Directors: Tulsi and Shyam Ramsay
Plot: Whenever nubile co-ed Anita (Archana Puran Singh) hits the sheets at night, she’s tormented by a recurring dream in which she’s pursued by a scarred killer with bladed gloves. When she awakes, her clothing is torn and her body scarred. If Anita dies in her dreams, will she die in real life?
“Wait, wait!” some might say. “That all sounds like a rip-off of A Nightmare On Elm Street!” To which the Ramsay brothers, the makers of Mahakaal, would likely smile and say, “Yep.” Due to the vicissitudes of international copyright law, Bollywood filmmakers have felt free from time to time to swipe premises and plots wholesale from their Hollywood counterparts. Then they try to find ways to make them their own.
In the case of Mahakaal, the Ramsays set their version of Nightmare in the Indian upper class, not in an American suburb. And their kids are in college, not high school. And, uh… okay, nearly everything else is exactly the same. See if any of this sounds familiar: Anita’s friends try to take her mind off her anguish by inviting her to a kind of slumber party, but when her pal Seema has a bad dream and wakes up dead, Seema’s boyfriend Param gets arrested for her murder. Then Param has a nightmare in jail and dies too, which forces the local law to confess that The Monster is actually an incarnation of an infamous kidnapper and child-murderer named Shakaal.
Eventually, Shakaal possesses Anita and wreaks havoc in the waking world, before she sets him loose and he takes her prisoner in his former child-killing lair. There, our heroes fight Shakaal, then squish him between two halves of a bed of nails.
So yes, Mahakaal is pretty much a stewpot of Elm Street movies, served with a basket of naan. But that naan comes in a variety of flavors, as seen below…
Key scenes: One of Mahakaal’s weirder additions to the Nightmare On Elm Street premise is a roving band of horny louts who corner and molest the heroines. (In a text feature on the DVD, it’s explained that this was a common social problem in India at time.) Toward the end of the film, a possessed Anita takes one of the louts up on his offer to come back to his place, where she slaughters him. But before that happens, she and Seema endure multiple scenes where they’re groped in public, before their boyfriends swoop in and save the day with martial arts.
Mahakaal also features comic relief from Johney Lever, who appears as the “loveable” “clown” named Canteen, as well as in a few other roles that seem to be not-so-easy-to-translate Indian pop-culture parodies.
Once all the side-business is out of the way, though, Mahakaal settles into a string of gory and/or surreal setpieces in which faces get ripped off and claw-gloved hands reach and tear from walls, floors, and waterbeds.
Can easily be distinguished by: This is a Bollywood film, so periodically, the horror stops so the characters can romp around on beaches or at picnics in the woods, where they sing songs that sound oddly Morrissey-ish and thrust body parts chastely at each other.
Sign that it was made in 1993: Actually, production began in 1988. The Ramsays put the film on the shelf because a rival studio released its own Elm Street rip-off before production on Mahakaal was completed. That partly explains why Lever spends a good chunk of the movie dressed like Michael Jackson on the cover of Bad.
Timeless message: Danger imminent? Death a certainty? Then dance, man, dance!
Memorable quotes: When the girls try to stand up to their bullies and teach them about respect, the head rapist says, “It’s lust, not respect, that counts.”
Available on DVD from Mondo Macabro.