Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Creature (India, 2014)

Last Monday, I went vinyl record shopping with my nephew in the East Bay, and ended up in an Indian DVD shop on University Avenue, where the voluble sales clerk talked copies of Baahubali and Ek Tha Tiger into my hands. I was grateful for this guidance, because it had been a very long time since I had seen a Bollywood movie of even remotely recent vintage—since before I started writing Funky Bollywood, to be honest—and also because I ended up liking both films.

But there was one more film that I walked out of that store with, one that I had chosen myself by virtue of the cover alone, which advertised a CGI monster movie in which beauty-turned-scream-queen Bipasha Basu faces off against a horrific part dinosaur/part man. The film’s title: Creature (also known as Creature 3D, if you are watching it in 3D—or if you are one of the characters in the movie, who is experiencing the creature as part of their natural field of vision.)

Like its title, Creature is a pretty on-the-nose affair, as are most of Indian cinema’s first stabs at a particular genre, taking the modern day monster movie, as presented by Hollywood, and stripping it down to its basic machinations. All of the expected tropes and plot points arrive right on time, from the jump scares down to the ironically portentous dialogue (“I’m glad we honeymooned here, rather than in London or Paris,” says one newlywed immediately before being torn into pieces.)

All of this is woven into an engagingly slick little package by director Vikram Bhatt (Raaz) who, armed with a budget of Rs. 18 crore (roughly 2.7 million U.S. dollars), even comes up with CGI effects that rise above passable quality. This latter makes Creature a must-see for anyone (like me) who has ever made fun of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani, a film whose only purpose seems to be to make Mega-shark vs. Giant Octopus look like Jurassic Park by comparison.

The creature in question bears a slight resemblance to Ray Harryhausen’s Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, and benefits considerably from the obviously great care taken in designing its movements. This is a monster whose personal mantra appears to be “Always Be Hunting”. When he is stalking his prey, he moves in a slithering crawl that is almost sickeningly visceral, then breaks into a loping gallop when it’s time to strike. Less care was taken, unfortunately, with the sound design; we’ve all heard about the ingenious combinations of sound and technique that were combined to fashion Godzilla’s iconic roar. In the case of the creature from Creature, what we are obviously hearing is a gruff voiced man yelling “ROAR” into a microphone, perhaps with his hands cupped around his mouth.

The film also seems to be holding its nose a bit in its presentation of gore, but it does give us one shot of a severed leg and, in another scene, a severed arm. And, if it is at all possible to over-react to such a sight, the actors do their earnest best to pull it off.

Of course, in addition to special effects, Creature also has a plot, and that concerns Ahana Dutt (Basu), a fiercely determined young woman who, in the wake of a family tragedy, moves to Northern India’s lush Himachal Pradesh region to realize her dream of building and operating a “boutique hotel”. This, in defiance of everyone else’s characterization of the surrounding area as a “jungle”, she names the Glendale Forest Hotel, and true to that name, it is a very Western-looking, almost chalet-style construction that could just as easily be in Northern California as the Swiss Alps.

We join the Hotel’s grand opening party in progress, where Ahana meets and immediately makes googly eyes at Karan (Pakistani dreamboat Imran Abbas), a man who shows up with an acoustic guitar despite later claiming that he is only posing as a musician, even though he has just made that one acoustic guitar sound like an entire orchestra. This was in one of only four songs in the movie, just two of which are picturized on the actors. On the DVD, each of these songs is accompanied by a super title announcing where you can download them as ringtones (you stay classy, T-Series.)

Sadly, by the time of the party, we have already been privy to the two newlyweds and one hapless maintenance man being slaughtered by the creature. Ahana is soon privy to this, too, and as the killing continues, attendance at the hotel drops, leaving her prey to another monster, the profit-hungry bankers who threaten to repossess the hotel from her.

It has to be said that the best part of Creature is Bipasha Basu’s portrayal of the very well-written character of Ahana, an admirably rugged heroine who insists on taking the lead in every battle, be it against the monster or her creditors, all while fiercely holding on to her dream of entrepreneurship. In this way, Creature sort of comes off like a sci-fi retelling of Once Upon a Time in the West, in which, rather than Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale’s Jill must protect her ranch against the predations of Godzilla. Casting Basu against Imran Abbash in all his emo-ish frailty goes even further toward establishing her as a total boss.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one of the joys of watching Indian takes on genre cinema is in seeing how the chosen genre’s tropes collide with the idiosyncratic traditions of Hindi cinema. Sadly, no such joys are to be had with Creature, as the film tamps down on its Indian-ness as furiously as Ahana tries to put a Western face on her endeavors in the hospitality industry, doing so in open defiance of the wilds that surround her. This is true from the locations, which could be literally anywhere in Europe or the Northern United States, to the dialogue, roughly 40% of which is spoken in English.

It is suggested that Ahana’s actions have unleashed the monster, and that it is somehow the personification of some past sin of hers. Is Creature, then, a cautionary tale about post-diaspora Bollywood’s ever-increasing Westernization? If so, what is the monster that has been, or will be, unleashed? Until we know the answer, Creature merely comes across as a slickly engaging, though pretty generic creature feature.

1 comment:

Timothy Paxton said...

The feature was okay for beg the rare monster movie that doesn't feature a ghost or whathave you. V Bhatt should have gone for the practical effects route, but, man, those Indian do love their CG.