Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Filmy Fridays: Which witch is which?

I have just started writing a column for Yahoo! Movies called Filmy Fridays. This is what I wrote in the introduction of the column. 
When you watch an Ayushmann Khurana movie, do you remember other movies in which the hero sang? Did Chashme Buddoor (the Classic) remind you of other movies shot in Delhi? Does Shashi Kapoor in Deewaar remind you of Raj Kiran in Karz? Well, you turned up at the right place then.
Every Friday, we will take one element of a current topic – a newly released movie, a special day, a star in the news – and go back in time to find some similar elements from the classics of Bollywood. Some will be obvious, some obscure and some tangential… hopefully, it will all add up to a lot of fun.

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And this is the first column, which takes off from last week's 'big' release - Ek Thi Daayan.

Ek Thi Daayan releases today. Emraan Hashmi will be torn between the attentions of Huma Qureshi, Kalki Koechlin and Konkona Sensharma to decide which witch is which. The trailer offers many tantalizing theories about recognizing a witch while the National Commission for Women protests against the ‘negative’ portrayal of witches/women in the movie.
Now would be a good time to examine how many witches and lady ghosts have appeared in Hindi movies. How scary were they? What did they do?  Bad things or good things? How were they identified? How memorable were they?

Vishal Bhardwaj – the producer of Ek Thi Daayan – seems to have a witch obsession. He created a memorable chudail in Makdee as well.
Gnarled fingers. Matted hair. Creepy eyes. A dilapidated mansion adorned with skull and bones. She drank blood of eagles and bats. She was known to have dark magical powers and turned people into animals at a star-shaped altar in her mansion.
While it was supposed to be a film for children, Shabana Azmi became an evil witch who managed to scare even the adults. She met her match in Chunni (child actor Shweta Prasad) after she ‘turned’ her twin sister Munni into a chicken. The little girl pulled together all her courage, friends and meager resources to fight the evil witch – who became a metaphor for superstition and blind faith. And in the climax, Shabana Azmi’s frenzied performance made us realize once again why she is still India’s finest actress.

Villain killed heroine. Hero wanted to prove it and discovered a lookalike. The lookalike was supposed to pretend to be the dead heroine and extract a confession from the villain. Everything went as per plan – lights went out, thunder flashed and sound of anklets reverberated. The lookalike walked in and – with much drama – got the villain to confess. Except that she knew much more than she should have. On cue, another lookalike walked in, who had got delayed due to some unforeseen situation. As the hero processed this information, the earlier lookalike vanished into thin air. She was the ghost of the dead heroine, returning to take revenge.
Madhumati (Vyjayanthimala) was the first to have this ghostly trick and then tribute-factory Om Shanti Om recreated this sequence with Deepika Padukone. Both heroines were, well, deadly in the roles.

The title of the most ethereal ghost in Bollywood has to be Dimple Kapadia in Lekin.
She took smitten archaeologist Vinod Khanna on elaborate tours of deserted havelis, gave him delusions of grandeur, sang breathtaking songs and vanished into thin air amidst sand dunes. And just when we were confused if she was a figment of Vinod Khanna’s imagination or ours, her elder sister Hema Malini (ethereal running in the family, clearly) popped up and informed us of Dimple’s demise.
Interestingly, Meghna Gulzar revealed in her biography of Gulzar that Dimple was not allowed to blink in any of her scenes in the film and that endless fixed gaze added to her other-worldly allure. 

Ever since Manoj Night Shyamalan made The Sixth Sense, a whole new avenue of ‘inspiration’ opened up for scriptwriters across the globe.
In Hum Tum Aur Ghost, Arshad Warsi had the same gift, often not realizing they were dead. His fiancée attributed his hallucinations to excessive drinking and generally scattered brain. Boman Irani was a ghost who had an errand for him (bringing in a lost-and-found track) and paid a tribute to the original film. He deadpanned to Arshad, “You see dead people.”
Of course, Arshad’s girlfriend (Dia Mirza) gave him hell for his eccentric mumblings and threatened to leave him. Till she died herself. And guess who was the one living guy who could see and hear her? Arshad could have become the first man in history who actually heard what his wife told him… but for a silly plot twist. Tchah!


When the trailers of Aamir Khan-starrer Talaash flashed across TV screens, Kareena Kapoor seemed to be the femme fatale leading the police office hero in murder investigation offering seductive glances and cryptic clues. The fatale of this femme was actually literal as she wasn’t a witness or an accomplice but the victim herself. She was an unfortunate call girl who got killed by some rich playboys and her murder hushed up. She appeared only to Aamir Khan and took him to scary locations and shady people whose secrets she seemed to know a lot of. Essentially an extension of The Sixth Sense plot device, Kareena the Ghost popped up whenever Aamir Khan needed a clue and nudged him towards the criminals.
You know, our police could do with a lot of these other worldly assistances. 


As a final aside, it would be interesting to look at the many chudails and daayans who have inhabited the world of B-grade Bollywood.
-    The most common epithet for witches in Bollywood lexicon is obviously Pyaasi. Pyasi Chudail and Pyaasi Bhootni, for example. Obviously, these violent creatures are thirsting for blood. (Sale Alert: Both these eclectic movies are now available in a 3-in-1 DVD set, along with Khooni Murdaa.)
-    Daayan has also been the title of a movie while horror TV shows have picked up some of the more intriguing ones like Daayan Bani Dulhan (Whoa, this is Ramsay Bros meet Ekta Kapoor!) and Pahaadi Daayan

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