Zapatlela is a Bollywood, romcom, musical, horror, comedy. The main character is named Laksha. Picture Jerry Lewis as a lovable (not actually lovable but intended to be lovable) goofball/village-idiot, ventriloquist with a giant Elvis pompadour, and a pair of bright yellow suspenders that he wears with every outfit. Laksha is in love with a young lady named Avade, but surprise, she has been promised, via an arranged marriage, to the town constable who she despises. Avade is in love with Laksha and they express their feelings in a colorful musical number featuring the two of them and Ardhavatrao, Laksha’s puppet. You heard me right, they dance and sing while Laksha flirt’s via proxy puppet.
This romance is interrupted when Laksha unwittingly gets hold of a puppet that is possessed by the soul of a dead, black magic practicing, villain with pointy buck teeth, not fangs, pointy buck teeth. The villain is named Tatya Vinchu and is seeking revenge against the cop who shot him. The cop, Mahesh Jadhav, is in love with Gauri, Laksha’s sister. Mahesh and Jadhav express their love in their own musical montage, sans puppet. Their scene includes a 1990s staple of Bollywood romance, the singing in a rainstorm sequence.
The puppet was made in India and shipped to America where it was bought by Laksha’s sister who was stateside for some reason. When Laksha realizes that the puppet can walk and talk and murder he does not jump to the conclusion that it is possessed by an evil soul. Instead, he figures it must be a technologically advanced puppet that American ventriloquists use. Laksha continually complains about American technology and longs for the days of simple inanimate puppets.
Somewhere in the relationship between Laksha and his “first-world“ puppet, there is a clumsy post-colonial message. At one point the puppet yells at Laksha “I am not a puppet!” Which evokes issues of control and autonomy, either that or some kind of updated Magritte panting. Later the sister tries to send it back to America but that night she is assaulted by the foam rubber murderer and barely escapes with her life.
The Puppet only kills a few people and unfortunately with a minimum of blood. There are plenty of attempts at jump scares where he pops out from underneath the bed or from the back seat of a car, but more entertaining than the jump scares are the scenes filmed from the puppet’s point of view. They even ad in some heavy breathing to emulate Jason from Friday the Thirteenth.
Ridiculous the film may be but the music is wonderful. Zapatiela was made in 1993 by Mahesh Kothare. The 90s were a time when the traditional dance music of the earlier films was being increasingly fused with modern pop beats. This was the era of Bhangra. Zapatiela does not make the full cross over so the musical numbers are closer to Punjabi folk rhythms than pop-fusion but the mixture is irresistible. Instead of the deep tabla, you get the sharp thwack of the dholak backed by a funky orchestra.
The musical numbers are long and silly as they should be, but the best part is all the costume changes. Below is a selection of outfits worn by just one character in just one song.
In 2013 Kothare made a sequel. It was shot entirely in 3D. There was also a version made in Telegu in 2001. I’m waiting for Chucky vs Vinchu.
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