30 November 2010
ANKAHEE / THE UNSPOKEN (Dir. Amol Palekar, 1985, India) - The Gaze of Death
Horror is a genre absent from much of Hindi cinema and whilst not much work has been carried out to study its development as a genre and why it continues to operate in a state of terminal decline and critical derision (not surprising given its low cultural status), the supernatural aspects of the genre in the form of ghost stories and the occult offer what are some of the strongest and clearest links with Hindi cinema of the past and present. Additionally, reincarnation is a religious thematic that has remained popular with mainstream Hindi films. One only has to acknowledge the significance of the Ghatak scripted Madhumati from 1958 and perhaps more importantly Amrohi’s overlooked Mahal (The Mansion, 1949). Both films are representative of a classical era and deal with reincarnation, implementing an expressionist style accentuating striking Gothic imagery in which the woman’s appearance as a ghostly lover haunts the tragic heroes of Dilip Kumar and Ashok Kumar. If it is true to say that the horror film deals with all manner of repression then a film like Ankahee uses the infinite gaze of an aging astrologer to predict life and death of those around him. Directed by Amol Palekar and released in 1985, Ankahee succeeds in creating and sustaining a terrifyingly potent atmosphere of dread often found in the supernatural/ghost film. Palekar was a terrific comic actor and later forged a successful career as a director but I feel much of his work has been dismissed outright. When the astrologer predicts his son Nandu (Amol Palekar) will have two wives and the first one will die within eleven months, the arrival of a young village girl into their home leads to Nandu concocting a game of deceit so that he can protect the girl he really loves whilst trying to outwit the language of destiny. What really works about Palekar’s understated direction is the love triangle as it’s slow development leads to a moving denouement in which the astrologer’s gaze is coldly absolute. Lurking beneath the more familiar conventions of melodrama is a subtle meditation on the inevitability of death. Iconic Bengali actor Anil Chatterjee also shows up and impresses as usual in a minor role.