When “Jaws” shattered box office records and blew minds in 1975, it inspired countless imitations but maybe none took as long to swim their way into cinema screens as India’s 1996 epic “Aatank”. Started in the early 1980s, it went through a couple of directors, various producers, rewrites, reshoots and even body doubles to finish the epic struggle of man versus crime boss – oh, and shark.
Childhood friends Jesu and Peter live happily in a coastal vilkage in India, getting up to mischief. When Jesu saves Peter’s life, Peter’s mother adopts Jesu into her family but when she dies, Peter is raised by his aunt and uncle and Jesu is back on the streets. Many years later, Jesu has grown up to be really good at badly choreographed fight scenes and defending the villagers from the oppressive rule of local gangster Alphonso. When black pearls are discovererd off the coast, the poor villagers believe their dreams have come true but Alphonso learns of the discovery and sends his men to harvest the find. Meanwhile, Peter meets Suzy D’Silva and falls in love.
There’s no two ways about it, “Aatank” is bonkers, even by the usual western perceptions of Bollywood with a mere 18 minutes passing before the first – yes first – musical numbers and yet it takes a full hour before this movie remembers its meant to be remaking “Jaws”, which it then does in breathtakingly direct style. The shark enters the fray when, following their wedding and nuptial song and dance number, Peter’s new bride Suzy decides to go for a moonlight swim while an inebriated Peter dozes in the surf.
From then on, it’s dizzying, dazzling special effects which redefine the phrase ‘have to be seen to be believed’. It’s an understandably patchwork affair given its stop-start over-the-decades and yet there’s something delightfully, crazily compelling about it. As the ambition soars and the effects budget gets thinner, the movie just gets more watchable in a can’t-bare-to-look-yet-cannot-look-away way and ends up being a great deal more fun than many of the high concept SyFy original sharkfests. It’s tricky to find and you’ll need to be tolerant of subtitles (or fluent in Hindi) but if you’re into bad shark movies and have a fondness for Bollywood, “Aatank” is worth at least one watch.