People who have grown up on a staple diet of Bollywood films will agree that its tryst with horror has been less than memorable. Many Hindi horror films come across as a parody of the director’s vision, or rather, a lack of it. End result? More laughs than scares. As Vikram Bhatt’s film 1921 completed three years of its release on January 12, let’s decode why this Karan Kundrra and Zareen Khan-starrer was more of a spoof rather than a good spook.
A PING-PONG OF FLASHBACKS
In this fourth instalment of Vikram Bhatt’s period horror franchise, real dread descends upon us when we try to find a flow in the film. 1921 opens in 1927 with Ayush, played by Karan Kundrra, who is a gifted pianist. He refuses to perform on stage and instead drowns his sorrows in alcohol. Then the scene then flashes back to 1921.
A wealthy Mr Wadia played by Vikram Bhatt himself spots the piano prodigy Ayush and sponsors his studies in England with one caveat which required Ayush to take on the role of the caretaker of Wadia’s estate in York. After this starts the back-and-forth of flashbacks, not just with the present, but between one period and another.
EVERY HORROR TROPE EVER
York, circa 1921, is gloomy and foggy, which means poor sunlight and also, Indians dropping dead. Don’t judge yet, or do, there’s a reason this film made it to the Wahiyat list. So, Ayush starts living in the mansion while pursuing music and for some additional income, conducted private piano recitals. Soon after, he starts to feel the presence of malevolent spirits. How does he do so? Pick any and every horror trope that exists, they are all in the film.
From creaking doors and woman’s scream to strumming of a wicked tune on the piano and little girls running around giggling, you’ll find it all in 1921. Ayush’s skin also starts to crack up and his body turns black. But don’t worry, we have an exorcist. This time, a female one, armed with the Bible. Enter Zarine Khan’s Rose.
A SAD, SPIRITED ROMANCE
It’s an age-old Bollywood formula to add sensuality to horror, and that’s okay. But the convoluted storyline and screenplay of 1921 is nothing but a sad affair. So, Rose is a medium who can communicate with the spirit world. Ayush seeks her out and implores her to help him rid his house of the paranormal activities.
Rose is a fan of Ayush’s music, and therefore readily agrees to help the man she has long adored from afar. Her enthusiasm to start the paranormal partnership is more than that of the spirit’s. Anyway, between solving the mystery of the vagrant spirits, love blossoms between the two. But as their intimacy increases, so does the power of the hovering spirits, but the girl is ready to sacrifice herself and save her lover. Very original!
A SERIES OF EERIE ENCOUNTERS AND LOOSE ENDS
So predictable are the developments of the scares, that you get numb to the presence of the ghosts. Despite that, you’d probably do a better job at sensing their presence than Rose herself, even though she admits to having had the ability to see spirits since childhood. Why? It’s because she nearly jumps out of her skin whenever she sees even a slight shadow of any ghost.
Ayush and Rose decide to uncover the identity of the spirit and deal with it. Ayush thinks it’s Wadia’s niece Meher who had tried to seduce him in return for not spilling the beans to his uncle about his private concerts at the manor. But in the ludicrous happenings that followed, she was inadvertently killed by his hands.
But when that suspicion leads to no solution, Rose reveals it could be her fault. She tell Ayush that his music had once stopped her from committing suicide. She had been heartbroken over the death of her parents and threw away the poison because she fell in love with his music without seeing his face and now her unrighteous friend is seeking revenge by haunting him. But then, let’s not talk about that angle, going with ignorance is bliss just like 1921 makers did when it came to sound and special effects.
GHOSTLY OR GHASTLY, FAIR GAME
While Vikram Bhatt tried to piece together the disjointed ends of his story, the climax fails to redeem the film. There are also references to the Mongolian plague and World Wars, all far from their historical timelines.
With the number of songs in the film, which honestly all sound the same, 1921 can easily be called a horror-musical. Yet it disappoints at that too. But if you are looking for an unintentional comedy, 1921 works as a story with no top or bottom, much like some of the decapitated zombie characters in the film. Ah, what a nightmare! Not the film, just its memory.