.

While Robert Egger’s The Witch (2015) divided a whole legion of horror fans, I think Ek Thi Dayaan is a supernatural crowd pleaser that bypasses the usual Bollywood melodramatic themes and gives you lots of witchy chills.  It’s got some decent horror aspects, a great plot twist and a haunting theme song you’ll catch yourself humming as the end credits roll.

 

 

*I mentioned the singing and dancing in Bollywood films, but movie music is actually a huge industry in India.  In most of the films, the songs are sung by “playback artists”, or  professional session singers while the movie stars lip sync the lyrics.  The songs are just as important as the film itself, with a soundtrack often being the driving force for making a film a box office hit.  Composers and singers like legendary A. R. Rahman, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bosle created memorable melodies marking a film’s time in the spotlight.  Ek Thi Dayaan is no exception.  Here’s that haunting theme song Kaali Kaali sung by Clinton Cerejo and written by well-known composer and director Gulzar.  It basically talks about the magic a man finds in his lover’s eyes and how he’s bewitched by her and the treasures she hides there.  It’s actually much more romantic with the full translation, which you can find here.

 

 

Ghostbusters 2016 Ain’t ‘Fraid o’ No Ghosts, and Ain’t That Bad Either!

Published August 2, 2016 by rmpixie

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Ghostbusters (2016, 1 hr, 56 mins.)

The revamp of the classic comedy Ghostbusters has been the subject of nerd controversy ever since word got out that there would be a new film and an all female cast.  There was the infamously hated trailer, the championed the girl power angle, and the bellyaching, diehard fans who pooh-poohed the idea and spewed purist commentary to whoever had an ear to listen.  While the nerd storm rages on, this light and silly film was a fun addition to the ghost chasing tradition.

Erin (Kristen Wiig) is a physicist eyeing a job with tenure at Columbia, but is “haunted” by a book she penned with her then friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the paranormal in which she strongly stated her belief in ghosts.  Erin is desperately trying to hide this fact, but the book’s discovery by a descendant of the Aldridge Mansion Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley Jr.) has tracked not only the book down, but Erin herself in the hopes that she can help with a haunting there. Erin seeks out Abby to stop her revival of the book which jeopardizes Erin’s chances of moving up in the world.  When Abby hears about the Aldridge haunting, Erin reluctantly goes along, and they, along with Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a kooky engineering whiz kid and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a seasoned New Yorker with a wealth of historic information about the city, begin a paranormal escapade that involves plenty of crazy antics and ectoplasm in order to save the Big Apple from ghosts once again.

I went into the theatre with no expectations.  I knew about the kerfuffle over the female cast and the purist haters, but I stayed clear of it because I didn’t want any bias for when I saw the film.  As the end credits rolled, I think the IMdb rating of 5.4 is a little harsh.  I was expecting some major story issues that veered off into far, far left field in terms of the Ghostbusters universe, but was surprised that it stayed really, almost too close to the formula of an intro to the team who then realizes there’s a threat and the subsequent resolution.  I though it was a fun, summer popcorn movie that paid homage to the franchise and I’m still wondering what the issue is.

chrisHGhostbusters

Chris Helmsworth as the hunky Kevin

Great one liners, kicky comedic timing, and the swooning over Chris Helmsworth as their handsome but ditzy receptionist Kevin hit all the right notes for something light, funny and unapologetically cute.  McKinnon and Jones steal the show, and I’m glad.  McCarthy and Wiig had their vehicle of Bridesmaids to catapult them into the comedy classic annals, leaving plenty of room for others to shine.  It could also be that McKinnon and Jones have great chemistry because they’re current castmates on SNL.  My only wish was that the surviving cast of the original 1984 film had reprised their roles instead of the random cameos placed in the film.  I think that would have made for something with a bit more substance.

And I simply don’t understand the trailer controversy.  The pointless amount of time people spent critiquing, commenting and whining over a 2-and-a-half-minute clip to promote a film that they can’t get back.  Newsflash:  Most trailers are misleading, too long, crappy or give you a false idea of what the film will be.  I didn’t see anything unusually bad about the Ghostbusters trailer, in fact, I didn’t really pay attention to it except to note the cast and that the reboot was nigh.  Another thing was all the vitriol against feminism spouted by the haters.  How Sony had some sort of “social justice” agenda.  Who knew casting four women would cause such a furor?

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The Ghostbusting gals ready for battle (against ghosts…and crusty naysaying nerds…)

The character of Patty Tolan was also criticized for being a black stereotype.  I have a fine-tuned stereotype radar, and while I felt some of her wardrobe was probably considered “black” attire, and I agree with the criticism that she should have been a black scientist, her character was one of my favourites (especially during the concert scene).  She didn’t translate as “street-smart” as she is often described, but as a native New Yorker and historian, and having seen Jones’ stand-up act, she adds a bit of her shtick to the character of Patty.

I was in a theatre of mostly kids, and it was nice to hear them laughing at the gags and discovering a new take on the franchise.  There were also the older movie-goers like myself, including a woman who hooted and hollered each time an original ghostbuster made a cameo.  That made for a great time, reminded me why I liked the original and defied the lukewarm reviews floating around out there amidst all the school yard pouting about whether girl ghostbusters are better than boy ghostbusters.

Outcast Review: More Than Just Personal Demons

Published June 21, 2016 by rmpixie

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Outcast (Cinemax TV series, 2016)

 

There’s a new show in town and it’s called Outcast. Created by The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman and adapted from his comic of the same name, it follows a troubled young man Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit), who has had an abusive childhood and is now estranged from his wife and daughter. Kyle is not the most popular guy in Rome, West Virginia due to his violent history and lives secluded from everyone around him. The community is wary of him and his only friends are his adoptive sister Megan (Wrenn Schmidt), and his sympathetic neighbour Norville (Willie C. Carpenter).

When a young boy’s strange (and gross) behaviour turns unbelievably violent, his mother goes to the town reverend for help. She is convinced her child is possessed and wants the Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) to exorcise him. When the demon proves too strong, he calls on Kyle for help. It seems Reverend Anderson has known Kyle for most of his life, and feels that he is destined to help with ridding people of demonic possession due to Kyle’s own experience with a malevolent entity that stole his mother from him. We learn there are very dark forces at work, and they want to make Kyle’s life a living hell so-to-speak.

I’ve watched the first 3 episodes and I’m hooked. The opening credits alone are pretty brilliant. A shadowy substance seeps into the everyday mundane of a small town, and the camera pans slowly like a rollercoaster on Valium. Add an ominous score and my interest was piqued with the disconcerting atmosphere as the names of the cast and crew came in and out of focus. That atmospheric dread comes with each episode as the story is revealed little by little, so if you’re looking for a fast paced show, you’re out of luck. What it does instead is keeps you guessing with tidbits of clarity. We know that Kyle still lives in his run-down childhood home but is plagued with memories of his mother’s horrific abuse. We also know people around him hold him responsible for his estranged marriage because of his supposed violent nature. He lives in a close-knit community, but as the plot goes on, the fabric starts to unravel creating a lot of intrigue and a whodunnit feel that I’m really enjoying. The show is chockfull of violence, and some of it is tough to watch, especially Kyle’s flashbacks of the intense childhood abuse, but it leaves you with a compassion for his character that you realize he needs to give himself.

Patrick Fugit as Kyle Barnes

Patrick Fugit as Kyle Barnes

Fugit who often plays quirky characters, is the right choice to play Kyle. He has a lost look to him that draws you in and makes his anguish believable. British actor Glenister’s disheveled demeanor as the Reverend channels Kolchak from The Night Stalker, and it works. Their mismatched personalities create an unlikely duo with a bumbling chemistry. I also love Reg. E Cathey, most recently seen on House of Cards, who plays the town’s Chief Giles. His character is one to watch, and keep your eye out for Lee Tergesen (know for his many TV series appearances on shows like Oz and Defiance) who plays a really nasty guy!

Kyle (Fugit) and Reverend Anderson (Glenister) banishing demons.

Kyle (Fugit) and Reverend Anderson (Glenister) banishing demons.

I’m curious to see where Outcast will go. It covers horror well for those who love a good demonic possession but also brings in a human element making each episode extremely compelling. Kirkman’s brain is made of horror magic, and the show is already renewed for a second season, so the forecast sounds promising. You can catch it on Cinemax in the States Fridays at 10 p.m. and HBO Canada at 11 p.m.

More Horror for National Canadian Film Day 2016!

Published April 20, 2016 by rmpixie

 

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National Canadian Film Day-April 20, 2016

 

It’s that time of year again when we celebrate Canadian Film on National Canadian Film Day!  Good old Hollywood North gets a day to say “Hey, we make great films up here!”  Of course, being the gal that I am, I’ll concentrate on horror made right here on Canadian soil.

First off is a couple of indie slow burners that really resonated with me.  Screened at Toronto After Dark Film Festival and Blood in the Snow Festival last year, these two contributions feature man vs. nature in the most hellish way.

The Interior(2015), directed by Trevor Juras, premiered at Toronto After Dark Film Festival and really needs to be seen on a big screen to experience the overwhelming beauty and psychological terror.  James (Patrick McFadden) is bored with his life and dealing with a gnawing ennui.  When he has to come to terms with his mortality, he escapes to the wilderness to deal with his issues. He soon realizes a mysterious figure is sharing the forest with him, watching and waiting to strike.  See this one for the cinematography and the unravelled performance by McFadden.

 

White Raven (2015), also premiered last year, but this time at The Blood in the Snow Festival (of which I am now a film programmer!  Yay!), also takes place in the wilds of Mother Nature.  Four friends take their annual manly camping trip so they can catch up with each other’s lives and bond.  They soon realize that one of them isn’t doing so well, and his obsession with a past wrong and a Native legend will change their lives forever.  Director Andrew Moxham pulled some really great performances out of the cast.  Definitely worth seeing.

 

Feel like something gory to whet your horror appetite?  Then you’ll want a to check out Bite (2015).  This festival favourite also screened at BITS and includes all kinds of cringe-worthy splatter.  Casey (Elma Begovic) is getting married and goes to Costa Rica for her bachelorette.  When she is bitten by a mysterious bugaboo, she returns home only to find the bug bite has gotten worse and her symptoms have become stranger.  Director Chad Archibald and the crazy kids at Black Fawn Films really went for it and created a fun gooey body horror classic.

 

Heir (2015) is a short that left me feeling really uneasy.  Gordon (Robert Nolan) suppresses an urge and an ailment that he shares with a supposed old college friend Dennis (Bill Oberst Jr.).  He brings his son to meet Dennis, but there is a more sinister reason for their visit.  With creepy undertones and some intense performances, this little film directed by Robert Powell will definitely make your skin crawl.

 

For some classic weirdness, I recommend Pin:  A Plastic Nightmare (1988).  This gem from bizarro-land directed by Sandor Stern, brings us Leon (David Hewlett), an isolated young man who becomes friends with his father’s (Terry O’Quinn) anatomically correct see-through dummy named Pin, used in his father’s medical practice as an educational tool.  This unusual attachment grows as Leon and his sister Ursula (Cynthia Preston), lose their parents in an accident.  What ensues is a weird spiral into obsession and insanity.  This one you’ll just have to see to believe!

 

Seiren (2015) is a short that should be a full-length horror, which is what director Kat Threlkeld intends to do at some point.  When a model (Sayla Vee) gets bitten on a beach photo shoot, she begins to transform into a vicious version of a well-know legend.  Loved this for the special effects and Vee’s blood-thirsty performance.

 

And They Watched (2015), directed by Vivian Lin, is a short with a strong message.  A custodian cleans the execution room of a prison, and disturbs some troubled souls.  Lin got the idea for the film after reading testimony of death row inmates.  It is chilling and the makeup effects are really, really good.

 

So there you have it!  Get out there and freak yourselves out with some great Canadian horror on National Canadian Film Day! Check out my full reviews of the festival films on Cinema Axis here, and be sure to read about other great Canadian films on Cinema Axis too!

 

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