Purani Haveli is a cinematic marvel. Made in a pre-computer generated imagery era, it uses practical effects for its scares, thus resulting in hilarious narrative choices like making the central monster saunter up to his victims instead of appearing as a jump-scare. Forget the supernatural sophistication of modern horrors; Purani Haveli's real horror lies in its production value.
The wonders begin with the mansion that’s going to be haunted, which is less of an architectural structure and more of a visual carnival of confusion (Egyptian motifs on graceful old doors, anyone?). Strategically located opposite a graveyard in the middle of a jungle, a beach, and a mountain — because why settle for one spooky location when you can have it all? — it is unclear whether this place is vastu approved.
Soon enough we are introduced to the main monster, let’s call him N (short for Neanderthal because he looks like a primitive man on psychedelics). His evilness is unmistakable. His modus operandi? Forget knives, forget chainsaws; he's the hugger from hell. He hugs his victims to death. And you thought vintage B-grade Bollywood didn’t take consent seriously.
N’s first victims are a couple foolish enough to spend a night in the Purani Haveli. The man's a lecher, the woman's decision-making skills are questionable, and surprise surprise, they end up as monster snacks. At the risk of victim shaming, we’re Team N because really, they asked for it.
Elsewhere, kilometres away, Seema and Kumar, financial leeches in human form, are eyeing their niece Anita's inheritance. How do they plan to drain her funds? By convincing her to invest in the haunted haveli, of course! They have her sign a blank check and she does! Watching Anita attempt adulting through her financial decisions is more horrifying than anything N has done so far.
Eventually, Anita takes a bus full of friends and her secret boyfriend, Sunil, on a trip to the haunted haveli. Did we mention N can transfer his killing powers to a demonic metal statue replete with devil horns? Well he can. This statue is also able to kill people by slowly stepping on them or hugging them from behind. How they end up dying is beyond our comprehension and it certainly isn’t a question modern medicine can answer.
Beyond the excessive use of poster paints, there lurks in Purani Haveli a takedown of the upper classes. The Thakurs will not allow their niece to marry below her social status. Not out of concern for societal norms, mind you, but due to pure, unadulterated greed. They want her to marry financial leech Seema's brother to keep the wealth within the family.
True to genre traditions, Purani Haveli includes one attempted rape, inflicted upon Anita. It was this shameless fusion of violence and sex that helped propel these films into stratospheric popularity. For better and for worse, the gratuitous (and sleazy) violence that characters like Anita suffer are difficult to view critically — because they are hilarious in terms of how badly the scenes are executed.
In the midst of this madness, we find our modest hero, Sunil, a photographer with a sidekick named Mangu, played by the ever-hilarious Satish Shah. Mangu even has a dacoit alter-ego named Kaala Gangu (because, why not?). Sunil is the unsung hero who eventually solves the monster problem with a touch of divine intervention. He and his friends lure N into a church where N uses his hand-paws to hide his face whenever he encounters religious iconography like a crucifix — a great defence.
At one climactic point, Sunil unleashes a flourish of unveilings, which inform us that it’s not enough to have a religious idol on the premises, but it must be visible to the monster. In what we can’t help but see as a premonition of attempting to do a Zoom call using cellular data, in Purani Haveli out of sight is out of coverage area. N eventually meets a fiery end, impaled on a cross (Jesus saves, y’all. Never forget it). Brace yourselves for the moment when his hand-paws explode.
In a country grappling with social and political upheaval, where the "Angry Young Man" was the outlet for societal angst, the Ramsay Brothers provided a different kind of catharsis, after realising the commercial potential of making audiences shriek (with laughter or terror? Who knows). Their B-grade horror flicks weren't just low-budget cinematic creations; they were visceral experiences, so gloriously tacky that you would forget all your worries.
Of course you can find more polished scares in The Conjuring or the Insidious films, but have a little fun with horror. Take a detour into the glorious absurdity of Purani Haveli — you won’t regret it.