East is East and West is West

Have always been a fan of the movies. Horror movies? Love them. Love the excitement, edge of the seat entertainment and the lengths to which the human mind can take in the excitement of an onslaught from the unknown. The past week, I had the most amazing time, watching two horror movies- The Conjuring-2 and Karrva, the new suspense thriller in Kannada. And there is a very encouraging trend of ‘Horror comedy’ for instance Pee Mak, a Thai movie. Especially popular are South Indian horror comedy movies to which, parents take their children to watch as ‘wholesome’ entertainment. Movies in which the hero is petrified of evil- The Muni trilogy in Tamil- ensures viewers get their money’s worth of laughs and thrills. You do have the over-the-top ‘Scary Movie’ series from Hollywood, but these are spoofs and everybody knows they ridicule popular horror movies.
This set me thinking. The same genre is treated differently all over the world. ‘Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,’ Kipling’s most quoted line has probably never been used in this context before. Well, what do you expect? Expect the unexpected from me!
Let me attempt to compare and contrast the two. There are two diametrical opposite ways in which these movies end. The horror movies of the West end with the ‘Evil’ triumphing over ‘Good’ almost all the time and Indian horror movies generally end with the triumph of ‘Good’ over ‘Evil’.
In Indian movies, the entity is quite choosy about the family background of the victim. The victim must belong to a prosperous household, in fact the more aristocratic, the better. It leads to more opportunity for thrilling manifestations in remote villas, sprawling mansions, albeit neglected. I haven’t watched a movie where the ghost attacks a person who belongs to the working class, leading an ordinary life. The real horrors of life must be too much for an average person to go through, without having to deal with the unknown, from another dimension. The victim is often a woman, young and beautiful, Raghava Laurence being the exception in the Muni Trilogy, which is again ‘Horror-comedy’ and not the ‘real deal’. The Hollywood movies that I’ve watched show no partiality to a certain class. Everybody is a potential victim, a very socialistic point of view, indeed. In fact Evil does not spare the poor and the unhappy. How often has my heart gone out to the afflicted family who has so much on its hands that they cannot even move away, thus facing the horrors every day and night. Single mothers are not spared, nor out of job dads. This highlights the complete helplessness of the family. What would I have done in such a case? Never stepped into that place.I would run and never stop till I was in another city maybe. I admire the dogged determination and courage of the entire family in staying there, despite knowing the presence exists.
In both scenarios people have moved into homes that are the hub of paranormal activity or have foolishly meddled with the peace with certain rituals viewed on YouTube, or even a homemade board game. In the Indian scenario, the peace has been disturbed by messing with with a room that has been shut for centuries, in the attic or the basement. Despite ominous warning from faithful servants, random cats, dogs and even birds, the deed is done and the consequences are very predictable. Common to East and West is the elimination game till the prize is won. And the first victim is the faithful servant or unsuspecting friend. If they survive, the faithful servant becomes the source of the solution. The unsuspecting friend fights a losing battle and is cast aside in the quest of revenge. Ah well, all in the name of sacrifice!
The time of attack is not the same. The West is behind by three hours. In the Indian scenario, midnight, when the clock strikes twelve, is the time when entities are set loose. There is a certain heightened excitement when the clock strikes twelve times in a huge, ancient mansion, followed by the sound of creaking doors. The West believes that three am is the hour. Here three am to six am is considered as the ‘Brahma Muhurtam’ the Creator’s Hour, and this time is supposed to be the optimum for awakening the senses and beginning the day. So if I watch a horror movie and wake up at around midnight, I would have difficulty going back to sleep, but at three am, I would tell myself it’s almost day, better catch up on some sleep before the alarm goes off.
Hollywood horror is fatalistic in the sense that whatever one does, one can never get away from the entity. In fact, Evil is depicted often more powerful than divinity. And that is a scary thought. Good triumphs, but Evil makes a gleeful comeback. Indian movies have their set of naughty spirits but they are all invariably afraid of God. A recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa sends it fleeing for dear life…or dear afterlife! Indian spirits are in awe of the Almighty.
Then why are spirits in existence? According to popular belief, here in India, spirits have unfinished business and roam the earth looking for a solution even from beyond. Like the scenario from the popular movie ‘Ghost’, and in the Kannada movie ‘U-Turn’, the motive for staying back is often revenge. Retribution for being wronged and scores once settled, they pack up and vanish. In fact the Kannada movie ‘U-Turn’ the spirit lays emphasis on the need to have good civic sense and follow traffic rules. Sometimes it is the effect of an ancient curse revived. In almost all movies, divine intervention saves the day. Sometimes, the spirit seeks help from the Almighty, seeks access into the holy sanctum of the temple and the omnipotent and omniscient Lord grants it. After all God protects the innocent and his believers. What horrifies the average cine-goer here about ‘English’ Movies is the total disregard spirits or demons have toward holy symbols. The unbelievable irony that strikes a movie watcher, while viewing Conjuring 2, is that a demon, dressed in a nun’s habit, wreaks havoc on a hapless family. The concerned neighbours pitch in, giving crucifixes, and I don’t want to spoil it for you, so just watch the movie trailer to get an idea of how inadequately unimpressed the evil entity is about it. Oh, the hopelessness of it all.
The atmosphere in an Indian horror movie is loud, with predictable screams punctuating the sound track, loud notes of music, traditional anklet sounds and even a creepy song about the long, relentless pursuit of the living, an angst unaddressed, a desire unfulfilled. In Hollywood movies, the horror just creeps up on you as you unsuspectingly watch while cramming your mouth with buttered popcorn. ‘It’ jolts you out of your complacency. There is no logic. There is no rhyme, no reason why it happens. In fact the victim has done nothing to deserve it. There is no sense of retribution. And that is scary. In Indian movies there is always an explanation. The remedies are the same, predictable rituals, skeptical people are avoided, we get down to the nitty gritty. The hurting spirit is appeased, it gains salvation and bids a cheery goodbye. Hollywood style, no appeasement, apparently, is enough. The entity doesn’t care whether your intentions are honourable in appeasing it or not, you might make it madder with all your efforts. The entity is single-minded in all its efforts, unlike its Indian counterpart who busies itself in a complicated song and dance routine or a throws a few impressive tantrums in the midst of a social setting. Everything ends well in Indian horror movies.
No mindgames. God is all powerful. Hanuman Chalisa, Devi Kavacham, Sai Baba’s Vibhuti, a holy taveez from the Dargah- a powerful talisman, a crucifix, an auspicious lamp, all ward off evil. The face off, the battle is all brought on in full force in the Grand Finale. We return home, with the belief that God is great, takes care of his own, and his flock. Our belief staunch, we rest in the safe arms of our all-pervading divinity, assured of unwavering support.
Do I believe in ghosts? Please don’t ask me that. I do not want to say yes, for I do not want to be a victim like Kate Hudson, in ‘The Skeleton Key’ and I dare not say no, for I do not want proof of their existence either. So, I’m going to give you a wary smile and say, ‘I’m on the fence on that one!’ In the meantime, the photograph of a favourite deity, and a night lamp are enough to assure me a good night’s sleep.


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