There haven’t been many ghosts, spirits, zombies, chudails, aatmas and other good looking fellows of their ilk scaring the nightlights out of us lately. Those desperate to get a dose of the heebie-jeebies have had to make do with female characters from daily soaps with their “we’re the living dead” inspired loud pancake make-up.
Horror seems to have disappeared from Indian television, for the time being at least. Though we’re pretty sure it’s brewing somewhere in cauldrons simmering in the shady studios of dark and lonesome production houses like the Ramsay Brothers and shall leap out at us very soon, in all probability on a full moon night and from a rotting coffin — fangs bared.
Till then, we can spend time reminiscing about the scary days of Aahat and the Zee Horror Show that used to creep into our bedrooms every week with the creaking of wooden floorboards, scream in our ears and give us our fill of bloodthirsty women with long hair and badly applied red lipstick. Or, there would be murderous ponds, haunted mansions with white-waving window curtains, walking skeletons and one-eyed ghouls with tongues hanging out.
Now, there is only Baba Ramdev and he comes on only in the mornings, when you’re still groggy headed and sticky eyed — not a good time for a good scare, you’ll agree.
Horror was defined for Indian television by the Ramsay Brothers, all five of them — Shyam, Keshu, Kumar, Tulsi and Kiran — showing us what brotherly love could do (mainly make dead people walk around). These were the same guys who produced blood curdling B-grade horrors (please excuse the usage) like Do Gaz Zameen ke Niche, Puraana Mandir, Dak Bangla and Veerana, dabbling in as much nudity and suggested sex as the Censor Board would allow them. Daddy Ramsay obviously looked the other way while all this titillating stuff was being canned. Good for business because most of their films were eagerly lapped up by a besotted audience.
Later, they moved from the big screen to the small screen with their horror show known as The Zee Horror Show, which ran on air for more than nine years. It was a very popular programme in the 90s. You could say it was more popular than that other horror, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, that was inflicted on viewers more recently. Zee Horror Show featured short stories in the form of four or five episodes.
The first episode was titled Dastak, which was telecast in 1993 and featured Pankaj Dheer and Archana Puran Singh. Singh has since moved on to Sony, where she scares participants of a stand-up comedy reality show by shrieking like a banshee in their faces.
One of the episodes, Jeevan Mrityu, based on female infanticide (featuring Pallavi Joshi), gained so much popularity that it was re-telecast on popular public demand. Some episodes were “inspired” by cult Hollywood films like Evil Dead (Tehkhana), Fright Night (Dehshat) and Child’s Play (Gudiya). If you are trying to control the smirking, be aware that Zee Horror Show's popularity is proved by the various communities created in its memory on social networking sites like Facebook and Orkut.
Aahat is another horror show that has seen five seasons on television, each considerably popular. The fifth season aired two ghost stories each week. Each story focused on a different aspect of paranormal activity such as ghosts, zombies, phantoms, dead persons, possessed objects, witches and wizards.
With some frightening title music and imaginatively titled episodes like Khooni Jokar, Shaitani Aatma, Bina Sar Wala Aadmi, Shaitaani Talab, Maut ki Dastak, they managed to scare the wits and wigs off nail-chewing viewers. Then, of course, there was stuff like Shhh..Koi Hai and Mano Ya Na Mano, based on ghost busters and paranormal activity.
Now, alas, they have all disappeared, most possibly into the creaking cupboards of some khooni studio, and couch potatoes are left twiddling the TV remote with only nostalgia and a vague look in their eyes. But rest assured, they will not be gone for long. All these shows will return from the dead for sure. Keep your eyes open (or shut), spooky times shall be back soon. Scared you. Didn’t that?