Friday, June 19, 2009

The Horror! Why 13B is the best movie Ekta Kapoor never made

In 13B - writer-director Vikram K. Kumar's blaring horror-thriller - Madhavan finds himself in a jam. He's an Indian male, but he can't stop watching a saas-bahu TV serial.

"It's a matter of life and death for me to watch it!" he informs his police officer friend - sweat pouring over his forehead, his eyes bugged out, his boyish charm appropriately kerfuffled.

The serial has everyone in Madhavan's apartment (the titular 13B) transfixed. No one - it seems - can stop watching it. Disaster after disaster befalls the kutumb in 13B. At one point Madhavan leaves his wife behind in critical condition and speeds through the streets of Mumbai just so he can make it to watch another episode. Yet he won't turn the darned thing off! In fact, I'm pretty sure he doesn't even hold his job down just so he can watch the serial.

Somewhere in the background you can hear Ekta Kapoor telling her minions - YEH SERIAL KI SCRIPT MUJHE KISSI BHI KEEMAT PE CHAHIYE!

Unfortunately the serial (called Sab Khariyat in the movie - but also known as 'Mother Lode' over at Balaji Telefilms) is an entirely concocted one. You see the serial is only broadcast in Madhavan's apartment. Turning the TV off is not an option - the remote doesn't work while its on. Why, one guy even has the brainwave of unplugging the TV. Nope, the serial still plays.

How can this happen, you might ask? Use your imagination! Bhoot-pret, baby!

However, telling you more will only result in spoilers that will ruin your enjoyment of this awesome guilty pleasure. Instead, I'd like to offer phaltu Drift advice to horror filmmakers (and I'm strictly talking about the genre here, not the resulting movie)

Rooting the movie in reality. Sure this whole 'lost souls' concept requires a leap of faith - kind of like superheroes. But more so in a movie that requires an audience to swallow a high concept - you have to ground everything else in as much reality as possible. Events around the high concept have to make sense.

So for example: if the neighbors of a house are nosy enough that they'd collect around the house when a new TV was being installed, they can't all become invisible when someone drags a dead body into same house. Vikram Kumar made the characters in his movie act in sensible ways, but he created such unrealistic situations that it entirely de-glossed his movie.

No expository dialog please! This has been the bane of Indian filmmakers for generations now. Its a result of assuming your audiences are dumb. Because filmmakers are afraid their audiences won't get their pecheeda plots - they offer is a scene in which a character will painstakingly paraphrase everything you've been watching and then will help you read between the lines as well. This construct almost always kills the pace of the movie.

In 13B, the grating expository scene has a bhoot talking directly to her offender via the TV. This is nuts in this day and age - the audience that doesn't get it in your movie won't be there to watch it. So why waste time and insult the rest of those who show up?

More of that great set design - but enough with the dhund! Let me put it this way: lighting a house in a spooky way - B+. Setting a smoke machine loose all over it just because you can - C.

Continue to overdo the crazy camera angles! I love this aspect of a horror movie. Often I analyze the camera angles and speculate where the surprise will come from in a shot. This time pass allows me to survive the scariest scenes. In one scene in which a bhayanak possibility is revealed, the camera starts jagging back and forth - do doubt mimicking the motion of a serial killer sawing his victim's head off.

The motivation has to match the crime. Remember Rock On!! and how a matter of fisticuffs resulted in life-long friends breaking up and ignoring each other for years? Even though it might have been known to have happened, it just doesn't look good on film. If something terrible has happened in a film, the reasons for it to have happened better be terrible. You can't have someone drive a car off a cliff just because they didn't like the color of its upholstery. Not that it happens in 13B, I'm just saying.

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Deep said...

Dayum, I'm too scared to watch it after reading this review ;-)

Anonymous said...

HAHAHAHAHA, loved the post Aspi. Only you can make a comedy off scary movie. I think you should have a conversation with some of these dudes, remember Omen, maybe they could see some thru your eyes use that for inspiration. But, thanks for a good read!

memsaab said...

LOL---I *almost* want to see it now. Almost.

Priya said...

Hey Aspi: I have a comment on Delhi 6 - if you see it fit to add to the delhi 6 commentary?

I think I have finally realized what disappointed me so in Delhi 6. Like many others, I eagerly anticipated this film because Rakeysh Mehra had given us the lovely Rang de Basanti not too long ago. This is not to say that Delhi 6 was a bad movie. In fact it was quite good. But overall, it did not impress. Particularly the last half hour.

I liked the lazy introductions of the many wonderful supporting characters in the Delhi milieu, the Ramayan analogy, the cinematography, and the music. What I didn’t like was its alarming lack of subtlety, and (gasp) the short running time which didn’t give it enough time to flesh out all the characters. Why would we ever believe in this romance? Why would we believe AB’s baby would want to stay in India – and proclaim “India Works!”? On that point - did he really have to say it for us to understand that he felt it? Why does everything have to be spelt out? In all its attempts to be a natural look at Delhi, it was an unnatural film. The stagy performances of Sonam and Abhishek didn’t help matters much either.

But perhaps the most disingenuous thing was the main point of the movie. There is that pagla who carries around a mirror – showing a mirror to society if I understand correctly. I think it irked me most that there was an ACTUAL mirror. Did we not get the message without the ACTUAL mirror that we need to look within? That the kaala bandars are within us, and that we need to take a cold hard look at what it means that it (the bandar) can just manifest and cause alarming violence at the slightest provocation? DUH!!!

Rarely have I felt as annoyed watching a movie. A pretty good movie no less.

musical said...

Fun read, Aspi!

"Because filmmakers are afraid their audiences won't get their pecheeda plots - they offer is a scene in which a character will painstakingly paraphrase everything you've been watching and then will help you read between the lines as well."

How true!! Our movies do believe in subtlety, don't they ;).

Unknown said...

Hey, I had a lot of fun watching this!

Priya, I watched Delhi-6 recently. I agree with you entirely, its at least coherent, which is more than you can say about most flicks. But its entirely too expository and lines like 'They (US desi) are basically good people' etc just make it cringeworthy.

But the way Rakeysh decided to film Dil Gira Dafatan completely stunned me - it was a gorgeous, ambitious, brash concept. And it almost worked! But good for the man that he had the cojones to try and pull it off.

Anonymous said...

13B came and gone long time back...why this post now ? horrible movie it was :(

Priya said...

Aspi - I totally agree. the songs were awesomely picturized. it really is a pity that the movie did not live up to its picturization and songs.

Unknown said...

BlueMist, I had trouble getting a DVD of the movie. So it took time - in any case I can barely keep up with watching movies so I review when I have time. I try not to repeat what is already out there though - so even if the movie is old, hopefully you'll be able to read something here that isn't already out there.

Priya, that surreal kalabandar arc was promising no? It kind of fell apart though.

stargirl_archie said...

Boy the song was hilarious. And your post was awesome. I just discovered your blog after catching a couple of old Sa re ga ma pa episodes and your comments on himesssh bhai were entertaining. Digg it!!!