I picked up Shyam & Tulsi Ramsay's early Bollywood horror film Hotel (1981) for a song after becoming hypnotically entranced by six (yes, six) of their later releases, each from Mondo Macabro DVD, in their Bollwood Horror Collections Vols. 1, 2, and 3. Each volume contains, respectively, Bandh Darwaza (1990) & Purana Mandir (1984), Veerana (1988) & Purani Haveli (1989), and Mahakaal (1993) & Tahkhana (1986). I collect all of the Mondo Macabro DVD releases like comic books after having read essential genre tomes, Pete Tombs's Mondo Macabro and Cathal Tohill & Pete Tombs's Immoral Tales: European Sex & Horror Movies 1956-1984. While this ain't a commercial for the Mondo Macabro DVD label, I do believe in supporting the genre labels, especially MM, who put out often obscure unknown flicks for the seriously curious genre fan. But back to Bollywood and this Western white guy's history with them. I read on a film message board a few years ago that there was a Bollywood version of David Fincher's Fight Club (1999) available on dvd. Color me curious, I purchased a copy of Vikram Chopra's Fight Club: Members Only (2006) and was taken aback: although clearly "inspired," it wasn't a complete rip-off of Fincher's very dark comedy but rather a very light one about five friends and their take on a "fight club." I had a true case of culture shock, with the most shocking aspect of the film being its run time, nearly two and a half hours (not uncommon with Bollywood films, as I later would learn). I also noticed that at least thirty of those minutes were devoted to the song-and-dance sequences (a staple of Bollywood cinema which I also later learned), which were catchy and fun pop songs, shot in the style and nearly as slick as a MTV music video. Although Chopra's Fight Club is by no means a very good film, it was enough for me to want to seek out more. Perhaps because of my love for Italian genre rip-of...er...homages, I sought out the Bollywood versions of films that I had already seen and enjoyed, such as the Pang Brothers' The Eye (2002), Chan-wook Park's Oldboy (2003), and Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects (1994). Subsequently, I would seek out a bunch of original and recent ones (post-2000), as there were myriad available on Netflix. After seeing a baker's dozen or so, without really seeing a Bollywood horror film (save the mediocre redux of The Eye), I put Bollywood cinema behind me, since none of the films (mostly action and adventure) really blew me away. Also with the average run time of nearly two and half to three hours, I could watch a couple flicks from nearly any country while I was watching only a mediocre one from India. It wasn't until over a year or so later when I viewed the Ramsays' Bandh Darwaza in the very first MM Bollywood Horror Collection that I realized I had been both unfair and quite misguided towards Bollywood Cinema. I was blown away by Bandh Darwaza's b-movie comedy, horror, and cheesiness; loved its romantic love songs as a break in the action; and relished its length, at approximately two hours and twenty minutes. To digress a little further (all this rambling will seem appropriate shortly, I promise), I have a terrible habit of having to watch a film (or read a book) before bed time. Depending on how well the day has kicked my ass, I'll watch somewhere from five minutes to an hour of a film before nodding off. Over the course of five or six nights for each volume, I watched all of MM's Bollywood Horror Collections, never having to worry about catching up with one of its rambling yet simple plot lines, as each were often episodic and quite enchanting. There's a real energy and vibrancy to the cinema, and I can't imagine not having Bollywood cinema in my immediate future. So, after exhausting the current Ramsay releases from MM (all of which I loved, each for different reasons), I had to look elsewhere, and I found it cheaply on Indian dvd in Hotel (1981).
Suraj (Navin Nischol) is a wealthy, yet single, businessman, who desires to build a hotel in the region where his long-lost love, Sushma (Nellam Mehra), currently resides. Suraj's buddy, Vijay (Rakesh Roshan), thinks he should let his past love go but encourages his business endeavor, while Vijay has his hands full with layabout and wandering brother, Sanjay (Prem Krishan). Suraj hires Chhaganlal Patel (Ranjeet), a charismatic yet, as is later shown, crooked land sales contractor and developer to find a piece of land to build the hotel. Chhaganlal Patel finds only one piece of suitable land, which is unfortunately the site of a cemetery, owned by a local church. So, in due course, Chhaganlal Patel greases the palms of a government official and a big-time lawyer, and along with his sexy secretary, Shabho (Prema Narayan), Chhaganlal Patel dupes the priest who owns the land into selling, by telling the priest that an orphanage is going to be built on the site. Suraj is happy that Chhaganlal Patel found a piece of suitable land and Suraj paid handsomely for it. He also agreed to let Chhaganlal Patel helm the construction of the hotel. When the old priest sees that a hotel is going up on the land, Chhaganlal Patel laughs him off and the old priest dies. Later, layabout Sanjay comes snooping around when the hotel is complete and he learns of the nefarious goings-on. When he gets killed, Chhaganlal Patel and his cohorts hide the evidence, while Suraj and Vijay arrive at the hotel to host a grand gala. Let the hijinx ensue.
While I attempted to give a succinct preview of the plot for Hotel, at nearly two hours and twenty minutes, the viewer is going to get to see every iota of this hotel's construction, from inception to completion, in, primarily, a rambling and comedic fashion. At times the film feels unfocused, as if the Ramsays are attempting to fill the run time and are making the film up as they go. No matter, because along the way, I was treated to quite a few comedic sequences, especially with Chhaganlal Patel, who, although the villain, isn't mean-spirited but ridiculously greedy. Ranjeet's performance is appropriately subdued and over-the-top at times. The song and dance sequences, especially the love songs, are really cute and well-done. Shabho does a great number at the hotel's opening-night party, and I had a complete smile on my face the whole time. While there is a bunch of comedy, a martial-arts finale, romance, and a little drama, there is little in Hotel in the way of horror. The six subsequent features of the Ramsays included in the MM Bollywood Horror Collections, all have horror as the main theme. In Hotel, horror is just another theme thrown in the mix, although there are some creepy cemetery scenes towards the end (zombies, too). It would have been nice to have more horror elements throughout the film, but I enjoyed Hotel very much for its overall sense of fun and camp silliness. So like Hotel, this review has a little bit of everything. Now, isn't that just damn clever on my part?