Khoon Bhari Maang

Ah the Eighties. When hair was big, shoulder pads were bigger and glitter eyeshadow was essential. Khoon Bhari Maang is a quintessential eighties movie that I love, despite its addiction to gore and systematic overuse of Khader Khan. I can’t say that it’s a good movie, or even that it falls into the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category we all know and love, but somehow once I start watching I’m hooked by Rekha’s transformation and quest for revenge.  It’s over the top, trashy and melodramatic, but for a nostalgic wallow in the swamp that was eighties drama, you can’t go past Khoon Bhari Maang!

The film is based on an Australian miniseries from 1983 called Return to Eden. I’ve never seen the show, but Wikipedia makes sound like Australia does Dallas, so it may be worth tracking down online too.

The story starts with Aarti (Rekha), a young widow with 2 young children, who is also the heir to her father’s huge business empire. In the first 5 minutes her father (Saeed Jaffrey) is murdered by his close friend Hiralal (Kader Khan) who then wastes no time in introducing Aarti to his wastrel nephew Sanjay (Kabir Bedi). Sanjay has a penchant for removing his shirt and a plan to marry Aarti to gain control of her millions, despite carrying on an affair with Aarti’s best friend Nandini (Sonu Walia).

Aarti’s husband Vikram (Rakesh Roshan) was killed in a car accident some years before and she lives for her children, so Sanjay befriends Kavita (Baby Shweta) and Bobby (Master Gaurav) as the way to Aarti’s heart. There are a few flashbacks to happier times with Aarti and her husband where Rakesh Rohan looks incredibly uncomfortable on the other side of the camera, as he frolics with a frumpily dressed Rekha. And for the first part of the movie, Rekha does look rather dreary. She’s still Rekha, but has dark shadows under her eyes, a large mole on her face and rather protuberant teeth. Sanjay describes her as ugly, but she just looks exhausted and in need of a brighter wardrobe, especially when compared to the dazzling Nandini.

Nandini is a model who is drawn into Sanjay’s machinations because of her love for a man who can look good in swimming trunks and very short shorts. It has to be noted that Kabir Bedi does look rather fine, and he makes the most of scenes at the pool and every other possible opportunity to remove his shirt. However, rather than his sleek chat up lines and body flaunting, it’s his attentions to her children that convinces Aarti she should marry Sanjay and provide them with a father figure. With the bonus of someone she trusts to run the business.  

It doesn’t take long after the wedding (actually the next day), for Sanjay to rid himself of his troublesome wife by throwing her to the jaws of a waiting crocodile. Queue screams, lots of fake blood and Sanjay threatening Nandini to keep schtum about her part in his devious plan. But Aarti escapes! After being rescued by an old man (Paidi Jairaj) she sells the jewellery she was wearing at the time of her attempted murder and heads off to the US for some needlessly graphic plastic surgery. The now apparently unrecognisable Aarti returns home as model Jyoti and is immediately picked up by Nandini’s photographer J.D. (Shatrughan Sinha). Naturally this doesn’t go down well with Nandini, and the rivalry between the two models culminates in a wonderfully crazy dance-off where attitude and sheer sass seem to be the criteria needed to win. After destroying Nandini’s professional career, with her new glamourous looks and the support of JD, Jyoti sets out for her next goal: revenge on her murderous husband.

The story builds slowly during the first half, but this is more than made up for by the drama and total fashion insanity of the second half. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of craziness in the first half, but it’s off set by the annoying presence of Khader Khan and Rekha’s irritatingly meek Aarti. Once Rekha transforms into Jyoti, everything gets bigger, bolder and much more dramatic – and that’s just the fashion! Jyoti is determined to get her revenge and she sets out to destroy Sanjay with the sort of bloody single-mindedness usually reserved for male heroes in Bollywood. I love that Rekha is given the opportunity to have her revenge without relying on anyone else, and that revenge is just as satisfyingly gruesome as could be expected. Despite all its faults, the saving grace of the film is that Aarti is quite capable of rescuing herself, saving her family and getting her revenge, all without any male assistance or even advice. You go girl!

Rekha is awesome throughout. She nails the meek and mild-mannered Aarti, but is so much better as the stunning model out for revenge. Her Jyoti is stardom personified with attitude that simply sizzles off the screen with a sneer sharp enough to draw blood. Rekha takes ownership of all the ridiculous outfits and outlandish hairstyles too, so that when she ends up in black leather and wielding a whip, it seems less an erotic fantasy and more a practical outfit for revenge – easier to get blood off leather I imagine.  Kabir Bedi is excellent too in this negative role where he hams it up as a seductive suitor who quickly shows his true colours once the knot is tied. It’s a great performance and who can complain if he spends most of his time by the pool in various stages of undress. I do draw the line though at the needless appropriation of Vangelis Chariots of Fire theme into a tacky song visualising a romp in the pool between Kabir Bedi and Sonu Walia. But for the rest, Kabir is nicely wicked and appropriately charming as he woos Aarti and then Jyoti. Poor Sonu Walia doesn’t have anything like as good a time as her Nandini is a bit of a wet blanket who falls over herself to do whatever Sanjay wants.

One of the best parts of the film for me is right near the end when Jyoti removes her green contact lenses. A move that makes her INSTANTLY RECOGNISABLE!!! Who knew just changing the colour of your eyes could have such an effect? Also worth looking out for are Aarti’s heroic dog Jumbo and smart horse Raja, who know what is going on well before any of the human characters, and the various servants and supporters of Aarti who add more drama to the proceedings whenever possible.

Khoon Bhari Maang is not a good film, but Rekha makes it worth watching for her crazy outfits, huge eighties hairstyles and bloodthirsty quest for revenge. I know most people skip straight to the second half, but I like the slow build-up through the first half and the gradual monsterisation of Kabir Bedi as his true colours start to show through. For fans of 80’s Bollywood, big hair, crocodiles and revenge, this is surely as good as it gets. 4 stars.

Cold Case (2021)

I often write that I’m not a fan of horror films, but I seem to find myself enjoying them. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I’m not a fan of Western horror films since recent offerings from India such as Tumbbad, Alidu Ulidavaru and older films like Gehrayee have all been excellent. So, when an Indian horror film is mixed in with an investigative thriller, I’m definitely going to watch! What is interesting about Cold Case is firstly how well the title suits the film in all respects, and secondly the juxtaposition of a police inquiry with a psychic investigation of the same crime. The cast are excellent, the effects generally good and despite some second half doldrums, overall Cold Case delivers on both crime and supernatural storylines.

The film starts with a couple of exorcisms, with the second featuring a child supposedly possessed by his murdered father who then names his killer. The subsequent police case is part of a TV program by journalist Medha (Aditi Balan) who works on features dealing with the paranormal. She is a confirmed sceptic though and doesn’t believe in ghosts or paranormal ideas at all. Medha is looking for a new house after separating from her husband and on the way to view a prospective place to live, she passes a fisherman. The camera moves from following Medha to focus on the fisherman, who pulls up a black plastic bag in his net that he finds contains a skull. As Medha decides to take the house, the police team of ACP Sathyajith (Prithviraj), Muhammad (Anil Nedumangad), Rajprakash (Bilas Nair) and newly appointed officer Neela Maruthan (Pooja Mohranraj) start their investigation into the suspicious death suggested by the skull.

Medha moves into the new house along with her daughter Chinnu (Ester Evana Sherin) and her maid Chandrika (Shailaja P. Ambu). Through conversations with her overly spiritual mother Padmaja (Parvathy T) and her lawyer Haritha (Lakshmi Priyaa Chandramouli), Medha reveals that she is divorcing her husband Arya because he won’t stand up to his controlling mother Roshni (Sanuja Somanath) and that her sister who was studying parapsychology suicided a year before. Medha herself is a strong and confident woman who is forging a good career for herself and is confident and well able to take care of herself. That’s just as well, since shortly after she moves into the new house there are a series of odd occurrences centred around the fridge. The first is actually the most disturbing when Chinnu drinks some water from the fridge and grimaces, then pours it down the sink. Bizarrely the water doesn’t drain, and when Medha uses a skewer to unblock the drain, she pulls up a tangle of black hair. It doesn’t sound scary but it definitely raises chills!

As Medha starts to suspect there is something very odd about the fridge, she enlists the help of a medium, Zara Zacchai (Suchitra Pillai) who wears some impressive scleral contact lenses! With Zara’s help, Medha discovers the identity of her ghostly visitor, just as ACP Sathyajith, using more conventional means, also discovers the identity of the skull. Both are one and the same – Eva Maria (Athmiya Rajan). 

The police investigation follows a more conventional route, using forensic anthropology, digital reconstruction and dental records. There is speculation that the body may be that of a girl who went missing, rumoured to be linked to the Home Minister’s son. While there are other missing persons being considered, the lack of any of the rest of the body also confounds the police efforts. While the investigation discovers more about Eva Maria, Medha’s paranormal investigation is also close to finding out the truth and eventually ACP Sathyajith and Medha come together to solve the crime.

Overall the paranormal storyline is more successful with some genuinely creepy moments, although the final scene is less effective. Cinematographers Gireesh Gangadharan and Jomon T. John use a mix of dark sets and flickering shadows to increase the scare factor while director Tanu Balak drip feeds the scares to increase the tension. The police investigation doesn’t move out of a fairly well-worn path, and the promise of having a new officer involved sadly doesn’t amount to anything. Prithviraj is good but the rest of his team are relegated to simply being there so that ACP Sathyajith has someone to whom he can explain his reasoning. This is a step too far into tell, rather than show territory and the storyline suffers as a result. There are plenty of red herrings, but none of them seem to be all that plausible and the team quickly narrow in on the life and disappearance of Eva Marie. 

Aditi Balan has more to do and better dialogue as well. Her struggle to keep Chinnu in the face of her mother-in-law’s determined efforts to keep the child provides a good backdrop, while Chinnu’s attachment to a particularly creepy doll and her fascination with a well on the property also add to the tension. Suchitra Pillai is also good as the eccentric psychic, adding some good drama to Medha’s more pragmatic approach to the haunting. One of the few false notes in this part of the film is Medha’s lack of surprise and to some extent her apparent lack of fear in the face of the supernatural happenings in her house. While some of this is explained by her role in debunking the paranormal for TV, Aditi Balan never seems to be quite worried enough about the strange things happening with her fridge. 

I really liked the idea of parallel investigations, one police and one paranormal. Although the police investigation doesn’t work quite as well, the cross-over between the two is interesting enough to be entertaining. I found the paranormal aspects to be creepy, but not scary enough that the film can’t be watched alone at night. The subtitles on the streaming version I liked were good too, although I did read that the translation of ‘northern Indian’ for Eva Marie’s husband was inaccurate and it should have read ‘Hindu’, which seems like an odd mistranslation but doesn’t have any significant impact on the plot. This may not be scary enough for fans of true horror, and it’s also not convoluted enough for aficionados of crime thrillers, but the two aspects together make for an overall entertaining whole. Worth watching for Prithviraj, Zara Zacchai’s séance and Aditi Balan’s pragmatism. 3 ½ stars.

Shankar Guru (1978)

A family torn apart by murder, children separated at birth, villainous villains, a triple role for Dr Rajkumar and 3 wonderful heroines – Shankar Guru has every single masala trope and then some. With a stellar cast and convoluted storyline, M.D. Sunder’s screenplay has something for absolutely everyone. Thanks to blog reader TL for the recommendation and I agree this is a fabulous film! Oh, and if anyone thinks the brief synopsis above sounds familiar, Shankar Guru was the inspiration for Hindi film Mahaan.

The film starts with Rajashekhar (Rajkumar) disagreeing with his business partners including Madanlal (Thoogudeepa Srinivas), a man who takes dressing to match his surroundings very seriously indeed.

The partners want to start selling idols taken from temples overseas and Rajashekhar disagrees so vehemently that he dissolves their partnership straight away. However, in the ensuing struggle one of the potential investors is accidently killed by Rajashekhar. He immediately races home and runs for the train station with his heavily pregnant wife. But as the train pulls out of the station, only Sumati (Kanchana) is on the train with Rajashehkar left behind.

Years later, Sumati is making a living by selling paintings in Mysore while trying to persuade her son Shankar (Rajkumar) to find a job. Shankar meets Nalini (Jayamala) when he saves her from some thugs who were harassing her, and she arranges for him to go and work for her guardian Jayaraj who lives on an estate in Srinigar. At the same time, Malati (Padmapriya) is arguing with her grandfather Gurumurthy (Sampath) and refusing to get married. As a way to appease him, she decides to pretend to be married to local entertainer Guru (Rajkumar) who in reality is the son of lawyer Lakshman Rao (Balakrishna) and is in Kashmir specifically to woo Malati. Guru was sent Malati’s picture by her grandfather’s doctor, Dr Prema (Uma Shivakumar) who is his father’s sister.

Just before Shankar heads off to Kashmir, he visits a local temple where a group of thieves use a tiger to frighten off the worshippers before stealing a valuable necklace. Photographer Prem Kumar (Vajramuni) is a friend of Nalini and her guardian, but is also in league with the thieves and he hides the necklace in some paintings by Sumati that Nalini has bought for Jayaraj. The gang is based in Srinigar, and they plot to get the necklace back from Shankar when he arrives by substituting Madanlal’s son Divakar (Chandrashekhar) as the new estate manager.

With me so far? The plot gets even more convoluted when it is revealed that Dr Prema was at the hospital when Sumati gave birth, and she actually had twins! Lakshman Rao’s son was stillborn, so Dr Prema separated the children, giving one to Sumati and one to her brother. Fans of the significant item that ultimately reunites separated lovers/brothers/other miscellaneous family members will be happy to hear that one such item does play a role in the film, and that ultimately everyone’s relationships to everyone else are explained. Although not before there is plenty more confusion!

There is a lot going on here, but I found Shankar Guru less confusing than Mahaan, and the different threads are all quite easy to follow. Partly this is due to Dr Rajakumar who makes each of this three characters sufficiently different from each other that they are easy to tell apart. Rajashekhar aka Jayaraj has been devastated by the loss of his wife and despite falling on his feet he still pines for her every day. Shankar is the ‘good son’ who loves his mother and is also hot on the trail of the jewel thieves, while Guru is a typical rich man’s son whose carefree ways contrast with the more serious Shankar. The three heroines are all excellent too. Kanchana may have been abandoned by her husband, but she has made a good life for herself and her son, and is quite able to take care of herself, thank you very much! Jayamala as Nalini is charming and every inch the rich heiress with a heart of gold, while Padmapriya seems to be thoroughly enjoying her role as spoilt and demanding Malati. Note her unique hairstyle in this song and also Dr Rajkumar’s commitment to the choreography!

There really is a lot to enjoy in this film. From the funky psychedelic opening credits to the stunning fashion choices this film is a riot of colour and seventies style. There is OTT drama at every turn as Shankar battles the jewel thieves and Guru tries to win Malini’s love, while the most important question is whether Rajashekhar and Sumati will ever be reunited again. Other smaller issues such as why Sumati is painting terrifying pictures of babies or why there are stuffed animal heads on either side of the door at the top of Jayaraj’s stairs and what exactly a lightening call is are sadly never answered, but what is life without some mystery?

There are three main threads to the storyline and a number of smaller sideplots, but all the chaos is pulled together nicely by director V Somashekhar without losing any of the suspense. Despite this being a typical seventies masala film, the women fare rather better than expected. Although Nalini and Malati are primarily the love interests for Shankar and Guru respectively, they both have distinct personalities and make important contributions to the storyline. Sumati has the largest role of any of the three heroines and I love how her character fights back when she is taken prisoner. Sumati is definitely much more enterprising and capable than her husband who doesn’t seem to have looked very hard for his missing wife.

If you enjoy masala and convoluted plots then Shankar Guru is one not to miss! Rajkumar is fantastic in his triple role and the three heroines are all terrific. The only downside is the rather poor quality of the prints available online and occasionally dodgy subtitles. Still a great watch and well worth tracking down. 4 ½ stars!