Zombiesthaan movie review: First Bengali zombie horror film may have an edge but doesn't make most of the advantage
Abhirup Ghosh has obviously been a post-apocalyptic, dystopian and zombie horror film and fiction fan. But then why not take Zombiesthaan to perfection?
Abhirup Ghosh’s Zombiesthaan is being called Bengal’s first zombie film, unless you want to count the numerous films over the years in which actors and actresses walked through the entire film looking like the living dead themselves.
In Ghosh’s film, however, the performances are far from zombie-like. In fact, the film carries some strong messages in the form of metaphors. One can easily see that in many ways the film is Ghosh’s own way of protest against everything that plagues our country today – from gaumutra to misogyny. However, despite the best of intentions and attempts, there are problems with the film. And they show. What I did like about the film, though, is the courage of the filmmaker, of having taken on an unconventional subject that seems to have eluded our screens for decades, and the gumption to see the project through, despite the clearly visible lack of funds.
The film is set more than a decade from present day, when a biochemical accident seems to have turned all exposed humans to flesh-eating zombies. The ones who were not exposed to the chemical seem to have survived. They are now trying to rebuild their lives amidst an ever-increasing population of the 'undead.' The protagonist – Akira – is one such individual. A strong, spirited and fearless woman, she believes in the notion that movement is life – a belief that makes her never spend two consecutive nights in the same place. In her search for a safe zone, which she fervently believes the government or the military must have built, her journey takes her through the now-vacant but still picturesque heartlands of Bengal, where she meets a number of survivors and a whole lot of carnivorous zombies, often wondering which of them are more dangerous.
Ghosh’s film is constantly watchable – I will give it that. The opening shot itself holds considerable promise. Some of the characters are very well written. There are parts of the film which made me sit up with a smile of pleasant surprise on my face. One such scene is the one in which a megalomaniac 'king' is introduced. There are glimpses of excellent ideas strewn all throughout the film, and that is what kept me glued on. The notion of a dictatorship, the plight of women in our country, the science of survival, the complacence with which we take our good fortunes for granted, class commentary, and the precedence that economics takes over religion – all of these are brilliant ideas worth exploring. Ghosh addresses several of them to some degree.
But here is an interesting simile to consider at this point in the review. You must have noticed when you are traveling on the highway, there has been no restaurant in sight for hours, and you finally find a dhaba, your primary concern becomes the availability of food – and not so much the ambiance of the place, the hygiene, the service or even the taste of the food. That is exactly what happened to me when I was watching Zombiesthaan.
There are such few movies of this kind that are made in India that I was literally gobbling up everything that was being offered to me. But somewhere at the back of my head, I was feeling a sense of discomfort. Because when it comes to the execution of the above mentioned ideas, there is much more that could have been done. And mind you, not all of it is about resources. Sharper editing, better writing, drawing better performances from one’s actors, and placing the camera in a better angle – none of these cost additional money. All of these can be executed well if one has the will and the aesthetic competency to do so. Unfortunately, the film lacks finesse. It lacks the polish and the treatment its ideas so richly deserved.
Ghosh has obviously been a post-apocalyptic, dystopian and zombie horror film and fiction fan. Influences of George A Romero and Danny Boyle, and The Book of Eli and The Road are all in there. Some of them are expected and inescapable. And there is nothing wrong in playing to the tropes of a genre. My only quibble is – why not take it to perfection? Why elongate a scene, for instance, more than what would have created a sense of dread and tension? Why dilute the scene by wearing it thin? Why make a caricature of a brilliantly written character by giving them too many lines of dialogue? Why not make your film sharper, denser, more impactful? Like a punch in the gut that no one saw coming?
Having said that, I must say I quite liked the performance of Tanushree Chakraborty, who played Akira. Given the circumstances, I felt she did the best she could. I also liked Rajatava Dutta in what I suspect would easily be considered the biggest selling point of the film. Dutta’s is a role that will perhaps be talked about the most. He is deliciously ruthless. I wish he would have been given less (yes, less) dialogues. That would have made him a more enigmatic character and given the film the boost it needed sRo much. Rudranil Ghosh is decent in his act although he overacts the hell out of some of his scenes.
It would be unfair to compare the production value to any of the zombie films of Hollywood. But at least the guns could be made to seem heavier, the art direction could be better, the look more grunge, and the overall ‘mood’ of the film more tense and suspenseful. The introduction of a ‘boss’ at the end of the film was all too sudden. The boss fight did not leave an impact at all. If Ghosh has been a fan of video games (especially zombie horror or survivalist horror games), then he would vouch for the fact that such climaxes are supposed to literally drain you out. This one did not, and that is a lovely opportunity lost.
I would still recommend you watch Zombiesthaan though. If not for anything else, then for its uniqueness, at least in the realm of Bengali cinema. Because despite the fact there are problems in the execution, and despite some of the scenes which seem to draw on for far too long, one can easily see the entire team made a sincere attempt. I so eagerly hope they make a sequel out of this, and that next time around, they try harder. I’m going with two stars for Zombiesthaan, and an additional half a star for West Bengal’s first zombie horror film.
All images from YouTube.
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