The millennial might not remember the Ramsay brand of horror flicks (Veerana, Purana Mandir, Purani Haveli), but the older generations can relate with the classic haunted havelis, lantern-wala Ramu Kaka, gory creatures, and yes, good amounts of skin show, that were the hallmark of the Ramsay brand.
Amazon Prime’s latest offering, Shaitaan Haveli, is a funny take on the above genre, albeit with a modern touch. In the age of disclaimers (three in Padmavat!!), even this show has its own, basically conveying that the makers don’t believe in bhoot, pret, etc.
The plot is quite hilarious– a former horror producer willingly agrees to shoot in a haunted place, as he has no budgets. The poor guy is languishing in financial doldrums, after having tried, and failed at, a family sex disaster.
Lack of a decent budget also forces him to take a testosterone-heavy, dim-witted dude as the hero. The heroine is a scheming, conniving TVactress.
The rest of the cast includes a former, out-of-shape hero, who is missing the arc-lights and is now forced to essay a dialogue-less Dracula, a supporting cast actor, who goes on to become the hero, and a bikini-clad firang called Fruit, who is repeatedly asked to do shower scenes. To be fair though, the only female shower scene shown is done quite decently. And the joke is that at the start they showed a guy showering in his undies. There are no sex scenes either, sans a few references to making out, when the heroine tries to seduce the dumb hero.
The makers have used all the Ramsay devices, for example, a 200-year-old, shape-shifting chudail, re-incarnation, a powerful main demon, a Laxman rekha, etc. Even the title montage and poster is a replay of the eighties, desi horror scene.
Interestingly, the plot has lots of references to zombies, which were not a part of the Indian horror format, if we are not mistaken, save for the more recent Saif Ali Khan starrer, Go Goa Gone.
But what we liked best were the modern jokes. They really made the series watchable. The jealous chudail was really funny after she changed sides.
The makers even dragged in gau rakshaks. The plot also took a dig at our weaker rulers in the 1800s, who were more interested in hunting, than defending their lands against the marauding East India Company.
The series also exposes the moral hypocrisy of today’s mass media– like the director ordering his cameraman to keep shooting during the carnage, so as to get real horror footage. The latter’s complaint that the dead man’s angle was wrong, was a clear attempt at pathos. Humour, many a times, can say a lot and get away with it.
Since all the characters were really caricatures, as demanded by the script, we can’t really comment on the acting caliber of any one. Here also, they have not really gone for a good-looking cast, just like the Ramsays, back then. Following modern trends, they have even kept an option open for a sequel.
In conclusion, we wonder if the 20-25-minuterun length of each episode (eight seems to have become a web standard) is a tad too much, given that most consumption of net content is via handheld devices.
If you want a good laugh, and have been a horror buff, Shaitaan Haveli is definitely worth your while. It also reminds you of the cult Zee TV show, Zee Horror Show, derided back then by many as Zee Comedy Show. Good attempt by Varun Thakur.
We would rate it 3 out of 5 stars.