Now why hasn’t anybody thought of setting a zombie movie in Dombivli and calling it Zombivli?

There’s more than clever punning involved. Dombivli, a mini-city on the outskirts of Mumbai that has the urban sprawl typical of the metropolis, proves to be the perfect staging ground for a contest between the living and the freshly dead.

The Marathi-language Zombivli has been released in theatres with English subtitles. Aditya Sarpotdar’s self-declared “zom-com” has ample lashings of both zombie spectacle and situational comedy.

The earnest engineer Sudhir (Amey Wagh) and his pregnant wife Sapna (Vaidehi Parashurami) move into a gated colony that has aspirational value as well as a severe shortage of water. Sudhir has a job at a mineral water factory whose owner Musale (Vijay Nikam) is also the builder of his complex.

Sudhir has barely recovered from the mismatch between the advertising spiel and the reality of bathing once every other day when disaster strikes. The neighbouring Janata Nagar slum has a zombie outbreak that begins in a hospital and then spreads far and wide. Slum leader Vishwas (Lalit Prabhakar) forms an unlikely alliance with Sudhir, Sapna and a few other residents who have managed to avoid being bitten and zombified.

Zombivli (2022). Courtesy Yoodlee Films.

The slickly produced 133-minute movie, based on a story by Mahesh Iyer, proves that there are always new ways to revivify a decades-old genre. Director Sarpotdar, whose credits include Mauli, Faster Fene and That Sholay Girl, sticks to the template as well as refreshes it in interesting ways.

Sarpotdar and his team of writers channel the spirit of George A Romero’s socially conscious zombie films and pay tribute to Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead along the way. Zombivli plays out largely as a comedy with mostly harmless bodies jerking about. It’s the humans of Dombivli, including the venal Musale and Sudhir’s selfish neighbours, who prove to be far more dangerous.

A sharp critique of gentrification, mindless urban development and prejudice against slum dwellers is delivered through often hilarious humour. Some of the ideas are inspired, from a parody of the trope of the demonically possessed hand to the antidote that ends the zombiedemic.

Sarpotdar gets into gear very quickly, but runs into the challenge of cresting wave upon wave of fast-multiplying zombies. The middle section sags with overstretched scenes and tonal inconsistencies, while a few of the secondary characters don’t get the exposition they deserve.

The principal cast is in superb form. Amey Wagh, as the literally wide-eyed engineer who gains courage through the carnage, and Lalit Prabhakar, as the fiery activist who supplies the brawn power, are an evenly matched buddy pair. In a welcome departure from such movies, Vaidehi Parashurami, as Sudhir’s pregnant wife Sapna, is tough cookie rather than crumbling biscuit, ready to take on whatever comes her way.

The redoubtable Renuka Daftardar, as Sudhir’s overbearing mother, unfortunately makes only a special appearance. We would have loved to see this finger-wagging matriarch nag the zombies to oblivion. Alongside its title, premise and cast, the movie’s ability to localise a quintessentially Hollywood genre is a big draw.

Zombivli (2022).