When I was little my grandmother told me that there are no ghosts. I believed her. And then she would tell me stories with all sorts of spirits and demons in them and assure me that these are all stories made up for entertainment. I believed her. I grew up only slightly scared of the dark. The stories fascinated me though and I would read all kinds of trash with ghosts in them. I remember cheap Tamil paperbacks from the small library near my house that had cheesy titles like ‘Bloody Vampire’ or ‘Ghost villa’ and I would lap it all up. What made a lasting impression though were the ghost movies. That was mind-blowing entertainment.
As the popular maxim goes, there are only 8 kinds of plots in the world and Shakeaspeare covered them all. Indian movies belong to the same school of philosophy. They would have the ‘Hamlet’ type – revenge of the ghost, ‘The Tempest’ type – naughty spirits with nothing else to do or ‘Macbeth’ type where the ghost was all in the head more than reality, it could also be the reconciliatory type that comes in the end and blesses everyone’s unions. Being Indian, we also had the ‘reincarnation’ variation which Shakeaspeare had missed out. There would be combinations and permutations of these themes that would inevitably have haunting melodies, no pun intended.
But our ghosts are not to be confused with Hollywood ghosts with their satanical inclinations and special effects. Indian ghosts can be summed demographically thus : ‘young female, white-saree clad, long black hair, wears anklets and sings haunting melodies‘.
They are way too scarier than your special effects because just the tinkling of the anklets can send people screaming from the theatres. Alternately it could also be the overacting, but as a kid I could not tell the difference between fear and disgust.
The Indian storyline does have its problems though. You see, Hindus burn their dead, so it becomes impossible to come back as the walking dead with your head oozing, arm broken etc. So the plots have to have usually people of other religions as the ghost or it all becomes rather hazy and spiritual with the soul getting involved. To resolve this problem, sometimes the screenplay resorts to the time-tested method of the villains getting rid of the body in a haste and hence, not doing the job properly.
This also opens the story’s scope to bring back that character not as a ghost but as an actual un-dead, meaning they were actually alive but presumed dead but saved by some strange tribal elders or a handicapped couple or a woman of questionable nature and nurtured back to life. It all gets rather complicated after that, especially because the character continues to pretend to be a ghost to exact revenge.
In one of the more enjoyable Tamil ghost movies, a ghost goes hunting for a Drumstick-tree to ‘roost’ on… in Japan.
Ah, see if you can beat that Hollywood! We will see your special effect and raise it a thousand-fold!