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Plot: two news anchors unite to exonerate an innocent man… and find love.

Not everything that the “King Of Bollywood” touched turned to gold instantly, or was a sure-fire hit for that matter. Case in point and with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight is Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (or, Yet The Heart Is Indian, for the English-speaking world), a box office flop at the time and still underappreciated to this very day. After the parallel cinema classic Dil Se… (1998) Shah Rukh Khan alternated between serious-minded political manifestos and his usual comedic fare. That Yet The Heart Is Indian is a combination of the two probably didn’t help either. Like Dil Se… (1998) before it Yet The Heart Is Indian is about the love of country, about the Indian national identity, and the earnest belief that good always trumps evil. For all intents and purposes Yet The Heart Is Indian had the makings of a hit. Yet things don’t always pan out the way we want them to. Having to compete with the Rakesh Roshan rom-com Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000) (with Hritik Roshan and Ameesha Patel) certainly didn’t help. Is Yet The Heart Is Indian one of the lesser SRK features? Hardly. In fact it’s probably a lot better than the unfair rep it has garnered over the years.

In the early days of the new millennium Shah Rukh Khan was never averse to the idea of remaking American properties for the Hindi market. The earliest (at least as far as we’re familiar with his massive body of work) of those was Yet The Heart Is Indian, or a Bollywood remake of I Love Trouble (1994) with a sliver of Switching Channels (1988). Khan would spend the following years experimenting with translating various popular American properties for the domestic market. That resulted in good to excellent features as Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), or a Bollywood composite of Love Story (1970) and Oliver's Story (1978); and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), or Closer (2004). To make those possible he needed a hit – and that came in the form of the beloved desi epic Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001). As near as we can tell the early 2000s were a transitional period in Khan’s storied career. He had helped shape the careers of Juhi Chawla, and Sonali Bendre in the prior decade – and now he himself was in need of help getting his career back on track again. That should have happened with Yet The Heart Is Indian, but somehow didn’t. Thankfully Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001) (with the trio of SRK belles Kajol, Rani Mukherjee, and Kareena Kapoor) is where Shah Rukh Khan somehow managed to reinvent himself and regain his relevance.

Ajay Bakshi (Shah Rukh Khan) is universally beloved and popular reporter and host of his namesake show on K Tea-V. Ria Banerjee (Juhi Chawla) is an up-and-coming investigative reporter with ambition and talent to spare. Having uncovered many a political scandal and exposed corruption in the highest echelons of government her career is definitely going places. Banerjee has recently vacated her field reporting job at the tiny TV24 when she’s offered a high-profile anchor position on rival channel Galaxee Channel by founder K.C. Chinoy (Dalip Tahil). Bakshi is instantly smitten when he lays eyes upon Banerjee. Back at the K Tea-V headquarters Ajay is ordered by his boss Kaka Chowdhry (Satish Shah) to interview political prisoner M.K. Sharma (Bharat Kapoor). Ria, not impressed by Ajay’s persistent romantic advances and continual invasion of her personal space, creates a diversion to occupy Ajay when she runs into his scorned former lover Shalini (Mona Ambegaonkar) and interviews Sharma instead. As all of this is happening the unsuccessful don of local criminal family Pappu Junior or Choti (Johnny Lever) is to be ousted from the family. Ajay makes him an offer that will benefit them both: a fake assassination attempt on Madanlal Gupta (Mahavir Shah), the brother-in-law of Minister Ramakant Dua (Shakti Kapoor) will boost both their profiles – Choti will regain respect from the families and Ajay’s ratings will rise.

When an attempt, a very real one at that, on the life of Dua does transpire Mohan Joshi (Paresh Rawai) is quickly identified as the perpetrator. Ramakant takes advantage of the crisis and tightens his grip, political and otherwise, on the city. Ajay and Ria come to the realization that Mohan has been set up as a sacrificial lamb and is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. In the ensuing chaos Ramakant has forged an alliance with Chief Minister Mushran (Govind Namdeo) as have competing channel heads Kaka Chowdhry and K.C. Chinoy. Together they conspire to have Ajay hand them the evidence of the crime so it can be conveniently buried. Mohan is summarily sentenced to be hanged and awaiting execution on death row. When Ajay and Ria get wind of said plan they work together with Choti to bring the real culprits to justice and exonerate Mohan. With the city eruption in massive protests and hours ticking away there’s one question: will Ajay and Ria be able to free Mohan and, perhaps more importantly, will their shared experience finally make them romantic partners?

To his everlasting credit King Khan has a habit of developing the talent he works with. Juhi Chawla had a history co-starring with him going as far back as Darr (1993), Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1994), and Ram-Jaane (1995). Chawla stood at Khan’s side when Yes Boss (1997), Duplicate (1998), this, One 2 Ka 4 (2001), and even the enchanting fairytale Paheli (2005) failed to meet box office expectations. And that was unfortunate, because Chawla excels at two things: drama and comedy. In Yet The Heart Is Indian she gets to do both – and the chemistry between SRK and Chawla is off the charts here. Like parallel cinema goddesses Manisha Koirala and Vidya Balan, Juhi (who once considered Madhuri Dixit her arch-rival) is a master of non-verbal acting. Chawla can convey deep emotions and engage in some of the most masterful comedy by simply rolling those big eyes of hers or contorting her face. Juhi has played her share of dramatic roles but what she really excels at is comedy. Also helping tons is that Chawla can dance with the best of them, proudly joining a line-up of starlets including (but not limited to) Kajol, and Sonali Bendre in the 1990s - as well as Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, Deepika Padukone in the 2000s, and Alia Bhatt, and Priyanka Chopra in the 2010s. All of these women had their talent recognized by Khan and he in one degree or another helped define, establish, or consolidate their careers by having them co-star.

The prestige and marquee value of a Bollywood feature is measured at least in part (if not by half) by the success of its soundtrack. Yet The Heart Is Indian has some catchy tunes indeed. Lesser Shah Rukh Khan features seldom have outright bad songs, but they often end up sounding samey or miss the required hook. The longing for simpler days Yet The Heart Is Indian has since apparently seen reappraisal, if not for the movie itself – then certainly for its soundtrack. Which is to say Jatin and Lalit Pandit wrote some insanely infectious tunes for the occasion, most of which are beloved to this day. The two versions of ‘I’m the Best’ are identical and form the ideal introduction to the Khan and Chawla characters and have that kitschy retro-fifties/sixties feel. You have to be one of hell of a cynic not to love Juhi Chawla’s “nanana-nana” chorus from the courtship song ‘Kuch To Bata’ (‘Tell Me Something’). ‘Banke Tera Jogi’ (‘Like Your Devotee’) is a semi-ballad with ethnic percussion and instrumentation whereas ‘Aur Kya’ (‘What Else?’) has very much that romantic 80s feel with string sections. The costumes are bright-colored and Shah Rukh was always prepared to make fun of himself. The choreography from Farah Khan is outstanding as always, and Juhi Chawla gets her moment in the sun. Not only is she given beautiful clothes and dresses to wear Khan and her have a couple of fun routines together. Chawla is a way better dancer than, say, Ameesha Patel in Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000).

Aziz Mirza had been trying to give the on-screen pairing of Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla their much-needed hit after Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1994), and Yes Boss (1997) failed to make a dent. Apparently the tides at the box office only changed in Khan’s favor with the Karan Johar drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001). Two years later Mirza would finally land his SRK hit with Chalte Chalte (2003). The only thing that he would direct afterwards would be Kismat Konnection (2008) (with perrennial LWO favorite Vidya Balan) or a loose Hindi reimagining of the Lindsay Lohan teen comedy Just My Luck (2006). Then there’s the question what exactly turned audiences off from Yet The Heart Is Indian. This has all the glamour and pageantry you’d come to expect from big budget Bollywood entertainment like this. At two-and-half hours there’s little over 30 minutes of song and dance. The romance is sweet and innocent, the message is positive, and the sentiment patriotic. It’s anybody’s guess why Shah Rukh Khan hasn’t caught on in the Western world yet. If Dil Se… (1998) was a bit too cerebral for you, perhaps something light-hearted and fun like this might appeal to you instead.

Plot: horror-loving girl fights vampires with the help of a celebrity author.

For nearly 40 years the hallowed house of Ramsay - Bollywood’s own seven-headed low-budget horror monstrosity - held a long tradition of aping popular American properties and reimagining them for Hindi sensibilities and catering to the retrograde and regressive tastes of low-end grindhouses in rural villages. The Ramsays never shied away from dousing their productions in blood and they were in the habit of casting beautiful young women. They were the force behind illustrious classics as Darwaza (1978), Saboot (1980), Purana Mandir (1984), Tahkhana (1986), Purani Haveli (1989), Veerana (1988), Bandh Darwaza (1990), and Mahakaal (1994). If Shyam Ramsay’s Neighbours: They Are Vampires (simply Neighbours hereafter) is indication of anything, it’s that little to nothing has changed in the intervening three decades since their 1980s heyday. Shyam Ramsay would direct Gentayangan (2018) some four years later with a no-name cast and to little fanfare. It would also prove to be his swansong. The curtain did not fall over the house of Ramsay in some grandiloquent fashion. Instead the brothers went into the night in quiet resignation and humiliating defeat. The world had moved on. Without them.

Was everything the brothers seven produced a classic? Well, no – but they picked up on trends albeit usually about a decade later. They responded to the gothic horror revival from the early-to-mid seventies with Purana Mandir (1984) and Purani Haveli (1989), they paid tribute to the work of Mario Bava with Veerana (1988). They even went as far as to do an unofficial A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) remake with Mahakaal (1994). Mexico and Indonesia got there earlier with Trampa Infernal (1989) and Srigala (1981), respectively but at least the Ramsays had the good sense to make it half as crazy and about twice as cheap. Neighbours, for those not in the know, is the brothers illicit remake of American horror sub-classic Fright Night (1985). While it follows the Tom Holland original quite faithfully and some details have been altered to better suit Indian cultural sensibilities. The biggest change is that it gender-swaps the leads which leads to some interesting problems and gender dynamics that the original didn’t have. There’s also enough blood, fangs and implied nudity to put it on par with the average Renato Polselli or José Ramón Larraz romp. Allegedly Neighbours was intended as a throwback to the erotic horror of yore but suffice to say it never quite succeeds. However, all things considered Neighbours works well enough as a regional reimagining of Fright Night (1985). The old Ramsay formula is given a contemporary make-over but the old ills are still very present…

In Kulbatta, a suburb of Mumbai, one of the last surviving vampires Kapalika (Roushika Reikhi, as Rushika Reikhi) has settled down. Forest officer Vikrant (Gavie Chahal), a Shiv Bhakt, almost falls for her dance of seduction but is beset by ominous looking monks after spotting a black mark on her back. He’s able to ward off Kapalika by burning an Om symbol on her forehead and not much later reducing her to ashes by unleashing his amulet’s mystic powers. From the foliage watches her Master (Arbaaz Ali Khan) who vows to resurrect Kapalika’s spirit and avenge her slaying. In the city horror-obsessed teen Sanam Chopra (Hritu Dudani, as Hritu) gets an invitation to meet her novelist idol professor Malhotra Indernath (Shakti Kapoor) when modeling for her photographer boyfriend Karan (Sunny Singh) one day. Meanwhile in another part of the city Tanya (Roushika Reikhi, as Rushika Reikhi), who turns out to be Vikrant’s sister, experiences a punctured tire. The Master comes to her rescue and takes her to his studio apartment opposite of Sanam’s building. There he engages in a ritual summoning of Kapalika’s spirit who possesses the body of Tanya. She relays her story to professor Indernath and his assistant Sweety (Kirti Vaidya, as Kirti Vaidhya). The two initially brush off Sanam’s mad ravings about vampires as product of a fertile imagination. Sanam’s jock friend Aryan (Rufy Khan, as Rufe Khan) takes an interest in Sweety and when she’s vampirized Sanam, the professor, and her friends join forces to cast Kapalika and the Master back into the darkness from whence they came…

While this sounds like the trusty old “good girl fights evil” plot ubiquitous in horror cinema the gender-swapping of the leads creates some interesting problems. This being India, and this being a Ramsay production, the possibility of Sanam being a woman with determination and agency was nil. Sanam from the beginning is introduced as the nominal hero of the piece, but she’s as passive and immobile as female love interests were in Ramsay features thirty years ago. Springing to her rescue at every turn is her boyfriend Karan. In Fright Night (1985) the main character’s love interest was pretty much a nonentity and had no weight from a narrative standpoint. Here Karan is the most upwardly mobile and pro-active of the entire group. Sanam, to her everlasting detriment, usually stands around, scared out of her wits, waiting patiently to be rescued. This is a good time as any to talk about the duality of how women are portrayed here. Kapalika, Tanya, and Sweety all are given some, or multiple, things to do and possess a degree of agency that Sanam doesn’t. It makes you wonder why. The Ramsays have a long history of ripping off poster art, and here it's Disturbia (2007) that very blatantly gets the treatment. Which sort of makes sense as Neighbours rips that one off about as much as Fright Night (1985).

All Christian iconography has been replaced by their Indian counterparts, and the sacred Om (ॐ) symbol features prominently in several scenes. The vampires here will be familiar to European - and American audiences and for a change they bear no meaningful resemblance to the bhoot or bhut of popular Indian folklore. The bhoot is far closer to the Chinese ghost than to the Hungarian-Romanian nosferatu that Roushika Reikhi portrays here. The most interesting thing about Reikhi’s character is that they decided to name her Kapalika. The Kāpālikas (“skull bearers”) were a small sect of Shaivite (devotees of Shiva) ascetics prominent in India from the 8th through the 13th century. They differed from the more respectable Brahmin household of the Saiva Siddhanta in that they engaged in esoteric rituals including meat-eating, intoxication, and sometimes cannibalism. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect of a Hindi horror production, even in the modern age, to be rife with religious superstition.

Since no A-list Bollywood superstar would be caught redhanded appearing in a Ramsay production (pretty much like it was in the olden days), Neighbours has to content itself with lesser stars as Hritu Dudani, Roushika Reikhi, and Kirti Vaidya. The Ramsays taste in women was always impeccable and they gave the world hourglass-figured wonders as Jasmin, Sahila Chaddha, Archana Puran Singh, and Aarti Gupta. Even sometime Shah Rukh Khan muse Juhi Chawla cut her teeth with the Ramsays. Never in a thousand years would Rani Mukherjee, Kajol, Vidya Balan, Deepika Padukone, or Preity Zinta ponder the thought of lowering themselves to cheap exploitative dross like this. Neighbours is at least custodian to one funny running gag where everybody keeps mistaking Hritu for Priyanka Chopra (not-yet Jonas) and, admittedly, the resemblance is striking. Just like Chopra Dudani has those wide eyes that women of this part of the world are known and loved for. Hritu has survived her foray into the strange world of the Ramsay pretty much unscathed while Roushika Reikhi and Kirti Vaidya remain to prosper in their own ways. Reikhi has done commercials with Shah Rukh Khan and Hritik Roshan. In a just world Reikhi and Vaidya would be cast in a Krrish (2006) sequel or a Shah Rukh Khan production. Dudani found work in television afterwards but, as of this writing, has not acted in anything since 2019. Roushika Reikhi has since moved bases to Australia where she found steady employment in television as a beloved host of live events. We’re unsure what became of Kirti Vaidya but she too seems to have survived her brush with Ramsay mostly intact.

Back in the day the only real competition the house of Ramsay had were Mohan Bhakri and Vinod Talwar while these days they have an entire new generation of horror filmmakers to compete with. While it doesn’t lack in blood and sensuality Neighbours never quite manages to get as beguilingly strange as some of the greatest Spanish or Italian horror from the wicked and wild 1970s. Obviously there’s far better Bollywood horror to be had elsewhere. To make an imitation of an American property thirty years after the original is a difficult enough proposition under the best of circumstances, let alone to make one under India's repressive and restrictive cultural sensibilities and one of a different folkloric origin. In that respect you’ll have to respect Shyam Ramsay for at least attempting to do something like this. There were plenty of easier, local things to remake – yet he bravely chose to go for this instead. Does it live up to the brothers’ 80s output? Yeah, if very narrowly. The classic Ramsay output was slightly more unhinged than this. Neighbours is actually a cool little fright flick if you’re prepared to meet it halfway. That’s better than most.