Mahakaal (AKA The Monster) – 1993, Shyam Ramsay and Tulsi Ramsay
Hey, did anybody out there enjoy Nightmare on Elm Street? Yes? Any chance that you might wanna see it again, only this time from India? No? Too bad, here it is, Mahakaal The Monster, which is, you guessed it, an Indian made rip-off the A Nightmare on Elm Street, produced by famed film-making super-siblings The Ramsay Brothers. Excited? No? Too bad!
Mahakaal the Monster is a poem written in mullets; there’s like, one man in this entire movie who doesn’t have AT LEAST one mullet, and his hair situation is even more suspicious.
Tell me, oh, wise one, do the carpets match the drapes?
The Plot~ When a murderous bogeyman starts to haunt the dreams of local youths, it is discovered that Shakaal, a black magic practicing child murderer who had been slain twenty years ago by an irate parent, has returned from the dead for vengeance. So, so much other shit happens in this movie also, but none of that is worth talking about. You see, Bollywood films are often three hours or more in length, and that’s a feat made possible by the addition of hours worth of total nonsense. You’ll be watching, and you’ll think, “okay, I know where we are in the story, we probably have like, 15 minutes left at most.” Wrong, how about an hour and a half? Almost none of which serves the film’s actual story, because again, these movies are padded more than Justin Bieber’s crotch.
Anyway, in terms of the plot, yeah, it’s literally just A Nightmare on Elm Street but with Indian people. If you want proof, just take a look at our dream killer, who in this film is named Shakaal:
Shakaal on the left, and- shit, sorry, wrong guy…
There we go- Shakaal on the left, Freddy on the right.
Some deviations from the American original are worth mentioning; for instance; this time, the Indian version of Johnny Depp survives, and appears to have at least a basic understanding of Kung Fu (as do all male characters- get ready for some badly correographed fight scenes). Also, the final confrontation between our characters and Shakaal is overwhelmingly less creative than pulling him out of the dreamworld and battling him in your Home Alone style boobytrap house, which is what happens in the American version. In Mahakaal, they just go find Shakaal in his torture pad and kill him with his own dungeon equipment, which was already set up for them and everything.
There are also major differences between Freddy Kruger, star of the actual Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and Shakaal, our Bollywood off-brand dream slasher. Freddy, for instance, sports that cool, molten flesh look because he was burned to death by the pissed off parents of Springwood, and that is not at all the case in Mahakaal. Shakaal is already horribly scarred BEFORE he is “killed,” though we’re never really told why, and he isn’t burned to death by a mob, either. In Mahakaal, when the one Indian parent ballsy enough to take the law into his own hands finally goes after Shakaal, he doesn’t kill him at all, he instead just chucks the guy into a big crate and then attempts to burry him alive. When I say “attempts to,” it’s because this crate is really big, probably four feet tall and six fit long, so, large enough for an adult man to fit comfortably inside. When our lone avenging parent tries to burry his now captured nemesis, the hole he digs is very obviously less than two feet deep.
What do you think? Deep enough?
The crate doesn’t even come close to fitting. The worst part is that we even see him kick at it in utter futility, as if he could somehow rock the crate into place and get it to fall into a hole that he never dug. It’s embarrassing.
Oh, Mahakaal. Come on.
Being a typical Bollywood film, Mahakaal is also ripe with exotic Indian flair, including the oft spoken of zest for Romance, for which the Indian people are well known.
And there’s also music; plenty of it. Before you get too excited, no, Shakaal does not play guitar or host a rap battle, so you can forget about that dream becoming a reality right now. Our teens definitely get down, though; they launch awkwardly into several lengthy song and dance numbers, mostly about love and being happy; which might sound odd to you when you consider that you’re watching a fucking horror movie, but if you only learn one thing today, let it be this: Bollywood Films have NO problem with shifting tone constantly and artlessly, like a Hummingbird high on Cocaine. They will jump from frightening sequences of atmospheric, doom-laiden horror, to giddy, beach-party joy-overloads without hesitation or warning. They will do that over and over again, and that’s just the end of it.
Now… The music…It’s just terrible. In fact, it’s THIS terrible, but it IS still actual music, which makes it several rungs above American pop landscape on the long, gruesome ladder into the Hell’s lowest circle. This isn’t like when Nikki Minaj just Vanilla Iced Sir. Mixalot and then pretended like she wrote a song, no, these ARE real songs, however lame they might be. Mahakaal should be commended for that, but you are for sure going to hate every one of them. They’re annoying, lame, super loud, and badly produced… Getting through them is difficult.
And then we have the “comic relief….” In Mahakaal The Monster, we are constantly exposed to a character called Canteen, who is for sure, the movie’s real monster. Holy shit, dude, this guy is annoying. Like, “Steve Urkel during a writer’s strike” level annoying. The producers must have thought he’d be good for some real high-quality Hindi-Hillarity, cuz he’s in here goofin’ nonstop for hours upon hours, but I swear to you, he is the furthest thing from amusing. I really can’t stress this enough, I’d rather be water-boarded than watch this asshole clown around. If any of you were locked in a room with Canteen for over a minute, neither of you would come out alive. That’s where we’re at with him.
Stare into his face and know despair.
And it gets worse. At one point in the film, our gang experiences car trouble after a rousing beach party singalong, and are thus forced to stay the night in a nearby hotel. Sounds like a promising horror movie setup, right? Well, it’s far too horrifying for my tastes, because when they arrive and meet the hotel’s manager, it’s just fucking Canteen with a Hitler mustache. Oh, shit, please, no…
Apparently this second Canteen is actually a long lost sibling, because, as Canteen #2 explains, when their father was a young buck he used to just rail and bail all over India, so now he’s got illegitimate children all over the freaking country. Let me tell you what, the apple could not have fallen farther from the tree, because Canteen will NEVER get laid, EVER. He signed up for a sex-ed class once, and it turned him down. Then, when he tried to get on the waiting list, it got a restraining order. Anyway, long story short, there are now TWO Canteens, meaning double the annoyance, which is a development so unspeakably dark that it would make Hellraiser’s Pinhead piss in his little gimp kilt.
I won’t harp on Canteen any further, because I think I’ve made my point, and anyway, there’s plenty of other things in this movie that are probably going to piss you off. From the painful musical numbers, to the alarmingly off-target attempts at humor, to the budgetary restrictions which remain evident start to finish, this film just isn’t an experience 99% of Americans are going to be able to sit through sober. The problem with that, though, is that you can’t judge Mahakaal as a movie by the reaction American have to it. Special considerations have to be made.
By the traditional, near globally-accepted academic criteria of how cinema works, Mahakaal, and indeed most Bollywood films, are staggeringly poor examples of the medium. These movies are as definable by their constant shortcomings as they are by their cultural origin, for reals. The problem with that way of thinking is that trying to assess a Bollywood film based upon traditional Hollywood standards is a fool’s errand to begin with, and could be compared to assessing the quality of a Motorcycle based on a criteria designed to judge pickup trucks. First question: Does it have four wheels? Answer: No. Verdict: This is a shitty pickup truck. Well, maybe, but it’s still an awesome motorcycle! Similarly, it’s not fair to dog on Bollywood because it doesn’t work like American movies do. What we have here is a product designed for a specific culture who want different things from their movie-going experience, and who are we to judge?
The truth is, it’s exactly the same flaws which Americans would see as glaringly wrong with the film that are, in fact, non-negotiable requirements for a Bollywood movie. They are, in no small way, demanded by the audience, who want long, rambling story structures which meander from one genre to the next, and which offer a bold mix of comedy, action, romance, and horror. Aside from the modest budget and excruciating exposure to Canteen, there are actually very few flaws here in Mahakaal which aren’t immediately nullified when one takes into account the honest fact that this is what India wants out of a movie. I believe the phrase often used these days is that “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”
So, that explains the radically unorthodox structure found in Mahakaal, as well as the awkward blend of genres, but there are still many things about this film that I cannot explain. Behold:
There, on the right: What the hell is that? An Iron Maiden Polo/Sweater hybrid?!!? Why would that ever exist anywhere?!!
What is this picture she’s hanging?! A cheerleader and a bear?! What the fuck?!
So, excusing all of it’s perceived “flaws” which are, in fact, required genre conventions, what can be said of Mahakaal’s individual merits? Well, it’s pretty damn fun, actually. How wild is it that a Bollywood rip off of A Nightmare on Elm Street even exists? That’s special! And also, it’s worth bringing up that although we’re excusing the fact that Mahakaal breaks many, many rules Western cinema has established as a protective mechanism to keep your movie from sucking, if we DIDN’T excuse those Bollywood traits, Mahakaal would STILL be better than many, many American movies which DO play by our rules. Compare this thing to…. say…. Horror of the Blood Monsters, or Sucker Punch, and Mahakaal comes out in the distant lead no matter what grading scale you use. The truth is, I wish India ripped off American movies more often. It’s kinda fun.