I was checking out the “Suggested for You” listing on Netflix this morning and took a chance on a movie I’d never heard of before: “1920 London”. I figured, horror movie – gettin’ close to Hallowe’en – haven’t bought a new dvd in ages – – -what the heck. I clicked ‘Play’ and discovered it was in Hindi, with sub-titles. No problem. I read very fast indeed.
Seriously – the sub-titles were no problem at all.
I’m not sure how this movie gained the title of “1920 London“, except that this is supposed to be the time period and place in which the story mainly takes place. Be that as it may, it was, in my opinion, a good story that made for an entertaining couple of hours of horror film!
The tale revolves around Shivangi, a princess of the Rajasthan royal house, her husband and the backstory of star crossed lovers. The story opens with her panicked return to the home of her father, the King, to find help for her newly wedded husband, Prince Veer, who has apparently been possessed through the efforts of a dark witch, whom she thinks she can name. Her brothers are enraged and rush to kill the evil woman, but the King forestalls them, persuading them to first seek the assistance of a Baba, or exorcist, who is well versed in these matters.
The family travels to the camp of this Baba, who is able to discern the dark spirit, but who also discovers that the demon witch who has taken over Veer’s body is too strong for him to control. There is only one who will be able rid Veer of this very powerful entity, he says, and refers the King to the most powerful spiritual master in the land, Mewar Baba, also known as Jai Singh Gujjar. The first twist in this tale is that, many years before, Jai and Shivangi were star-crossed lovers – she, from a royal house and he, a penniless shepherd – who were ripped apart when Jai beat Shivangi’s step-uncle who had tried to molest her. He was arrested, convicted and jailed for five years…due to false testimony presented by Shivangi herself!
We are given a bit of back-story for Jai’s skill as a ‘master Baba’ via a fairly violent segment wherein he performs an exorcism on a young girl. The scenes are not gory (in fact, there is no real gore in the entire film) but fit the widely accepted notion of what an exorcism entails. It was interesting to me, a Westerner, to note that in this film, holy water comes from the Ganges River and that a length of – maybe – prayer beads??? are used as opposed to our use of the Christian crucifix. Regardless of the trappings, exorcisms seem to be much the same in every culture.
Back to the drama of enlisting the aid of the Master Baba! Needless to say, Shivangi hesitates to ask for Jai’s help, but for the love of her husband, she swallows her pride and goes in search of him. He refuses her plea at first (and here is where we get the flashback of their love story and her betrayal – which brought to me on a bout of tears), but finally relents and agrees to aid her.
Shivangi tells him that they believe the dark magic being used against her husband is traceable to Veer’s step-mother who was anxious to displace Veer as heir, with her own son. There follows all of the great “possession” scenes that you see from movies all over the globe: the insidious mists, the shadowy figure that suddenly appears right behind you!, the dark image in the mirror, the bone breaking contortions, invisible spirits brutally throwing, dragging and otherwise inflicting damage to the possessed, and the eerie looking, backwards crab crawl (think: “The Exorcist”, when Magan comes downstairs :O ) – all the tried and true good stuff – with a few new ideas thrown in, at least in my exposure to horror films.
The second twist occurs with the discovery of who the real perpetrator of this possession is – but I will leave it to the viewer to find this out for him/herself! Suffice it to say that eventually the spirit of the witch is contained and her requirement for a soul to consume is satisfied, Veer is restored to health, both Shivangi and Jai earn redemption and regardless of the history between them and his station in life, Jai is honoured by Prince Veer. I want to say that everyone lives happily ever after, but the bittersweet ending just made me cry 😦 I suppose that was the goal, yes?
The special effects around the possession, incidentally, are just scary enough to make you jump, raise your eyebrows and elicit a startled gasp throughout. I found the story to have just the right amount of complexity, and Jai, at least, to have great depth. I would have liked to see more details about Shivangi’s life – perhaps her childhood and how she was raised, for the non-Indian audience to be reminded of the intolerance between the levels in social status. We old fossils learned this a half century ago in school, but I’m not entirely sure that the young, modern, Western adults and children are aware of it.
There were two real issues I had: 1) the special effects – that screeching laughter that came from the spirit/demon/witch just has to go, and 2) the doctor who was assessing Veer, inserted a bit of comedic relief into an otherwise serious film; in short, his portrayal was just too laughable to be borne – “muscle spasms” indeed.
An unusual aspect of “1920 London”, and again I speak as one who is used to a more westernized style of movie, was the inclusion of an actual video-type of love song, wherein the two characters, Jai and Shivangi, are actually singing to one another. I thought it was a lovely addition, for the song itself was beautiful. There were two or three full-length romantic pieces in the movie, in fact, and all of them were quite touching and beautiful. I have read “off-Amazon” reviews which ridicule this as ‘over-explored’ in “Bollywood” movies; I personally enjoyed it and, in fact, replayed the songs several times after watching the movie and then looked them up on YouTube, saving them to one of my lists to listen to later.
(If you’re interested, you can look up the videos on YouTube by the ‘title + 1920 London’,
- Rootha Kyun
- Aafreen – and
- Aaj Ro Len De (Jaaniya)
Just a further note here, not only as a newcomer to films from this culture, but also as an old lady with memories and wistfulness of her own – the three major actors in “1920 London” were absolutely beautiful. Both Sharman Joshi (Jai) – with his intensity and bearing – and Vishal Karwal (Prince Veer) – who has the same kind of deep dimples as Latino actor, Mario Lopez! – perfectly portrayed their characters, from physical carriage to facial expressions – not to mention that they are both gorgeous ‘specimens’ of men! As for Meera Chopra (Shivangi), she is absolutely stunning! A more striking trio I have seldom seen.
The bottom line is this: if you are a non-Hindi speaker and do not mind splitting your attention between action and sub-titles, I would recommend giving this movie a go, especially for Hallowe’en horror fare. As for myself, having never watched a Hindi language/”Bollywood” movie before, I have nothing with which to compare 1920 London.
All I know is that I enjoyed it. Immensely.