It Was Such A Gruesome Scene, I Could Not Watch: 13B (2009)

Leave it to a Bollywood film to create a horror genre offering that was almost as zany as the previously reviewed House, while not as experimental as Obayashi's seventies work. 13B: Fear Has A New Address, directed by Vikram K. Kumar certainly is unlike any horror movie I have seen to date.  However, from what I have come to understand, Bollywood filmmakers are infamous for borrowing heavily from the plots and themes of Hollywood films to drive their points home, and 13B is certainly no exception to this act.  It is quite easy to pick up the influences of Hitchcock specifically, as well as moments from famous horror movies, whether they be Poltergeist, Videodrome or some of the more contemporary hack and slash works, the images and acts mirror these films far to nicely to be mere coincidence.  To say that Kumar borrows heavily from these films is not a critique on my part by any means, hell, Tarantino has made a career out of it, yet the film does so in such a way that you are offered moments of cinematic familiarity, only to have them robbed when you realize that 13B is genuinely its own work, one with multiple elements of the horror genre engaged into a lengthy film, along with unusual inclusions of moments such as music videos and the required dance number that appears to show up at the end of every Bollywood work.  Furthermore, like many of the movies mentioned this month, 13B makes note of the problematic place technology plays within our society, particularly when it comes to the disconnection of relationships and this film takes some broad steps in showing how cataclysmic such lack of attachment can become in communication in times of emergency, particularly when such moments are so insane that any non-direct means of talking fail to express the problem.  13B is a fresh film, with a heavy zest of classic horror works that has made my desire to consume more Bollywood work all the greater.

13B focuses on middle class construction overseer Manohar (R. Madhavan) as he is moving into a new condominium along with many of his family members, a move that represents a huge boost in his class placement, but also a heavy burden on his finances.  Despite small omens such as the milk constantly curdling and being shocked by appliances, Manohar believes that his new life will be rich and rewarding and that eventually his somewhat detached family will come together happily, even if they are constantly glued to the television to watch "their serials."  After a creepy encounter with a man in the complex who owns a dog named Harry, Manohar notices that the newest television program his family is tuned into titled "Everyone Is Well," is beginning to reflect his life, often simultaneously, as he witnesses conversations occurring on the television, as they are also occurring in the room next to him.  He is dismissive at first, until the show predicts that his wife will have a miscarriage, something that leads Manohar on a quest to discover what is going on at his house and why it is being haunted by, of all things a television.  After discussions with an expert in paranormal studies, Manohar, along with the help of a police friend named Shiva (Murali Sharma) they begin to unfold a suicide and mistreatment of  a mentally challenged person which occurred at the location some thirty year earlier.  When it becomes clear that the actions occurring on the television show suggest that Manohar's family will be murdered, by Manohar himself, he plans to lock himself in a room to avoid such occurrences, yet even after this blocking of Manohar the show manages to alter its course ever so slightly to make a new threat for Manohar's family, one that could be said to come from out of nowhere, yet in a daring venture Manohar is able to save his family, allowing them to return to their happy, one that they are sure to praise the gods for earning.  In the closing scenes, Manohar has a conversation with one of the integral characters to the plot in which he suggests that if paranormal entities really wanted to interfere with human lives they would use cell phones, and not a measly television.

13 B is a Bollywood film through and through, yet its inherent commentary on television perhaps most closely relates to the previously mentioned Videodrome, in that it suggests a unhealthy nearly addictive attachment to the television screen.  Manohar's family refuses to even acknowledge a world in which they cannot watch their favorite television shows and while the younger members of the family are not necessarily focused on the television specifically they do indeed have their own problematic connections to the material world whether it be through cellphone use or a desire for a new vehicle.  The overarching commentary then becomes what role as a means for moral and emotive reactions a television should play, this is certainly the case in the scene in which Manohar witnesses the news from the doctor that his wife will survive the miscarriage.  The news is good in that he will keep his wife whom he loves dearly and we witness Manohar fall to his knees, weeping in front of the television set, an action that allows him to prepare for his real life encounter with his wife, in which he is noticeably more stoic.  Overall, the television program appears harmless to everyone until violent actions occur, particularly when the murdering via sledgehammer occurs, at which point Manohar's wife Priya (Neetu Chandra) begins questioning the relevance of the show, her moral compass says that the actions are reprehensible, even for a fictional program, of course she does not realize the reality occurring off screen.  This suggests then that to some degree art must question its validity once it delves into realms of gore and violence, a theme pertinent in not only this film, but more than one of the movies I have reviewed this month.

Key Scene:  The moment when Manohar realizes that his apartment is a threshold for some sort of paranormal presence is well executed and suspense laden.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, but am not entirely sure on its rewatchability.  The film is luckily available on Netflix Watch Instantly, although I will warn you that some of the subtitling is quite awful.

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