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Arts and Culture

The memorable ghosts of Bollywood

Madhumati

By: ASJAD NAZIR

SPOOKY SPIRITS THAT HAVE HAUNTED AND ENTERTAINED HINDI CINEMA AUDIENCES ACROSS THE DECADES

BOLLYWOOD may not be known for making spooky films, but it has had some memorable ghosts across the decades that have ranged from loveable spirits to the darn right scary.

New Bollywood film Bhoot Police, starring Saif Ali Khan, Arjun Kapoor, Yami Gautam and Jacqueline Fernandez, continues that otherworldly trend and revolves around ghost hunters.

To mark the movie, which recently had a Hotstar world premiere, Eastern Eye selected 16 of the most memorable ghosts in commercial Hindi cinema, listed in chronological order.

Kamini – Mahal (1949): The blockbuster hit was a sensation when it released and featured Bollywood’s first great ghost Kamini. What made the spooky presence played by Madhubala so magnificently memorable was that she wasn’t really a ghost. A surprise ending reveals that a gardener’s daughter convinces a tormented man, who thinks he has been reincarnated, that she is his ghostly true love from a previous life. Her haunting rendition of Lata Mangeshkar’s star-making song Aayega Aanewala became one of the most memorable moments in Indian film history.

Vinod/Balam – Ghungroo (1952): Spooky comedies have become popular in  Bollywood, but the first hit film to inject laughs into the ghostly genre was this cult classic starring Om Prakash. He plays nervous simpleton Vinod who gets possessed by the smart ghost of his murdered identical twin Balam and unwittingly goes on a revenge mission. That theme of a ghost possessing a living being would be copied many times in subsequent decades.

Madhumati – Madhumati (1958): One of the greatest Bollywood films ever made won a recordbreaking number of awards when it released and showed that a ghost could make an incredible impact on audiences with just one scene. In order to scare Raja Ugra Narain into confessing he killed Madhumati, Anand gets a lookalike to pretend to be her. With the villain believing her to be the ghost of the dead woman he confesses, but it later emerges the lookalike was running late and he was indeed confronted by the real ghost of Madhumati, played by Vyjayanthimala. This would inspire the ending of 2007 hit film Om Shanti Om.

Sandhya’s twin – Woh Kaun Thi? (1964): The mystery thriller was a huge success when it released and is best remembered for the iconic love song Lag Jaa Gale. An heir to a huge fortune feels like he is going out of his mind when he starts to get seduced by a sexy ghost (Sadhana), who looks exactly like his wife Sandhya. After a lot of twists and haunting scenes, it finally emerges the woman he believed to be a ghost is his wife’s identical twin and she was part of a devious scheme to manipulate his mind.

Chitrasen – Neel Kamal (1968): Sita is haunted by a moving love song that is sung by a ghostly presence. It emerges that the voice behind the song is of an artisan from a previous life, played by Raaj Kumar, who was buried alive for daring to fall in love with a princess, who looks exactly like Sita. She gets haunted by the heartbroken spirit and must finally set him free.

Munna Babu – Ghazab (1982): When naïve but loveable simpleton Munna Babu is murdered for his money, he returns as a ghost and seeks out his estranged street-smart identical twin Vijay to get revenge. They begin to bond and set off on a mission to right a horrible wrong. Dharmendra plays the delightful double role in the spooky action-comedy.

Marco – Chamatkar (1992): An early Shah Rukh Khan film that is often forgotten but hugely entertaining is this fantasy comedy based on Disney movie Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968). He plays a downon-his-luck young man who unexpectedly befriends a ghost of an underworld gangster named Marco (Naseeruddin Shah), who was murdered after trying to change his ways and is seeking redemption. The two team up and try to right some wrongs.

Hero – Hello Brother (1999): The fantasy action comedy sees Salman Khan play Hero, a man who is murdered and has his heart transplanted inside the body of a wounded police officer (Arbaaz Khan). Hero returns as a ghost to take revenge but can only be seen by the man who now has his heart, and they team up to take down the bad guys. What complicates matter is that the living police officer and ghost are both in love with the same woman.

Bhoot

Manjeet/Swati – Bhoot (2003): One of the very few genuinely scary movies to ever emerge out of Bollywood had a frightening ghost that takes possession of a living body. Urmila Matondkar plays Swati who moves into a new apartment with her husband. Things start to get spooky, and her body gets inhabited by the spirit of a dead woman named Manjeet, who had previously resided in the same property. We soon find out why Manjeet is using Swati’s body to seek a deadly revenge.

Prem – Paheli (2005): The remake of little-known ghostly drama Duvidha (1973) was India’s official entry to the 2006 Oscars. Shah Rukh Khan plays the double role of a merchant who neglects his wife and a ghost that appears pretending to be him while he is away on a very long trip. The ghost is everything she has ever wanted in a man, and they soon fall in love, but things get complicated when the real husband returns years later.

Aditya Verma – Vaah! Life Ho Toh Aisi (2005): The fantasy comedy-drama saw Shahid Kapoor portray a loveable uncle who dies trying to save someone and begs a kind-hearted deity in the afterlife to return to earth, so he can right a wrong. The devoted family man is allowed to return as a ghost. Although the film didn’t do well the ghost connected strongly with young audiences. A special mention also for the ghostly deity played by Sanjay Dutt who drives a cool car and wears designer clothes.

Shanti Priya – Om Shanti Om (2007): The ghostly presence may have been lifted straight from 1958 classic Madhumati, but it didn’t make it any less impactful with modern audiences. Famous film star Om Kapoor wants to use Sandhya, an exact lookalike of deceased actress Shanti Priya, to scare a killer into confessing that he murdered her. Shanti Priya’s ghostly spirit arrives instead, without anyone knowing and takes a deadly revenge. Deepika Padukone played the dynamic double of Sandhya and Shanti Priya in a film that turned her into a superstar.

Kailash Nath – Bhootnath (2008): The horror comedy based on the Oscar Wilde short story The Canterville Ghost was so popular that it spawned 2014 sequel Bhootnath Returns. Amitabh Bachchan plays the grumpy ghost who befriends a young boy who moves into an old house. We learn about how he became a ghost, and the young boy sets on a quest to finally help set his spirit free in the fun family drama.

Rosie – Talaash: The Answer Lies Within (2012): A married police officer (Aamir Khan) haunted by the memory of his dead son is in the middle of an investigation and befriends an escort named Rosie (Kareena Kapoor Khan). He gets her help with a deadly case, but neither he nor the audience realise she is actually the ghost of a murdered woman who is acting as a guide. With her help, he solves a deadly case and attempts to get closure.

Shashi – Phillauri (2017): The beautiful fantasy comedy that doesn’t get the credit it deserves had a standout turn from Anushka Sharma as Shashi the ghost. She is unleashed after a man deemed unlucky is forced to marry a tree before his actual wedding but while doing so unleashes the ghost. While Shashi haunts him in the present and tries to find closure, through flashback we learn about a love story that led to the untimely death of Shashi. Such was the popularity of Shashi that she became a hilarious meme.

Stree – Stree (2018): The smash hit movie was responsible for the resurrection of the spooky genre in Bollywood. A tailor falls in love with a mysterious young woman, played by Shraddha Kapoor, who visits his town for the annual festival. He soon believes that she is the ghost who has been abducting men from the village and hatches a plan to defeat the spirit. Then it emerges that Stree might be someone else and she may be a witch trying to harness her power.

Eastern Eye

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