Ten years ago, Fern Hill Hotel in Ooty, that has since shut down, had the reputation of being haunted. Bipasha Basu had heard stories about it from Sanjay Dutt and choreographer Saroj Khan.
“Once Sarojji and her troupe checked in late at night and were kept awake by someone rearranging furniture in the room above. The dancers who had an early morning shoot tried calling reception but the phone was dead. Desperate for sleep, some went down to complain, only to have the receptionist escort them outside and point upwards to show that there was no floor above,” narrates Bipasha, sending shivers down my spine even though it’s 8 am and not midnight!
Bipasha, like me, is petrified of the dark and watches horror movies with her hands firmly over her eyes. So the prospect of shooting Raaz (2002) at Fern Hill Hotel was far from exciting.
“Fortunately, we didn’t have to live there, it was spooky enough hearing more stories from Ashutosh Rana and shooting at night. Vikram (director Bhatt) had found this eerie house for Dino (Morea) and me in reel life and had a gong installed that would go off suddenly, making me jump,” reminisces the actor, who took power naps, like Vikram’s DOP dad, during the lunch breaks while the boys played cricket.
Dino, one of the boys whom Vikram fondly renamed Kaka, agrees that their house of horror was “spooky” and was happy when the location shifted to Switzerland, with the mums of the trio accompanying them. “For the first time I tried making chapattis that rolled out looking like the continents: Africa, America and Asia,” laughs Bipasha.
While in Ooty, Dino and Bipasha got the unit hooked on a board game they enjoyed. “We’d play Risk every evening after pack-up,” says Emraan Hashmi who was one of the assistants. “I hate hill stations, the altitude makes me sick and the solitude bores me. I was only hanging around because the script of my debut film, Footpath (2003), was being written. It was a culture shock to be woken up at 6 am instead of noon, and to spend evenings playing board games instead of partying.”
Bipasha and Vikram would always end up winning and that’d upset the boys. “I think that one of the reasons Dino and I broke up was because I always won,” she laughs. The laughter dies as she recalls the inexplicable horror that struck her dumb when she was filming Footpath at Mukesh Mills.
“I’d enter this room and three words into my monologue, I’d suddenly fall silent. After a few retakes Vikram packed me home. We learnt later that a girl had committed suicide there. A pooja was conducted but eventually, we finished the scene elsewhere,” she shivers.
Surprisingly, nothing out-of-the-ordinary happened to Bipasha during Raaz or Raaz 3D, even though the latter has her playing a superstar who dabbles in black magic to resurrect her career and revive her romance. But something happened recently when they were filming the supernatural thriller, Aatma, in the basement of Thakur College.
A photograph of Dr Ambedkar that had slipped during a ‘take’, miraculously took a big jump up, moving left and right before correcting its position on the wall. “It happened out of frame but was captured on camera. We all saw it on the
monitor,” she says.
Another night, when shooting in a Vashi office, Bipasha was surprised when the recordist, who was so particular about getting the sync sounds right, didn’t cut into a shot when a girl, who wasn’t visible, suddenly started singing. She says, “Her voice was faint but audible, and only an assistant and I heard her. Some ‘raaz’ remains a bizarre mystery.”