So this week is the second annual Shameful Pleasures Week (spearheaded by the delightful Rum): the opportunity to sit down and specifically celebrate the films that are maybe objectively not so great - or even TERRIBLE - but which we adore all the same; films that other people may scorn, but which we embrace wholeheartedly.
How is this different from any other week here on the blog, you may be asking? Yeah...you probably have a point. Quite often the films I enjoy the most are the ones frequently scoffed at by others as kitschy trash.
Jaani Dushman (Raj Kumar Kohli, 1979)
Jaani Dushman is EPIC. Forget Burning Train – that's amateur hour. Almost everyone you can possibly think of is in this film: Sunil Dutt, Sanjeev Kumar, my boyfraaaaands Shatrughan Sinha and Jeetendra, a heavily disguised Vinod Mehra (seriously, it took me an embarrassingly long time to recognise him),
...he's normally such a handsome man!
Amrish Puri and a gratifyingly brief blink and you'll miss him appearance from Shakti Kapoor; plus working it for the laydeez: Rekha, Neetu Singh, Reena Roy, Aruna Irani and Sarika.
And that's not even ALL! This film is so heavy on star-power it's actually unbelievable. OH YEAH MAC MOHAN!
With such an enormous cast, the credits fascinate me – half of the bigger stars like Rekha and Neetu Singh are billed as special or guest appearances DESPITE BEING IN THE FILM FOR THE ENTIRETY (or for significant chunks). My dulaara Jeetu gets the awesome special appearance credit “above all”
like he's a super special guest star, yet – he's third romantic hero, from what I can tell, to Sunil Dutt and Shotgun, who are billed second and third to Sanjeev Kumar. How does Bollywood billing work? I thought I had a handle on it, but it's clearly a fraught, complicated political business. I also get the feeling that Jaani Dushman in no way represents the high point of anybody's career. Even though it's freaking awesome.
Anyway. All I really need to say about this film is that it's a late-70s Bollywood horror movie. Just ponder that for a moment. Think of how well things like...tiger wrestling or live snakes are often conveyed through 70s special effects (here's a hint: not well) and now apply that to WEREWOLVES.
Has the mere thought taken your breath away? JAANI DUSHMAN IS A BAD SPECIAL EFFECTS EXTRAVAGANZA! And I freaking LOVED EVERY SECOND OF IT! I loved it entirely unironically, in the way you admire someone's ambition and can see what they set out to achieve and can't fault them for maybe achieving the opposite effect to what they intended (e.g. the werewolf is hilarious instead of terrifying). It's still awesome. I love that nobody ever said “You know what? Maybe a werewolf is too hard. Or maybe we shouldn't SHOW it”.
But Jaani Dushman plays that hand early on.
An extended prologue neatly explains the history and mythology behind the monster in this film's tale. Though I've been calling it a werewolf because the afflicted character grows fur and claws, and looks like THIS:
the monster of Jaani Dushman is actually a vengeful ghost who can possess living humans, causing them to transform into a werewolf-like creature and unknowingly commit murders.
But there's some other cool horror movie stuff thrown in there too. Characters have prophetic dreams and visions, lurk in the corners watching each other dressed in bizarre, creepy disguises, speak in riddles and lies and they all have dark secrets. So much of the film ends up being kind of predictable if you've ever seen a horror film or remotely used even a tiny portion of your brain; yet there were several random twists I NEVER saw coming.
Once we know how the monster works the story gets underway in a little rural village in a remote valley, seemingly under some kind of curse because whenever a girl from the village gets married, the bride vanishes from the doli – seemingly into thin air - during the procession to the temple. The highly respected Thakur (Sanjeev Kumar) can do nothing, partly because of his crippling aversion to red bridal clothing (because of the traumatic suicide of his sister on her wedding day).
Gaping plothole number 1: you're the boss of the village. Red bridal wear traumatises you. Just make a freaking rule banning it. BOOM! No more embarrassing freak-outs.
The Thakur even out-emos Jeetu. WHICH IS AMAZING.
His good for nothing, arrogant son Shera (Shatrughan Sinha) soon becomes suspect number one after pissing off nearly everybody in the village, except for Champa (Rekha) who loves him. Shera's biggest rival Lakhan (Sunil Dutt) makes it his business to find out who is kidnapping the brides once and for all.
Honestly? The bulk of the film is taken up with the various romantic entanglements leading up to the inevitable doomed marriages (come on, the brides have to get kidnapped after all) and macho posturing between Shera and Lakhan as to who has the bigger...uh...boots (involving a tug of war that is cracktastically ridiculously dangerous).
I don't want to mislead anyone and be all like “THIS IS THREE HOURS OF SHITTY WEREWOLVES!” because it really isn't. For the most part, it's like any other Hindi romance starring Shatrughan Sinha and Jeetu: there's a lot of swagger and hilarious Shotgun overacting – OH SHOTGUN MY CRUSH ON YOU IS BIGGER THAN EVER especially when you match your jacket to your boots;
Shotgun and Reena's characters aren't paired onscreen because if they had been, you get the feeling the already palpable chemistry would have SET FIRE TO THE FILM; Jeetu gets to do most of the dancing and I don't care what anyone says, I think him and Neetu together are THE SWEETEST COUPLE EVER;
Jeetu bares his chest for THE ENTIRE TIME he is onscreen (beeeeefcake) and also weirdly manages to channel Peter Pan in his outfit;
Jeetu gets really over the top melodramatically emo (but disappointingly, no crazy eyes from him this time).
I love all that stuff. I genuinely feel good watching that. It's like comfort food.
But also you can't beat seeing Amrish Puri as a werewolf by way of the Exorcist, head swivelling 180 degrees.
It's a certain kind of pleasure.