Jaani Dushman (2002)
Cast: Sunny Deol, Manisha, Sunil Shetty, Akshay Kumar, Aftab, Aditya Pancholi
Director: Raj Kumar Kohli
Nutshell: Anaconda meets Matrix meets T2 meets Wishmaster in this Nagin retread!
Jaani Dushman, a horror yarn from the late 70’s featuring a blood lusting, bride-snatching hairy beast, is considered to be a turning point in Bollywood horror in that it was the first creature feature to receive widespread box office acceptance (novelty value and its glittering assemblage of stars no doubt helped). JD’s success therefore heralded the wonderful waves of hairy monsters and cheesy horror that were to be unleashed by the Ramsay’s and their disciples in subsequent years, particularly the 80’s.
This new Jaani Dushman though is misleading by its title alone as the film has hardly anything to do with the first Jaani Dushman – this film really ought to have been called Naag: Nagin 2 or something suitably trite. The cast is headlined by Akshay Kumar, Manisha Koirala, Aftab, Sunil Shetty and Sunny Deol among the big leagues as well as a host of b-grade men and plastic bimbettes. Proceedings get underway with much friendly, inane banter at a college friends wedding. All the buddies and their girlfriends are present at the wedding when suddenly disaster strikes. The bride and groom are inexplicably attacked by an unseen presence and sent flying to their deaths from a high-rise apartment bedroom. It seems that the bride may have been from the ichchadhari netherworld.
Later we are introduced to one of the college friends Divya (Manisha) who lapses into a very muddled and poorly handled flashback sequence explaining that she too once had a fun filled, frolicsome life before events changed things drastically. We learn that she was happily enrolled at this Missionary College where there were evidently classes for mature students, explaining the presence of Aditya Pancholi and Sunny Deol among the student body.Anyway, Divya is cornered and nearly raped by two sleaze ball students – in fact members of the gang she moves with – but fortunately just at the critical moment, Sunny arrives to save the day. Divya is pleaded with to forgive the two lads rather than compromise the good reputation of the College and amazingly she relents. Meanwhile, one night Divya goes sleepwalking and ends up clutching a giant gnarled tree that appears to be beckoning her with strains of a tune from the old Nagin film!
The next day while she is passing the tree, again she hears strange sounds beckoning her………..calling out to her “Vasundra…..main aoon” (Vasundra, shall I come?) to which an irritated Divya demands that whoever is calling out show himself. Suddenly there are some flashes of light and much smoke from which emerges a cobra that then proceeds to mutate into a handsome young man with striking green eyes. Divya is informed by the stranger that unknown to her, she is in fact Vasundra who is his mate from the previous life……….and much to her horror, that she is in fact a snake! Divya is shocked at the fellows presumptuousness but he pleads with her to try to understand and then he regurgitates a vile tablet that he asks her to taste in order to learn the truth! When she swallows his “mani” she is transformed into another time and space where she recognizes her true origins – she is indeed a snake and the green eyed lad, Kapil is her mate who has come searching for her from the past century. Kapil explains to her how they were separated in one of the more bizarre scenes of Jaani Dushman.
What had happened is that one fine evening the snake couple decided to perform a particularly vigorous snake dance but when the dance reaches a crescendo, the two decide to modernize their steps a bit – it is after all 2002. Therefore we are treated to a magnificent Disco Snake dance but the dance ends in disaster. Just as the two snakes are getting into the swing of their disco steps, the idiotic Kapil stomps his feet so powerfully on the earth that the very earth collapses and the two of them end up falling onto a highly irate Tantrik (Om Puri). The Tantrik is incensed that his pratiksha (worship) has been broken that he condemns poor Vasundra to death! The snakes apologize profusely but the Tantrik is adamant – then the two snakes threaten to bash their heads on the rocks unless the tantrik relents and after a few minutes of bashing, he does indeed relent. However he cannot undo his magic spell and moments later Vasundra dies. Now poor Kapil is told that he has to wait until the next century before seeking her out – which he vows to do.
Divya/Vasundra goes back to her college dorm in a highly confused state and doesn’t realize that when her friends are insisting on her appearance at a party at a specific time, it’s actually the bastards who tried to rape her who are plotting another attempt by imitating her friends’ voices on the phone. A particularly nasty rape scene follows at the end of which Manisha impales herself while promising that she will have her vengeance, even though she doesn’t realize that of her friends, only two of them had actually deceived her. Manisha dies (again!?) and now it is left for Kapil to take revenge on those who had deceived her and one by one he tracks each of the friends down using all his considerable snake powers to devastating effect. The film is a loose re-run of the mid 70’s hit Nagin but the major change is that in that film it was the Nagin (Reena Roy) who was the avenging snake, this time it is the male Naag who returns to avenge the death of his partner.
The film has been manufactured as yet another attempt at launching the career of the producers’ son (Armaan turned Munish), and to this end it doesn’t look as though the plan will succeed. The lad is the source of most of the movies major laughs as he lapses into various modes; the most prominent being the over coat wearing, leather clad dude straight out of The Matrix. There are scenes mimicked from the 6 Million Dollar Man with the snake-man running at the speed of light in order to bring justice to the baddies. He also has the power to morph into any living creature or inanimate object whenever he so chooses and uses this skill to good effect in order to trap his foes (shades of Wishmaster and T2). The other power he seems to possess is that he has a self-repairing body like T2 did and his body parts can also be shot to pieces only for them to come back together like mercury, and he also has the capability of walking on water. Kapil the Naag also does the Anaconda thing by wrapping himself around his victims and biting them savagely on the head and then snapping the neck with one vicious fatal jerk. However aerial style kung fu dynamics appear to be his forte – most un-snake-like behaviour in the traditional sense. There are also numerous scenes “inspired” by The Mummy and its dire sequel, in fact part of the movies interest is in spotting the “homage” as it were!
Perhaps the moral of the entire movie is that snakes should not incorporate disco and break dancing routines into the traditional snake dance and ought to stick to the wriggling movements and finely tuned tongue motions as in all previous years. If the two snakes hadn’t got so carried away with their disco-fied snake dance, thumping their feet in unison and causing the earth to cave in……..none of these problems would have occurred.
The film suffers for its emphasis upon slick action sequences and special effects rather than creating any atmosphere of dread or horror. Its pretty nonsensical, highly derivative and very cheap looking and even the local audiences will sneer at the dated special effects that were done so much better in the south Indian hit Maa ki Shakti a few years ago. Hopefully Bollywood horror isn’t going to be bitten be the special effects bug too badly, otherwise genre fans are going to be in for some testing times (again!). However early reports suggest failure in the relatively sophisticated urban centres but quite an enthusiastic response in the areas where even Mithun’s films are still in demand and there are suggestions that the film could well turn out to be a financial success.
Finally, Sonu Nigam would be best advised to stay behind the cameras rather than in front of them, not that he was particularly worse than anyone else on display. It was good to see old horror veterans Kiran Kumar and Raza Murad appearing in cameo’s but on the whole the new Jaani Dushman is pretty much an embarrassment – barely good for a giggle – yet do check out the new fangled multi religious amulet that is introduced for fighting evil (in multi-religious communities like India) – a very useful trinket to invest in. The songs, by the way are dreadful, but then that is to be expected when Anand Raaj Anand are involved.