It’s back to India for a look at a film that’s been sitting in my big ol’ pile of unwatched DVD’s for quite a while, 2010’s Hindi Ghost/ Romance “Shaapit: The Cursed”.
Our synopsis for it goes: “Shaapit is the story of a young girl (Shweta Agarwal), who is trapped by a terrible curse that will not allow any of the daughters of her family to have love or marriage, punishing them and their lovers only with horrible death. When a young man, Aman (Aditya Narayan) falls in love with her, he wishes to free her from this curse and is willing to face even the deadliest of his fears, not knowing what evil awaits him in this quest.”
Ghosts… curses… and romance? All in the same movie? Ummmm? Wait a minute…. So how come it’s taken this goofy lil’ Catgirl so long to actually get around to watching this one? I mean… this wee lady is all about spooky romance stories…. All I can figure is that time and again I’ve picked it out… looked at that intimidating 2½ hour run time and then said to myself…. “Maybe later… when I’ve got more time.”
But… no more. With a Sunday night free… and my sweetie to cuddle with during the scary parts, it was finally time to check this one out. Lately my film choices have been a bit disappointing for the most part, can India break that streak and make me one happy lil’ kitten again? Let’s all find out shall we?
Hindi film. Definitely an acquired taste. Ahhhh… and those darn long running times…. Watching one as a non-Hindi viewer is sometimes like participating in a marathon, a long and grueling exercise in endurance that you never think is going to end. It’s got to be the main reason that Hindi film has always had so much trouble breaking out and becoming more accepted by mainstream audiences outside of India itself. Still… the good ones are actually worth it, and as time moves on, real strides have been made by the Bollywood filmmakers to make their films shorter… more streamlined and manageable… with far better integration of music and their traditionally Hindi cinema ideas into the plot rather than having them feel superfluous and “tacked on” as unneeded “extras”. So… is “Shaapit” such a film? Well…. yes and no.
It is a long film. With a full run time of 2 hours and 21 minutes it’s definitely pushing the envelope of the attention span for most viewers, but… given that some Western films reach that length I can’t really say it’s excessive. Especially since most of the plot does actually take quite a while to play out. Thankfully…. for the most part… it’s a cognitive and coherent story that isn’t hard to follow either.
It starts off right away letting you know that first and foremost, this is most definitely a love story. Our lead characters, Aman (played by Aditya Narayan) and Kaya (played by Shweta Agarwal) have that one-in-a-million love for one another that binds them together with a fierceness most people can only dream about. We get to see Aman woo his sweetheart with every extravagant romantic notion he can think of… from giant gift-boxes filled with loving messages to rooms full of heart shaped balloons and even a fairytale garden with a path covered with flower petals just for her. To top it off he slips a loop of fishing line around her finger, just so he can slide his engagement ring down it from atop a staircase. Is it corny? Yep… you betcha… but it’s also so darn touching that it had my heart melting at the thought of it all… sniff, sniff!! (Yes, yes… OK, I admit it… I did even tear up and cry a little… I’m such a sentimental sucker for such romantic gestures…)
All that before the opening credits have even finished rolling… So it’s no surprise that our lovely leading lady says “yes!!” to Aman’s proposal and they drive off to tell somebodies parents the wonderful news. Except for one thing… The crazy evil ghost that appears out of nowhere and causes Aman to crash the car, nearly killing them both. Bummer….
It seems that Kaya’s parents had forgotten to tell her one important thing now that she’s all grown up and ready for romance. Seems that a couple of centuries back their family had been part of the old Royal family and that one of their ancestors was…. to put it nicely… a complete a**hole. Yep, the son of King Ranjeet Singh and able to have any woman he wanted, this idiot decides one fateful evening to try to rape the virginal daughter of the powerful Brahmin priest, Acharya Sachidanand staying at the Royal palace to await her nuptials. Before that happens, the girl throws herself from a balcony to her death and then her dad… well… he loses it… big time. He calls out the King and gives him a piece of his mind, culminating in his slapping a doozy of a curse on the family. Since he’ll never see his little girl happy and married, then the Royal family is cursed by him to never see any of their daughters married or in love either. Any that are unlucky enough to try are doomed to a terrible death. Big important lesson here for all you other aspiring a**holes out there… never piss off a powerful Holy man…. payback is always a bitch. Trust Neko on that…
But that’s all just hokey superstition, right? Apparently it’s still enough grounds for Kaya’s dad to put the stops to any further marriage plans for his little girl. Being a good dutiful daughter, there’s not much Kaya can do but comply, even if her heart is shattered by the idea. Too bad it’s too late… Their love is too strong, and the evil spirit that enforces the curse has decided to kill her anyway.
At this point, our hero Aman has just decided to say to Hell with it… He wants to break the curse, save his Kaya, and live happily ever after even if it’s supposed to be nearly impossible. He manages to impress a scholar at the University who’s an expert in the supernatural, Professor Pashupathi (played by Rahul Dev) into helping him and his best buddy Shubh (played by Shubh Joshi) find out exactly how to do it.
Things get a bit convoluted once he’s involved, and we get a couple of those “extra side-plots” that crop up in Hindi film. One involves Aman ending the haunting of the University library by the begrudged ghosts of a suicide victim and her grieving boyfriend. It’s flashy, and neat with haunted stacks of books, the hanging ghost of Sonya the medical student trapped in the pages of a book, and the demon spirit of her dead boyfriend guarding the book she’s trapped in. Neat, but not really germane to the plot at hand beyond supposedly giving Aman some cred with the Professor and proving his devotion to his cause. That could just as easily have been done by having the Professor witness his protection of Kaya during an attack… but hey, who am I to complain about getting some more ghostly action sequences.
In fact, after the good Professor is on board he’s got plans to visit an old theater where a whole bunch of people died in a terrible fire. Why? Well it seems that the Curse… or any curse, really… is actually carried out by a single evil spirit that kind of takes it on sort of as a “hobby” to pass the time. (Isn’t “Eternity” a real bitch?) To break a curse, you just do away with the spirit in charge of making it happen… sounds easy right? Wrong. First you have to know which spirit is actually involved. Luckily, there are both evil spirits and good ones floating around, and it’s our professor’s plan is to ask one of the good ones to identify the evil one they want. Sounds kind of goofy, I know… but it lets us visit a haunted theater full of flaming ghosts so this Catgirl says: “What the heck…. “😉
Eventually we do manage to get back on track and trace the spirit to the old palace where the original tragedy occurred those centuries ago, but by that time poor Kaya’s been kidnapped by the spirit, buried alive, and rescued at the nick of time by Aman, only to end up in a coma for the rest of our film. Yep… I’m not kidding, Hindi films love complicated stories with lots of plot twists and turns. So… who is the evil spirit? Why to discover that, Aman’s buddy Shubh has to let the good professor send his spirit “time traveling” back to the origin of it all using some weird spell where you risk drowning in a tub of water. Hehehe… “Shaapit” is full of fun and wacky mystical stuff like that….
They discover… in a big flashback sequence, that the spirit is non other than Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s evil bride Mohini (played by Natasha Sinha) who had him killed by Hashassins and tried to seize the throne for herself. Unfortunately for her she failed to kill his two sons (One of whom is the a**hole from earlier… pity our deadly assassins couldn’t have at least “fixed his little red wagon…”). They slap her in prison and eventually she lets herself be executed so her spirit can torture the family by making the Curse a reality.
We’re getting close now… and now that our heroes know who they are dealing with all they have to do is find Mohini’s burial urn, hidden away in the palace ruins, and scatter her ashes in water to banish her forever. They better hurry though, because Kaya’s coma turns out to actually be a metaphysical “separation” of her own spirit from her body…. and if the wicked Mohini doesn’t release it soon, she’ll die.
Our heroes find the urn of course, and the last 30 minutes of this one detail their desperate battle to escape the palace and drown those ashes. One by one the wicked Mohini smacks them silly with every trick in her arsenal. Don’t worry though…. this is a romance film… and true love always prevails. Always. Not that our Aman and his friends don’t take a serious beating in the process though….
All together, “Shaapit” actually turned out to be a pretty good film for me. It could have been made a little tighter with some editing and by dropping those two “ghostbusting” side trips, but in a Hindi film… you kinda gotta go with the flow and let the story wander a bit. I’ve seen worse put together plots out of Bollywood, and while perhaps a bit overdone here and there, this one actually works for the most part. Even the perquisite musical numbers are unobtrusive and woven in as part of the overall story. The metaphysical stuff was fun… I enjoyed Professor Pashupathi’s magical ghost seeking tennis ball…. (Ummm… trust me, you have to see it to believe it… :)) And the period stuff was also gorgeous and exotic. It’s a great looking film all round… and both Aditya Narayan and Shweta Agarwal are good in their roles as star crossed lovers. Neko gives this one 4 “Meows” out of 5…. and I can easily recommend it as a fun lil’ film if you’ve got an evening free for some movie watching. Even my sweetie Carolyn found it’s mix of chills and romance to be a nice “movie nite” experience… and that says a lot.
The DVD is good too, in an all region NTSC anamorphic wide-screen format with those great perfect English subtitles Hindi films always seem to have. It’s an easy DVD to find, and ought to be available for around 12-20$ US most places, or even cheaper directly from India itself. If ghost romances are your thing, I say go on out and grab yourself a copy. 😉
Yep… got the Trailer all sorted, and here it goes, enjoy!!