A couple of days ago, when discussing his first horror thriller, Flat, with me, Sanjay Suri admitted that the lift in the apartment they were shooting at, stopped functioning at the oddest times, then creaked up or down without assistance. To be fair to our hero, he wasn’t in the least bit spooked by this ‘supernatural’ experience, attributing it to mechanical malfunctioning. But, Sanjay mischievously chuckled that the errant elevator made for a good story to scare susceptible crew members with.
That set me recalling other ‘haunted’ settings of ‘darr’ dramas. Vikram Bhatt’s 1920 was filmed at Allerton Castle in North Yorkshire. Locals believed that the spirit of a carpenter who its billionaire owner had killed, lived in the mansion. There was also talk of a lady ghost.
Call it publicity speil if you want, but the film’s lead, Adah Sharma, got the creeps. “The bathroom doors shut on their own and lights flickered off,” she shivered, adding that there was one particular portrait of a lady that no matter from which angle they clicked, the prints always turned up blurred. The pioneers of this genre were the Ramsays. Do Gaz Zameen Ke was one of the first chillers to come out of their horror factory back in 1972. The film was supposedly inspired by the real-life story of a couple whom Gangu Ramsay had run into during a vacation in Mahabaleshwar.
The husband confessed to having murdered his first wife in the village to get his hands on her property. That sparked off a train of thought that generated a hit film about a bhoot (ghost) who returns to take badla (revenge).
Appropriately, it was decided to shoot the film in Mahabaleshwar. The shoots extended late into the night, usually in deserted lanes and quiet graveyards. There was an eerie feeling about the locations chosen and no one was immune to the ambience. Gangubhai himself confessed that many a times, while returning to the hotel after pack-up, close to midnight, he got the impression that he was being followed. But when he turned there was no one there.
After this happened a couple of times, he spoke to his brothers and other unit members. And to his surprise, they too admitted to having had the same experience. After that they made sure they were never alone at night while in Mahabaleshwar.
Ashok Kumar loved ghost stories but didn’t believe in ghosts. Till his encounter with nocturnal visitors at Khandala’s Jeejeebhoy House. Dadamoni had finished dinner and was ready to turn in when he heard raised voices coming from outside. He walked to the gate to see a young lady arguing heatedly with her chauffeur over their stalled car. The actor suggested some water for the overheated engine, handed the driver a bottle, and invited the lady inside.
They chatted amiably for a while, till the chauffeur returned to admit that he had failed to set the car right and they’d have to try and get another vehicle. They walked away together and Dadamoni nodded off, only to be raised again by a man’s urgent call for help. He walked out, there was no one around, but a voice seemed to be coming from inside the stalled car. Curiously, he peeped in, to see a man with his throat slit. Even as he watched, the man gasped out his last breath.
Shivering, Dadamoni went back to the house and the next morning, when the servant turned up, sent him outside to see the macabre sight for himself. He returned to say that there was no car or corpse.
But Dadamoni still went to report the incident, only to be told by the local inspector that 14 years ago, a woman had murdered someone outside the bungalow and fled the scene, only to die in a car accident soon after.
After his return to Mumbai, Kamal Amrohi approached Dadamoni with a story he had written, revolved around a haunted house. The film was Mahal that launched Amrohi as a director and even today is remembered for a hauntingly beautiful Madhubala singing ‘Aayega aanewala...’ in Lata Mangeshkar’s voice. Ram Gopal Varma like Dadamoni is too rational a man to believe in anything irrational. But even he says that was psyched while shooting Bhoot. It happened one night after pack-up at 3 am. Ramu returned home, dead tired, but for some reason, remained wide awake with a strong conviction that Manjeet, the bhoot he had created, was watching him. Suddenly, he heard footsteps, walking towards him. Taking a deep breath, he turned around and found himself gazing into space. Interestingly, Kia Park in Andheri’s Evershine Nagar where Bhoot was filmed, had few takers after the shoot.
My daughter who’s 11 is hooked on shiver fests on TV. And then sees spirits lurking in every corner. When she begs me to keep guard outside the bathroom door or get into bed with her, I often tell her, Darna mana hai. And almost immediately, I can hear Ramu’s voice adding, “Par kabhi kabhi darna zaroori hai.” True. More so when it’s for real because sometimes, truth can be stranger than fiction.