The many bhoots of Bollywood: when terror is just plain fun

Bollywood's long romance with the supernatural has produced stereotypical varieties of ghosts. Most of them aren't exactly scary.

hidden May 26, 2011 15:16:52 IST
The many bhoots of Bollywood: when terror is just plain fun

By Charukesi Ramadurai

I am aimlessly browsing online, when I stumble across this piece about watching Vikram Bhatt's 3D horror flick, Haunted, in the company of Shyam Ramsay.  By interval time, the Ramsay scion is unhappy with the makeup ("It’s minimal, very chalky."); the music ("disappointing") and above all the rape scenes.

"The girl is being raped by a ghost who knows no concern, no boundaries. Then why will he not remove all her clothes?" he complains, and to underline this important point, adds: "All her clothes should have been torn off. She should have been naked. They could have fogged it over. But you needed to give that effect that she is not wearing any clothes. Now, that would have made it truly authentic."

Perhaps Bhatt will do better next time. According to media reports, the young filmmaker, "flushed with the success" of Haunted, is eager to embark on yet another 3D scare-fest. Dangerous Ishq is slated to be – surprise! – an "erotic thriller."

Sex and sleaze always sell – throw in some scares and you have the makings of a hit movie. But other than slapping on these key ingredients in generous measure, Bollywood has never quite done supernatural right. This failure is all the more surprising given our filmi folks obsession with things that go boo! While other stock characters like the apahij behen, vidhwa ma, amir ladki and kutta kameena villain have remained strictly unidimensional, the bhoot has taken a wide range of creative avatars on-screen.

The wispy lady in white: Much like Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, she glides through the dark, candle in hand, so she does not go bump in the night. She smiles vacantly at the camera, and before you can say woh kaun thi, she is gone. Disappearing in an eye-blink, much like the money in our government coffers.  The most famous example: the gorgeous Madhubala in aayega aanewala from Mahal.

The not-so-wispy cases include the curvalicious Dimple Kapadia in the later-day Bees Saal Baad (1988), and Aishwarya Rai in Mohabbatein (2000), which was a horror movie in more ways than one.

This is Horror-wood Version 1.0 of ‘Ma, I can see dead people’.

That ugly thing in a mask: For several years, Hindi cinema, mainly B and C grade, made a killing (heh!) on this genre, saving money on actors as much as on locations, script writers and publicists (wall posters come cheap).

The many bhoots of Bollywood when terror is just plain fun

Creaky doors and swish-pan shots no longer frighten the audience. It's time Bollywood got more real in its horror flicks. Fox Photos

The modus operandi inevitably involved waking up a bunch of nondescript actors at the crack of dawn and shoving them in front of the camera. This motley bunch is usually passed off as a group of college students on a picnic getting bumped off, one after the other, till the hero finally manages to unmask (heh! again) the killer.

This Horror-wood Version 1.1: ‘Ma, I can see dead people, but why are they wearing such crap make-up?’

Together, forever, eternally: Take a generous handful of the usual ingredients, add unrequited love and revenge as the central themes (for good measure, feature an above-mentioned lady in wispy white) and voila! And as a general rule, these movies have done well at the box-office, all the way from plump Vyjayanthimala in a ghaghra choli in Madhumati to ShahRukh Khan in Superman spandex tights in Om Shanti Om.

It takes colossal talent to make such movies flop, as we know from the fate of Karzzzz (a reincarnation story circa 1980 with considerably fewer z’s, reincarnated in the mid 2000s). Or as in Prem which unleashed an effeminate Sanjay Kapoor and a strapping Tabu on an unsuspecting world, where the audience was horrified by the fact that they could not make out which one was the hero and which the heroine.

But in general, this theme is ‘Ma, tera beta wapas aa gaya, ma’.

Eeks, it's a shape-shifting beast!: This one is similar to the earlier version (and all movies in the genre are similar to each other) except that it is not humans but snakes caught up in the never-ending chakra of life and lust.

Think Sridevi slithering in the mud, Jeetendra in a muted gold mini skirt – in Nagina (1986) and Nagin (1976) respectively, both blockbuster movies. Think snake charmer and snake reincarnated as human in turmoil. Or to put other humans in turmoil. Revenge, drama, suspense, sex, violence, superhit gaane – all the ingredients are in place. And what the producer saves by way of Mr. Jumping Jack’s pants, he invests in a pair of purple contact lens for the snake-lady.

Call this one, ‘Ma, I can see glassy-eyed animals in bad costumes’.

The snake-man does not work just as well, as ardent fans of Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani (2002 multi-starrer) well know. I don’t know of any other ichchadhari animals in Bollywood. Why this fascination with snakes? Or a monkey that is in search of unrequited love from a past life? Why not a tiger (1411 less one, say) out for revenge against the poacher?

Ok, Kaal has a tiger in a central role. But in this case it isn't the tiger but the actors – Vivek Oberoi and John Abraham, – who are the glassy-eyed horrors.

The friendly neighbourhood spirit: this is a fairly new avatar of the Bollywood bhoot kicked off by Big B in Bhootnath (2008). The mean, unfriendly, salt and pepper haired, let-down-by-the-world spirit that turns loveable and mischievous, and befriends the chubby (not to mention annoying and precocious) kid of the house. There is also the recurring "possession" motif, where the cheery ghost enters a person – or a doll – and clowns it up for the audience.

In Bollywood's most famous attempt do a serious Exorcist-style movie,  the horror was entirely unintended.  Who can forget Urmila Matondkar’s terrible attempts to terrify in Bhoot (2003), brought to you by the Ram(sey) Gopal Varma school of moviemaking. But let’s face it, how long can creaky doors and swish-pan shots frighten, especially audiences who have already watched RGV ki Aag?

Maybe he can make his next movie about the living dead of the Mumbai underworld: Marna mana hai. Besides, isn't it time someone ripped off Twilight?

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