Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Top 10 Must Haves in Horror Serials

Indian Television and Movie Industry has a long and glorious tradition of “horror flicks”. If Ramsay brothers frightened the populace with the horrible ghosts like “Jaani Dushman”, “Jaadu Tona”, the television audience thrived on shows like “Kile ka Rahasya" (remember this?), “Zee Horror Show”, “Aahat” and “Sshhh… Koi Hai” to name a few.

There are quite a few things which are common amongst all these media. But after watching myriad movies and TV serials, I have come to a conclusion that there are 10 things which every single horror serial episode has to have (as opposed to movies which might have all or none of them):

  • Koi Nahi Bachega: In first five minutes, no human is safe.

  • And... you are “it”: In next five minutes, if you hear “darawana” music and camera is sneaking onto somebody from the back, the person will be completely safe, though thoroughly terrified at suddenly getting a hand on her (it's normally *her*) shoulder.

  • Jeans, bad; Punjabi Dresses, safe: The more outspoken, outgoing and modern a girl, the more the chances that she will be one of the first ones to get bumped off. By corollary, the more shy and reserved a girl, the more her chances of getting saved, by a boy, with whom she will walk in sunset (or “exit left”).

  • Times, they are a-changin': The ghosts of earlier (and admittedly more traditional) era can be recognised by their white sarees and lighted candles, the ghosts have become more modern now and have a wider choice of wardrobe. More often than not, “Black” seems to be the colour of choice now-a-days.

  • Ghosts like deserts (and deserted places): Rajasthan (with its palaces in desert and all) has more ghosts than all other states combined. By contrast, South Indian ghosts are either highly camera-shy, or need to be put on endangered species list.

  • Architecturally and geographically speaking: People do continue to live in most deserted places (and live alone or with minimum of servants at that), miles from basic amenities, yet having everything they want. Every single ruin you see has to have a “living” or active ghost. On the other hand, even houses in most crowded part of city do have certain necessities like a hidden dungeon or two stashed below them.

  • Jab gidad ki maut aati hai, tab woh akela ghumata hai: However “haunted” a place may be and however terrified the people may be, there is at least one boy or girl who will insist on wandering off alone.

  • “Inspired by” not copied: If you recognise the start of any episode as an english ghost (or horror) story you have read earlier, be sure that by the end you will either be questioning your memory, or cursing the mish-mash that is served to you. (Just to give an example, in a recent episode which started very similar to “The Shining” had among other changes, an additional couple which could only have been included to add a pint or two more blood on the sets).

  • The Law of Inverse Beauty: Death does not agree with complexion i.e. ghosts of even the most beautiful women or handsome men turn out to be horrible looking (which should keep the beauty-concious among us from becoming ghosts). But, the most horrible looking ghosts turn into most beautiful women or handsome men when needed.

  • No publicity: Every single Bollywood-lover worth his/her salt knows that the police are always late. But in horror serials, the police are there only to cart off the bodies even if people insist on dropping dead every two minutes or so (and many times in the same family). Any police officer continuing the inquiry either comes late or becomes “late”. And in today's day and age of satellite channels (with channels insisting on telling news before it happens), the reporters are included only if most if not all of them are in line of death.

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken...

P.S. The article marks (or rather, marked) my debut on Desidabba.

Quote of The Day:

Imitation is the sincerest form of television.
- Fred Allen (1894 - 1956)

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Intrepid Lady Sleuth

No series on detectives will be complete without a review of lady detectives. Or at least, I thought so...

But, when I started searching for lady detectives in Indian fiction, I found a veritable dearth of them. Despite real life examples like Kiran Bedi and reel-life examples like “Udaan” (my recollections of which are very hazy, except that it was a nice serial), lady sleuths in mainstream Indian literature are very rare to find. Of course, so are sleuth's ladies (only Byomkesh' Satyaboti and Bahadur's Bela come to mind), but that's for another article.

That's why there is no plural in the title...

Uma Rao:

Daughter-in-law of the Deputy Commissioner of Police, wife of a Superintendent, Uma Rao is your traditional housewife, or as “traditional” as you can get while being on first name basis with ministers on both sides of marriage. But, when she starts to write her thesis on criminals, it is not just her introduction to criminals, but to sleuthing as well.

When she finds a hijra vehemently denying that he killed one of the members of his community, she decides to help the person she believes is innocent. With the help of a constable from her husband's office, she uncovers the truth behind the murder, in the process finding the roots of crime reaching the highest echelons of Bangalore's society. Flush with her success, she goes on to find the true murderer of a wealthy English Lady (literally), who has come to India to meet her brother who is living in an ashram.

The brother turns out to be a member of Homicide Squad in Britain, and so, when a famous actor (working in a production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” on Independence Day) disappears and is murdered after reappearing, the British counsel gets the help from Uma Rao, who is watching the play. They find out that the wife of the actor is not the real killer, despite their marriage supposedly being on rocks.

Written by Sahitya Akademi Award-winner Mahesh Dattani, the three plays show us a housewife turning into a sleuth, first only because she wants to help a person whom she assumes to be innocent. Later on, as a famous detective, whose renown reaches even British isles, she turns what initially is a thesis into a quest for her own identity.

Of course, her journey to fame and independence is not without obstacles. She has to venture into the most dangerous districts in the underbelly of Bangalore, face attempts on her life, and since that is not enough, face conflict with her husband who is not so happy with her foray into practical side of crime fighting. But despite that, the “intrepid sleuth” brings the criminals to justice.

As I said before, despite a lot of research I could not find any more lady (or girl) detectives in mainstream Indian literature. Have I forgotten (or not found) anybody?

But, I did find an interesting difference between male and female detectives which is not limited to Indian literature. Men (or the detective stories with main characters as men) don't waste much time on their romantic entanglements or marital descriptions. e.g. Byomkesh is married, but Satyaboti, in spite of being an intelligent lady (which is why Byomkesh is attracted to her in first place) does not merit many lines in his stories (at least, his stories which I have read/seen till now). On the other hand, stories involving lady detectives have a lot more conflict of romantic (or marital) kind, which does tend to hog limelight from crime fighting sometimes, with the main character giving way to her emotions. Why do you think this difference?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken...

Quote of The Day:

But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things.

- Sherlock Holmes (The Sign of Four)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Comical Detectives in India

(and I don't mean comical as in funny)

Try as I may, I cannot find any detectives in Indian comics. I mean, some (all?) of the Feluda stories was made into comics, and Fa Fe found his way into animated format via Tinkle, while we have a plethora of crime-fighters. But there are no detectives solely created for comics.

So , I am going to take this opportunity to talk about some crimefighters who don't really make it into a Superhero grade, but are beyond your normal comics-guy-next-door.

  • Bahadur:

    Son of a dacoit, raised by a police officer, Bahadur grew up to be a crime-fighter, with special interest in rehabilitating former dacoits. This he accomplishes with the help of his fiancée (and later wife) Bela, and Lakhan (a reformed dacoit) and his Citizen's Security Force.

    If this sounds a lot like a hindi movie to you, don't worry. Bahadur bears a lot of resemblance to the original angry young man Amitabh Bachchan, as can be seen from his features and his clothes (though he changed from kurta to t-shirt with times).

    While he battles mainly dacoits, he has fought every kind of criminal from common thieves to antiques smugglers to spies and terrorists. In the process, he has done a lot of detective work in uncovering common criminals, finding an ancient treasure in a Rajasthani fort and uncovering the “well of amrit” in a mythical city.

    Of course, if you think the guy who destroys terrorist training camps is not really a detective and hence should not be in this series, hey, I like the guy for being one of the few original comic heroes in India, and I can put him on this list if I want (for lack of any “real” detectives to write about), so sue me...

  • Chacha Chaudhary:
    With a “brain faster than computer” and the help of his Jovian friend Sabu and dog Raacket (sorry, that's how it's written in Hindi), Chacha Choudhary has fought many criminals in his life, the chief of them being the accidently-turned-immortal Raaka. But apart from fighting Raaka, he has spent his life fighting crime in every guise.

    Again, this red turban and black jacket clad, white big moustachioed Chacha is not your traditional detective. But then, even though most of his time is spent thinking of new ways to imprison Raaka (who being immortal and super-strengthened now needs new ways to capture him like a cyclone, a magic bottle in the belly of a whale or orbiting the earth in space), a brain faster than computer cannot be wholly occupied with one single task, can it? Of course, Chacha Choudhary does spend some time in solving your normal crimes too.

    I think I should mention at this point that the TV serial, though having Rajpal Yadav as Chacha didn't fulfil my expectations.

Again, as I said, I didn't find any famous black-sunglasses and trench-coat clad detectives made into comic series, so I took chance of plugging a underrated (according to me) hero I like and everybody's favourite uncle.

Do you have a favourite detective I should have mentioned?

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken...

P.S. Want more on Detectives? Check out my "Jasoos Series".

Quote of The Day:

Brain: an apparatus with which we think we think.

- Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914), The Devil's Dictionary

Also cross-posted at Desicritics.

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