Amazon Prime Video’s first Indian web series of 2018, Shaitaan Haveli, tries to do with the Ramsay horror films what Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder did with the Vietnam war movie.
A filmmaking crew lands up at a mansion in a remote jungle to shoot a horror film. Things go south when the mansion is revealed to be haunted. Even as the undead wreck havoc, the enterprising director keeps shooting. The series has been streaming on Amazon Prime Video since January 5.
It is a fun idea, and creator Varun Thakur and his team attempt to make Shaitaan Haveli funny in a self-aware, winking-at-the-camera way. They also want to tell a horror story that is similar to the ones by which they have been inspired. Although the jokes do not work, the story does.
Thakur, a stand-up comedian, and his team have written Shaitaan Haveli as a series of gags that are meant to be a spin on “Assi ke dashak ke horror filmein” (horror films of the 1980s). This fact is mentioned repeatedly throughout the first two episodes. At one point, when a character tries to escape the zombies by pretending to be a zombie, another mentions that this is like a scene from Edgar Wright’s Shaun Of The Dead.
What worked with Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy or Tropic Thunder is that their characters were never self aware. In Shaitaan Haveli, the characters all know they are inside a parody. They relate a joke and then pause for the cheers. The stakes are never high, and the jokes are low in quality too.
The series picks up pace around the fifth episode with the introduction of the primary antagonist Chandaal, a sorcerer who has returned from the grave to avenge the Thakur family that had killed him. He is played by the enormous Surender Thakur, whose bony face and large eyes make him look like a modern-day Anirudh Agarwal from the Ramsay movies. The actors – Bhupesh Singh as the director Hariman and Kanchan Pagare as his assistant Gangu, in particular – are on point. Too bad they are in a series that isn’t.
A recurring gag involves Monty (Hemant Koumar), a gym-loving rich brat who is the hero of Hariman’s film and who always stands with his hands behind his head to flex his muscles. When he turns into a zombie, he continues to wobble about with his muscles flexed. It is silly but entertaining, and Shaitaan Haveli could have been a great series if it were out-and-out silly like this gag rather than an attempt to appear greater than the material it is parodying.