It occurs to me that a lot of my reviews of Bollywood movies focus on films that serious fans and proponents of Indian cinema probably think would best be ignored. It's not as if I think that these films are all there is to Bollywood, or all that's worth mentioning. It's just that, to tell the truth, my taste in so-good-they're-good Bollywood movies is pretty boring. I don't think the internet needs one more person writing about how great Dil Se, Deewaar, Mother India and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam are. (Though if you want to read something I wrote about a classic Bollywood movie that I love, love, love, go here.) On the other hand, mining the nether-reaches of Bollywood for overlooked jaw-droppers and then writing about them is a hell of a lot of fun.
That said, I just don't feel like I have the energy to give the 1996 film Papi Gudia the full review treatment. Doing so would just entail me trying to describe in detail a lot of things that would be best just witnessed firsthand. But I do feel that Papi Gudia should be remarked upon. The film--a spectacular box office failure, from what I've heard--is a remake of the Hollywood film Child's Play, and it comes to us complete with special effects that are just about as special as they could be, and Mithun-caliber song-and-dance bits featuring that snappy dresser Karisma Kapoor.
It's rare to see a mainstream Bollywood film from this era that tries to tackle the horror genre, and Papi Gudia abounds with evidence of filmmakers who were working in very foreign territory. They seem to have grasped onto just a couple of common devices and then clung to them for dear life, never letting a moment of screen time pass in which the audience isn't being pummeled with them. For instance, rather than trying to build tension through judicious use of music and sound design, they plaster the soundtrack wall-to-wall with overwrought creepshow music and demonic sound effects. The goal seems to have been to create a sense of omni-ominousness and, not just foreboding, but during- and after-boding as well.
Karisma Kapoor's musical numbers do serve to break up that mood a bit, though. I can best describe them by saying that they take the aesthetic of a 1980s Pepsi Super Bowl commercial, root around in it for what precious vestiges of taste and restraint can be found, and then eliminate those with extreme, spandex-clad prejudice. In short: Fans of Disco Dancer will find much to love here.
Papi Gudia is also noteworthy for how, in a cinema so demonstrably in love with the use of the shock zoom, it stand out for its profligacy. In one scene alone, where we first see Karisma lay eyes on Avinash Wadhavan, we get three consecutive matching pairs of his-and-hers shockers, insuring we can't miss the fact that--doiiinggg! doiiinggg! doiiinnng!--this is not the first time they have met. This actually caused me to yell "I Get It!" at the screen, which is something I always thought people only wrote about doing in reviews of cult movies, but never actually did. Now I know.
Lastly, Papi Gudia distinguishes itself from its inspiration by having a social agenda. A title card--in English--at the top of the film reads:
" The story idea of the film is to create positive feeling in children which will make them careful against similar situations in future and also to warn them against blind faith or surrender to alien things be it a doll or computer toys, robots, etc."
Papi Gudia is not a good movie, but it made me laugh until I cried. And then I cried until Papi Gudia taught me to laugh all over again. Sadly, I could not find a YouTube clip of any of the musical numbers from the film, though this number from another Karisma Kapoor film of the same vintage very well could have been in Papi Gudia:
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