Review: Alamet-i-Kıyamet: Tarikat (Turkish, 2016) and Aaja Nachle (Hindi, 2007)
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Two films, worlds apart, find common misogynistic grounds..
While completely different in their styles, country of origin and genre, Alamet i Kıyamet and Bollywood’s Aaja Nachle successfully find common ground in first having a lead female character and then snatching away her power to make her own decisions.
ALAMET-I-KIYAMET (A Sign of Doomsday: The Sect)
Many Turkish horror films are about corrupting Western influence on societies (especially Islamic), have become very popular. They have yet to find many audience in the West, but if YouTube comments are to go by, they have found many fans here in India.
This is not really surprising as the narrative many follow is the same as of the majority of mainstream Indian cinema (and the very popular TV serials by Ekta Kapoor): Tradition is great, Modernity is evil. Especially for women. Though it would be unfair to categorize them all on the same basis as there are many which are worth watching. The film under discussion is a rather weak specimen of this wave.
The film opens with two religious quotes which are the portents of Kiyamet (The Judgement Day).
"When it (time) passes: A year as a month, a month as a week, a week as a day, a day as an hour" - (Ibn Hacer. s. 13/16)
"When people compete against each other on building" - (Buhari, Fiten. s. 25)
There does not seem to be any direct relation between this film's plot and these quotes but there are elements that can be loosely connected. They basically serve as a warning to material accumulation and time wastage through modern distractions. Though, the film's stuffy title has already announced this.
The plot here is a casual rework of Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby, tweaked only to find comfortable space for moral finger-wagging.
Here the central character of the woman Elif Sener (Busra Cubukcuoglu) is a married man’s girlfriend, instead of the wife. Filmmakers seem confident that for the majority of its intended audience, this alone must suffice for her to experience a humiliating and deserved downfall. In fact, the fact that he is older to her is supposed to come as a shock to the audience, as the first glimpse we get of him is of his feet.
They are in a hotel room and our heroine is complaining about hotels rooms and gets a chance to appreciate his honesty ("At least, you're honest") when he refuses to divorce his wife.
But he promptly comes into action (non-coital) and gifts her a Volkswagen Beetle and rents her a swanky (by the film’s standards) apartment full of Illuminati symbolism. (Check out the title in the poster for a sample).
From here, the film borrows heavily from Polanski’s film: Sinister neighbors pretending to be well-meaning, sex with the Devil (Dajjal, here), evil doctors etc.
Because this is a film satisfied simply to jump from one plot point to another, there is no real build-up here. Almost immediately, she starts to suffer from nightmares and terrifying visions of ghosts and witches, all of whom seem to suffer from bad hair. The director's idea of horror is the nightmare-within-nightmare jump scares. There are plenty of these to fill up the time.
Tellingly, there is only one staircase in the building and it only leads to the prohibited basement.
The whole thing sounds like someone making up the rules as they are going along. The narrative is interspersed with footage from the television announcing the upcoming doomsday.
So far, not bad.
But now we come to my main problem with the film...
Unlike Mia Farrow’s character in the aforementioned film, the lead gets suspicious all the time but never bothers to investigate or fight. She just reacts to things and becomes a peg for the filmmakers to hang their weak scares on. A complete victim, she seems resigned to her fate.
Remember the quote about time in the beginning? To place it within the film's context the filmmakers have Elif wake up at unexpected places and discover they she has actually jumped ahead months. Potentially scary, this device further ends up taking away the narrative from the woman. She is left with no room to investigate or fight back. Her only weak attempts to understand what is happening to her see her approach her long-estranged father who is a maulvi whose mosque is under the threat of demolition to make space for an upcoming shopping mall. No prices for guessing who the unseen man threatening the demolition is.
This could still have been a pertinent commentary but in a more nuanced, complex film. It fails to find any resonance even in the pandemic inflicted world.
And even its surface-level pleasures are paltry. To speak in the language of doomsayers, you would be able to see the final twist coming since the inception of man.
Having said this, exploring the new Turkish horror is still worthwhile. From found horror footage to slasher there are many gems that horror fans will enjoy.
Unconvincing from the word go, Madhuri Dixit's comeback vehicle is a major disappointment.
Dia Srivastava (Dixit) is a bright dancing student dance at a prestigious school. Within the first fifteen minutes, she is swept on her feet by a photographer from USA Steve (Belgian actor Felix D'Alviella) who has come to photograph Indian artists. Facing resistance from her family, she elopes with him to USA, leaving behind infamy for her parents, who are forced to shift the area to live somewhere else.
This also has a direct result on her school, Ajanta.
It gains instant notoriety and parents stop sending their girls there. Soon, from a thriving center of culture and dance, it is ruins.
We catch up with Dia a few years later and discover that has started her own dance school in USA. Going by the number of people dancing, it seems successful too.
So Dia is divorced but independent with a thriving business of her own.
But she readily leaves everything behind when she receives the news that her Guru is about to pass away. She instantly drops everything, packs up her 7-year-old daughter with comes to India. There is no consideration or hesitation on her part.
Upon reaching India, she has to her teacher's death and Ajanta's terrible condition. The building is condemned to be razed. This is where a video revealed which her mentor has left for her exhorting her to stay back and take care of the school. She does. Again, without a second thought.
Let's pause here and think for a moment. Why did her Guru had to die before she reached India? Why couldn't he personally leave the responsibility of his school on her shoulders and then pass away? Simply to leave no room for argument for Dia.
So, you have this independent woman raising her daughter alone with a successful career and she drops everything just because of a video.
In short, like Alamet-I-Kiyamet discussed above, her entire life, even what she ultimately stands for, is guided by external agencies.
The major reason this rankles is not because she decides to stay back in India and fight the evil realtor and get back her school's lost glory ( and in process restoring her and her parent's lost 'honor') but this is troubling because we never see her arrive at a decision. She does not have a single moment to herself where she is seen pondering, deciding and weighing things. In fact, the makers do not even stop to show us that she even wanted this.
Aaja Nachle is written by Jaydeep Sahani, one of the more conscientious writers, so I assume it is the involvement of Madhuri Dixit and the burden of this being her “comeback” film that the focus is not on having any nuance but giving her big moments and making her fight the world (let's also not forget that Aditya Chopra is one of the writers). It purports to be a film about female liberation but everything about it screams SAFE BET!
It does work in parts, though.
Dixit gives a spirited performance and Irrfan Khan brings another layer to his role, as usual. But for most part, the film is a painful reminder of what it could have been.
Alamet-i-Kiyamet is available on YouTube to watch, though I am not sure legally. Aaja Nachle is available on Amazon Prime.