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Zombies at a Punjabi wedding
The craze for vampires, werewolves and other monsters that has had the West in thrall is making inroads into India's publishing market and cinema. Horror fiction, a literary genre long believed to be unviable, is now making a comeback. Author Shantanu Dhar's recently launched The Company Red (TCR) revolves around a B-grade business school grad who is hired to head the India operations of a multinational pharmaceutical that develops drugs for blood-related diseases. The 'research' is the perfect foil for its American founders and employees - all vampires - to access a gazillion litres of blood. Tired of blood contaminated with HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, the corporate bloodsuckers hit upon this plan to tap the diseased poor of India.
There's not too much of biting, slashing and sucking but the book has plenty of Spiderman- and Twilight-like action sequences. Vampires in thick leather bodysuits chase each other all over Connaught Place and Noida. The hero, an unfortunate victim of "vampirism", swears to fight them off with the help of his father who has studied the physiology of vampires and developed a fool-proof way to decimate them. Chilling? Not really. But it is a pageturner nevertheless. The book has sold 2, 500 copies since its pre-launch in August and is now in its second print run. What's more, Bollywood director Satish Kaushik purchased the film rights even before the book hit the shelves.
Arnab Ray's The Mine, on the other hand, is more in the mould of a traditional Stephen King horror yarn. An ancient temple with "disturbing carvings" is unearthed from a pit in a mining town. Shortly after this ominous discovery, the miners start mutilating themselves. The book, published by Tata Westland/Tranquebar Press, will be released in January, 2012. Ray, who debuted last year with May I Hebb Your Attention Pliss, a non-fictional satire on Indian idiosyncrasies, says his horror story is hat ke. "There is no 'bhataki aatma in thakur's haveli' or 'big-toothed furry monster chomping on humans' or 'lady with long white hair and bad teeth flying through the air' in The Mine, " he says. "At a deeper level, it is rumination on what it is that makes us evil. I would like it to not only 'thrill and scare' but make people think. "
Dhar says that he too wants to get people to start thinking about the way in which human beings treat planet Earth. Colton White, the chief vampire, explains that nature created vampires to contain the excesses of humans - wars, climate change etc. Without any natural predator, White argues, mankind has gone on a rampage.
While both writers balk at comparisons with the vampire/zombie/werewolf craze in the West, publishers are more forthcoming on the trend. "Internationally, horror is an established genre and has enjoyed huge popularity in recent years. Now, as the markets mature in India both writers and publishers want to explore this category, " says Gautam Padmanabhan, CEO, Westland Ltd. Sharvani Pandit of Red Ink Literary Agency, which first published the runaway hit The Immortals of Meluha, agrees. "There are a couple of horror titles with us in the editing stage. For instance, one of our authors has written about spirits taking over the mind. Ever since Stephenie Meyer made publishing history with Twilight, everyone wants to write horror-thrillers. "
The readership may change and evolve but the genre has always existed in India. "India has a long tradition of ghost stories, especially in regional languages like Bengali but not so much in English. Now, that's changing, " says Samit Basu, author of Turbulence and Terror on the Titanic.
Tales of Bikram aur Betaal, Ruskin Bond's ghost stories and those by Satyajit Ray have always enjoyed a dedicated readership. The newer lot of horror stories, though, is edgier, darker, and slickly packaged to appeal to a certain kind of reader. "Earlier, the trend was more on literary works, " says Pandit. "Now, writers are very clear that they want to write thrillers, which will appeal to readers in the age group of 25 to 35. They enjoy telling 'fast' stories. " For instance, the publishers of TCR are pitching it as a novel which can easily be read in just six hours.
Film producers, too, are on the hunt for the undead. In the case of TCR, the author first shared the story idea with director Kaushik. "I have worked with him. When he heard the plot he encouraged me to write it and later acquired the film rights, " says Dhar.
Navdeep Singh, director of Manorama Six Feet Under, announced his new venture, a zom-com called Shaadi of the Dead. Clearly inspired by Hollywood zombie-comedies like Shaun of the Dead, it has a pack of zombies attacking a merry Punjabi wedding. Go, Goa, Gone, the next production of Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK (directors of Shor in the City) is about a group of friends who are targeted by zombies in Goa. Actor Saif Ali Khan is believed to have been signed up for it. Singh is also planning to bring out a zombie graphic novel to promote his film.
The undead inhabit the space between our world and beyond. They can be both corporeal - flesh and blood - like vampires and zombies and incorporeal like ghosts. According to Hindu mythology they are troubled souls who could never get pass the gates of heaven because of a curse or a grievous wrong done to them. They keep walking the earth to seek revenge or break free from the curse.
They suck the blood of both the living and the dead. They hunt only at night since sunlight can set them aflame. They have supernatural strength and can move very fast. Silver, garlic and the cross can ward them off. Being bitten by a vampire makes you one. Bram Stroker's 1897 novel Count Draculaestablished the popular image of these mythical blood-sucking monsters
They are shape-changing creatures who can change from human to wolf and back. You become a werewolf if you are bitten by one or are cursed. Like vampires, they have super-human strength and love to howl on full-moon nights. Taylor Lautner sexed up these shape-shifters in his role as smouldering Jacob Black in the Twilightseries.
Anyone who has seen Michael Jackson's Thriller video knows who they are. They are hideous-looking corpses which rise to life, often by occult practices like witchcraft.
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