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A scene from the zombie film Go Goa Gone. AFP
A scene from the zombie film Go Goa Gone. AFP

Bollywood's new zombie films: rise of the Indian undead

Why is there a slew of zombie films in Hindi cinema this year?

The cliche about waiting a long time for a bus to come and then three arriving all at once also applies to Bollywood zombie movies, it seems. The Saif Ali Khan-starrer Go Goa Gone opens on Thursday, the same day as Rise of the Zombie gets its UAE release. And the Indian undead will rise again later this year in Rock the Shaadi (Rock the Wedding).

With all this supernatural activity in the Bollywood hereafter, the question is why, 45 years after George A Romero invented the zombie movie with Night of the Living Dead, have Indian filmmakers suddenly decided that the time is right to make zombie movies?

There is a funny moment in Go Goa Gone when the three young protagonists – Hardik (Kunal Khemu), Luv (Vir Das) and Bunny (Anand Tiwari) – realise that the underground rave party they are attending in Goa is populated by the living dead, which prompts Luv to ask: “We usually have ghosts and spirits in India. Where have these zombies come from?”

Luke Kenny, who has starred in Rise of the Zombie and co-directed the film alongside Devaki Singh, argues that the advent of the Bollywood zombie movie is a way of getting 18- to 25-year-olds into -cinemas. Indian youth are more knowledgeable about the global movie scene than their parents’ generation. And with better access to foreign films, their tastes and expectations have changed. Besides, the various channels offering entertainment have made it more challenging to attract younger audiences.

The types of films being made in India have also changed. The growing independent movie scene and the arrival of inexpensive digital cameras have, in the past decade, seen a broadening of the scope, with filmmakers daring to venture beyond the usual romantic, action or “masala” films. The studios have responded to changing tastes by adapting their output.

The year 2011 brought the release of the big-budget, superhero film Ra. One, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor. The curry western also returned when the classic Sholay was remade as Aag in 2007 (although it bombed at the box office), and in 2009 the spoof western Quick Gun Murugan was a box-office smash.  Lampooning is the ultimate sign that a genre has become established, especially horror, which is quite popular in India. In recent years, horror films have evolved with more emphasis on blood and gore. It was only a matter of time before zombies started crawling out of the grave.

Marketed as a “zom-com”, Go Goa Gone is co-directed by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D?K, and stars Saif Ali Khan pretending to be a Russian zombie hunter. Not surprisingly, the film’s trailer has been viewed almost three million times on YouTube.

With zombies a relatively new addition to Bollywood, it means the film will trot out everything that Romero established in his landmark films, from “how to kill a zombie ” to “where do zombies come from”. And all this while catering to Indian audiences. But the directors are sure the film will be embraced by local audiences: “Go Goa Gone is about middle-class Indians and their lives. It shows what people usually do after a strenuous work week: party in Goa at the weekend and let their hair down.”

Rock the Shaadi was originally titled Shaadi of the Dead, a reference to the Romero series. The title is also similar to the popular Edgar Wright-directed British pastiche Shaun of the Dead.

Directed by Navdeep Singh and starring Abhay Deol and Genelia D’Souza, the film is about zombies attending a Punjabi family wedding.

Rock the Shaadi, which was in production last year, was expected to be the first Bollywood zombie film to hit cinemas but the shoot was beset by problems. After filming was stopped, Deol and the producer Siddharth Jain went and had a public spat. But in typical zombie style, the movie has being resurrected from the dead and is scheduled to be released next year – with an accompanying graphic novel.

Go Goa Gone opens in UAE cinemas on Thursday


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