Bollywood monster mash: Before Creature, we had Saamri, Reecha, were-tigers, vampires
By Nandan Kini
Another Friday is upon us and another cinematic monstrosity is being unleashed upon unsuspecting audiences. Only, this week around, with director Vikram Bhatt and Bipasha Basu's Creature geared for release, it is, quite literally, a monster mash. Bhatt, Basu and others associated with the film have been going around town describing Creature — fondly known as "Creature 3D" — India's first 'creature' film. However, Bollywood's obsession with all things hairy and rubbery is longstanding and much as Bhatt may wish to be the pioneer, he isn't.
Nobody has done more for the cause and emancipation of monsters in Bollywood than the Ramsay Brothers. Early in their career, they tackled sensitive subjects like zombies (Do Gaz Zameen Ke Neeche, 1972), quasi-wolfmen (Andhera, 1980) and even the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Dahshat, 1981). The famed brothers really came into their own when they discovered the charming and debonair Anirudh ‘Ajay’ Agarwal, for their landmark 1984 release, Purana Mandir. Agarwal, seemingly hewn out of a gnarled tree for this very purpose, was a perfect fit to play the monstrous Saamri, a bloodthirsty, undead demon with a faint resemblance to Michael Jackson from the mid-‘90s. Saamri's task? Stalking generations of Thakurs who for reasons best known to them insist upon inhabiting a godforsaken estate.
So iconic was Agarwal’s portrayal of Saamri that a year later, the Ramsays brought the character back in an eponymously titled film. In fact — and this should be of interest to the makers of Creature — the film was called 3D Saamri. This writer has only been fortunate enough to watch the more modest 2D version, but we can imagine that back in the day, the release must have been something to behold.
Agarwal continued to be the Ramsays’ main muse through the ‘80s and well into their ‘90s when Zee Horror Show had its heyday. Surprisingly, Agarwal displayed quite some versatility in the variety of undead horrors he could play. A personal favourite for this writer is his take on Neola, a centuries-old undead vampire that Agarwal played in Bandh Darwaza (1990). Why a vampire buried in the back of beyond for hundreds of years would dress in a three-piece suit, complete with a wing-tipped tailcoat, is anybody’s guess, but one likes to imagine that it’s a brilliant character-building move on the Ramsays’ part, showing that even bloodsucking demons can be fashion-conscious on occasion.
The Ramsays weren’t the only filmmakers to bring monsters into Bollywood. The great Mahesh Bhatt tried his hand at it and went so far as to create a new monster: the were-tiger in Junoon (1992). The film featured some stunning special effects for its time, with Rahul Roy transforming into a full-blown tiger every time full moon struck. Arguably, those effects may have been money wasted, given that Roy looks sort of wolfish anyway if one squints just right. Still, you can’t fault Bhatt for trying.
Others who have tried their hand at movie monsters include director Wilson Louis, who managed to rip off Hollywood’s Jeepers Creepers (2001) and make it even more terrible for his 2010 release, Kaalo. The film, which he touted as India’s first "daytime horror film" (whatever that is), featured a horned and rubber-faced monster stalking a bunch of stranded bus passengers. It was grotesque and terrifying enough to make audiences avoid the film entirely. The same goes for Jennifer Lynch’s Mallika Sherawat-starrer Hisss (2010), in which the leggy lady played a half-human-half-snake creature. Sherawat immersed herself so deeply into the role that she still hasn’t taken any of that make-up off, if her recent appearances are anything to go by.
However, Bollywood hasn’t always relied on special effects to bring its monsters to life. Indeed, some of its biggest stars have been content to terrify audiences sans special effects. One could say a shirtless Anil Kapoor in films like Jaanbaaz (1986) and Benaam Badsha (1991), looked just as terrifying as any werewolf. Indeed, in the latter, Kapoor went the extra mile and adopted a getup that can best be described as a lovechild of a werewolf and Caesar from The Planet of Apes.
Speaking of lovechildren, Kaatilon Ke Kaatil (1981) featured Dharmendra battling a creature called Reecha, a bear-human hybrid with skin made of steel. The villain Black Rose, played by Amjad Khan, describes Reecha as the product of a woman’s ursine love affair. While that thought is scary enough in itself, the most terrifying part of the film features not Reecha but Dharam-paaji in drag, with a manly Zeenat Aman in tow. The sight of the Deol sire in a frilly hat and dainty make-up is something that cannot be erased from one’s mind.
While his many fans might like to erase this from their collective consciousness, one cannot forget that Salman Khan’s most memorable shirtless scene is in a movie called Suryavanshi (1982). As the titular Suryavanshi, Khan battled many a monster, but it was his own look that was the stuff of nightmares. Trying to go for a Conan The Barbarian look, the considerably less buff Bhai ended up looking more like a librarian, and paired the topless look with what can only be described as a leather miniskirt. However, it was really his long blonde hair and beard that pushed this look over into monstrous territory and one is sure the image of him has kept many a moviegoer up at night.
This is the long, proud and rich tradition of monstrosity to which Vikram Bhatt's Creature belongs. Will Bhatt's monster make its predecessors proud? Considering the fact that it's up against Bipasha Basu and has expressions that were modelled upon Bhatt's own, we can only hope. May the best monster win.
Nandan Kini is a documentary film researcher and journalist based in Mumbai. Also the national president of the Association of the Sartorially Challenged, he tweets at @bombilfry and has booked his face at Facebook.com/nandan.kini.
Updated Date: Sep 12, 2014 13:22 PM