Tuesday, May 23, 2006

With soul

Aatma
A Ramsay Production

The bedside clock flashes 1:11am in red digital type. The loud ring of a door bell reverberates through the silent house, interrupting the soft coos of lovers celebrating an anniversary. The husband, who conducts autopsies, regards this intrusion with the emotion of a dead man, and wonders if it is an emergency. But his partner's ire is clear; she clasps his shoulders attempting to coax him back to bed, explaining that the ring, now a menacing rhythm of dingdong-silence-silence-silence-dingdong-silence-silence-silence, will stop when the visitor is tired. But his concern now supersedes everything else, and he makes for the door. The sound director turns up the volume, so all we hear is the ring, and the lighting director turns his lights on and off for lightening. Meanwhile the husband approaches the door with curiosity, hearing the sounds of a possible emergency where you and I hear the inevitable scrape of the deceased's feet.

As the doctor opens the door, the lighting and sound directors let rip together, showing the makeup-man's work. There, on the patio, is a man with sunken eyes who continues to ring the bell. What have we here, the doctor wonders. He catches the man's attention by asking if there's a problem. Without moving a muscle below his neck, the man turns his head slowly in the doctor's direction while the lighting director goes nuts with his bulbs. His sunken eyes lend him the appearance of a person without eyeballs, and his parched, cracked lips hint at days without water. He says to the young doctor:

"Tomorrow, when you go to work, you will find a dead man. Make sure your autopsy report is honest, or you will suffer greatly."

The doctor bristles at being told to be honest. I am always honest, he exclaims, eyebrows arched downwards in the middle to give him a slightly annoyed look.

"Just remember," the strange man with sunken eyes says, "if you aren't honest, you will suffer".

A string of unfortunate events and a brief flashback later, we discover that the man died of poisoning at 1:11am. As the days unfold in a series cuts to various clocks at 1:11am (a viewer beside me recollected that he had seen one of the clocks in every Ramsay Brothers movie so far), we see the restless spirit demolish his killers and terrorize the people he possesses. In one memorable sequence of quick cuts, he takes on the guise of a dead girl whose scream blows out a car's headlights, then its tires, then the engine (which explodes), and finally, his killer's head. A stunned moment later, the entire theatre doubled over and exploded with laughter. If you can find a funnier moment in Indian cinema, I'd love to see it.

Anyway, after the power of Om is revealed, the aatma is finally laid to rest. How? It doesn't matter. There are many ways in which to do this. There are momentary interruptions by a police officer - one of the two male leads - played by a dashing man with a deformed lip and a Woody Allen neurosis, but these are, again, momentary. More lasting is the sightly Miss Chandigarh, and the shapely item girl who dies after an interrupted shower scene. Add to this lot a desperate wife, an evil lawyer, a woman drenched in black magic - who identifies that the malevolent spirit is indeed her husband when she hears him swearing - and a mother-in-law who slides across ceilings - what we have here is the finest cast since my leg broke.

It isn't Tulsi Ramsay's best work, but he's on to something. We can't classify this as horror, or suspense, or god knows what else. But I haven't seen an audience - all 30 of us - respond to a movie with such delight. It wasn't a sadistic delight, but the kind that comes with unexpected surprises. His mind might still be in the 1980s, but in terms of entertainment, he beats absolutely everybody hands down. Watch it before it's gone this Thursday.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely hilarious. How could you drag yourself to a Ramsey movie of all things? Glad you did, else how could I have read this funny piece.

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