1921 Movie Review

1921 Movie Review: Zareen Khan and Karan Kundrra redefine vintage horror : After three entries in his pompously gothic 1920 franchise, filmmaker-producer Vikram Bhatt has finally notched things up a year. This way, he won’t be making it to the Great Depression anytime soon, but perhaps that’s already taken care of. Like the first 1920 – starring Adah Sharma and an Indianized Keanu Reeves – Bhatt has returned to both write and direct this sweeping, soul-bending horror epic. 1921 opens in 1927 England, with drunk pianist Ayush (Karan Kundrra) slashing his wrists off before a grand performance. Flashback, and he arrives freshly off the shores of Mumbai (erstwhile Bombay) to master his craft at the York Music School.

One night, while going over his notations, a door of his Victorian guesthouse mysteriously cranks open. Outside the window, across the moonlit lawn, a spirit skirts the air. Inside, more doors open, a blackened ghost with mini-bulb eyes tip-toes across the hall, and thunderous jump scares paint a perennial unease on Kundrra's puckered lips. Only then does he realise his mistake - the seemingly easy in into Bollywood via Bhatt-camp horror flicks wasn’t that easy after all.

After 2012’s Horror Story, Vikram Bhatt has trapped him again in the murky world of eerie church-bells and hazy shafts of light. So much for warning off teenagers in his TV show, Gumrah. Enters Zareen Khan, prima donna of thriller sequels, playing a mystery babe named Rose.

Rose can communicate with ghosts and spirits who have unfinished business on Earth. Many of them simply want their unpaid cheques cleared by Vishesh Films, but Rose is too naïve and trusting for that. “Why don’t you show your face?” She shouts at a shapeless entity, then promptly repeats her lines in Hindi, just in case the poor soul is a non-firang. (Post-Brexit UK has a lot to learn from their forefathers, given how inclusive Edwardian England was about Indian ghosts).

Slowly, Ayush and Rose peel the layers of this vintage horror-romance. Dark secrets are unveiled, complete with lavish and unwarranted songs. More doors open onto nothingness, and devilish laughter fills the countryside. An insistent viewer is convinced by now that 1921 is a great cryptic revenge on Imperialism. The horrors our British masters were unleashing back home are ceremoniously returned through every candlelit frame of this film, one tip-toeing ghost at time.

Things do get interesting in the second half. 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. 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. More flashbacks and soul-swapping astral projections happen, and the whole thing gets too thick even for the characters (When Rose tries to explain the supernatural complications of the story to her best friend in the film, the lady replies, ‘Mein samajh toh rahi hoon, paar tu samjha kyun rahi hain?’ I am understanding, but why are you making me understand?). Only with such lavish infidelity to sense can one process all of 1921: the monstrous masterpiece of foggy lighting, cringy VFX and biblical references that it is.



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