Synopsis – Ayush and Rose’s battle with extreme paranormal activities created by a ruthless and cursed spirit that would lead them to their ultimate redemption or downfall.
My Take – By now we all know that Bollywood and horror don’t mix well, and for some reason, filmmaker Vikram Bhatt, who has been leading the charge on the genre for some time now, is still able to find himself enough finance to produce yet another one. Sure, he has found commercial success with films like Raaz (2002) and Haunted – 3D (2011), but in a time when Indian audience have in a way seen it all when it comes to stereotypical horror films, thanks to the easy access to Western cinema, director Bhatt‘s staple unwanted masala, cliché dialogue and unwanted song sequences just fail to engage. While his 2008 release, 1920, the first in a series of quasi-sequels, was a decent enough success to warrantee a follow up in the form of 1920: Evil Returns (2012), another mild success, the third entry, the Sharman Joshi starrer 1920: London (2016), was as abominable as Bhatt‘s other 2016 horror entry, Raaz: Reboot, to eradicate the genre on a whole, however, here we are, as director Bhatt adds a fourth installment to his period horror series. Sure, this flick is not as atrocious its latter entry, as director Bhatt is successful in delivering some spine chilling moments along with some unexpected twists along the way (two to be exact), but as it is almost every other Bollywood film now days, as the intermission clocks in, things begin to go downhill. Here, director Bhatt adds in every horror film trope and genre trick into a story that in the end has no top or bottom, much like some of its decapitated characters. There are disquieted spirits, a reference to the Mongolian plague and a vengeance plot line, but somehow nothing adds up as the film, thanks to its appalling CGI and stretched story-line, just doesn’t seem convinced enough to offer anything new.
The story follows Ayush (Karan Kundrra), a piano prodigy from India, who upon being spotted by kind hearted and rich business man known as Wadia (Vikram Bhatt), is send to the city of York in United Kingdom to further study & explore his skill, all in the year 1921. While Wadia offers to sponsor Ayush’s fees, in return Ayush must agree to take on the role of the caretaker of Wadia’s stately manor in the gloomy and foggy city. Once settled in, as a part-time student and part-time caretaker of a vast mansion, Ayush begins making an additional living by conducting private piano sessions in the house, where listeners are asked to pay him if they wish, however, his finely balanced life comes to an abrupt halt, when he realizes that the mansion is also home to a malevolent spirit. Petrified by the discovery, Ayush seeks out Rose (Zareen Khan), a psychic who has been making a name for herself, and implores her to help him rid his house of this paranormal activity. Rose, being a fan of his music, readily agrees to help the man she has long adored from afar. During the course of their paranormal partnership, and between solving the mystery of the vagrant spirits, love blossoms between the two, but as their intimacy increases, so does the malevolence of the hovering spirit. When you think of a Hindi filmmakers who has mastered the art of making horror films, it is highly impossible that Vikram Bhatt’s name does not cross your mind and if there is any filmmaker who has at least tried to do justice to the genre, it has to be Bhatt, no doubts on that. Here too, he uses his experience, which spans across decades, to weave a story that on paper sounds exciting and full of suspense and thrill. However, his story is intriguing till the point that all the cards are not laid out on the table. Once that happens, it turns out to be disappointing as it gets too farfetched after a point. As simple as the story seems to be, the plot gets confusing and too boring with every progressing scene. The film also falls prey to the same clichéd horror films trap- creaking doors, blood curdling laughter of the ghosts, candle-lit frames and a possessed loved one! Thankfully, we are sparred the exorcism scenes this time! Nevertheless, the horror scenes seem forced and predictable and even evoke laughter many a times. You know that something spooky awaits you in the next scene and you’re all prepared for it and more than getting scared, it makes you laugh out loud. The loud and spooky background music on every second scene just doesn’t help the immensely boring plot which tries its level best to scare you off your seats.
Forced elements of romance between the protagonists makes it even more worse and to add to it, a dozen romantic songs to enchant the viewers which are more irritating than interesting. The scares, with a dependence on smoke machines, sound effects and shadowy figures, that build the atmosphere and frights in the first hour are frittered away later. Things do get interesting once in a while, especially when we are introduced to a Mongolian painting dated 1348 drops hints about The Black Death – a deadly plague that had ravaged medieval Europe – the symptoms of which coincide with an ailment that has possessed Ayush’s skin, turning it a wilted black, yet the screenplay from Vikram Bhatt, Tanya Pathak and Esha Desai is just too convoluted to hold our attention throughout, as the storyline gets more and more twisted as we go along the 144 minute running time, and the corny dialogues don’t help either. We’ve seen romance in various films but when the lead actors break into a romantic song after every four scenes, it somewhere starts scaring you, making you wonder as to where exactly the story is headed towards. To cure the ailment and solve the mystery, Rose and Ayush head out to Southampton. Here they discover the whereabouts of a dead seductress causing all the trouble. One is led to assume a Raaz-like linear plotting here, before the mystery doubles up front, back and sideways, but more flashbacks and soul-swapping astral projections happen, and the whole thing gets too thick even for the side characters. At one point, after a shadowy demon yanks Rose into a wall and renders her unconscious in bed, Ayush gazes at her – all pretty and sleeping-beauty-ish and half-comatose – and a brooding romantic track appears out of nowhere. Another time, they slither to a similar song between the sheets, naked, less than a night after seeing a petrol pump attendant mauled to death by an invisible force. Bhatt even loses track of who the ghoul haunting York’s post-World-War-I Wadia Manor is. In the end, all roads lead to a back-story about incomplete love, untimely deaths and incoherent ghosts. As director Bhatt knows that Indian mantras and Pandits are ‘un-cool,” he sticks to Christian recitations as he unravels his cards, though the no moon phenomenon comes in later, and the complex denouement, although different from a stereotyped horror film, is just stale. Since the kind of attention to detail seems superfluous to director Bhatt, there’s no point expecting Victorian era period correctness in the costumes and production design either. Prakash Kutty’s camerawork is very scenic, and Iain Andrews’ production design is remarkable. Kuldip Mehan’s editing is over-indulgent, and the make-up and VFX range between serviceable to cringe worthy. Despite a bumpy ride, Zareen Khan and Karan Kundrra put on their most sincere faces and you genuinely believe they want to get out of this situation alive. Zareen Khan gives a fine performance and gets a chance to display her acting prowess. She is in much better form here than in her last release, Aksar 2. Karan Kundrra has a good screen presence and delivers a steady performance except for a scene or two where you find him a little over the top. Aradhya Taing is good too, while Vikram Bhatt is hilarious in his cameo. On the whole, ‘1921′ is a tedious horror drama which except a few chills offers nothing novel and suspenseful.
Directed – Vikram Bhatt
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 144 minutes