The Portrayal of Ghost in Indian Cinema

The Portrayal of Ghost in Indian Cinema

Prof. Asghar Ali Ansari

School of Languages, Literature & Society

Jaipur National University, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.

Indian cinema has long been a canvas for the supernatural, with ghosts haunting screens and captivating audiences for decades. The portrayal of ghosts in Indian cinema has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from malevolent entities to sympathetic figures, emblematic of a broader cultural shift in storytelling. This blog explores the emergence of the ‘good-ghost’ trope in Indian cinema, drawing inspiration from rich folklore that has shaped narratives for generations.

A brief survey of Indian cinematic history reveals a diverse spectrum of ghostly representations. Traditionally, ghosts were depicted as vengeful spirits seeking retribution or harbouring malicious intent towards the living. These spectral entities often served as catalysts for horror and suspense, invoking fear and trepidation among audiences. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable departure from this conventional portrayal, with filmmakers opting to humanize ghosts and imbue them with traits that evoke empathy and compassion.

Scholarly discourse surrounding Indian cinema's portrayal of ghosts has highlighted this thematic evolution. Some scholars have studied the transition of ghostly representations from terrifying to comedic, underscoring the cultural and social factors driving this paradigm shift. They believe that the transformation of ghosts reflects changing attitudes towards the supernatural, with filmmakers leveraging humour as a means to demystify and destigmatize ghostly phenomena.

The other scholars have explored the intersection of folklore and cinema in shaping ghostly narratives. Moreover, the emergence of sympathy-evoking ghosts or spirits in Indian cinema has not gone unnoticed by critics and audiences alike. Priyanka Basu, in her article entitled "Unveiling the Forbidden: Exploration of the Uncanny ‘Other’in Bollywood Films," explores how the portrayal of sympathetic ghosts challenges conventional notions of morality and redemption. Basu contends that these spectral beings serve as allegorical representations of societal injustices, offering catharsis and hope in the face of adversity (Basu 39).

Speaking of, it is imperative to understand the context in which this new trend in Indian cinema is being used nowadays:

• The landscape of Indian cinema is richly populated with spectral beings, embodying the ethereal and the otherworldly.

• In recent years, a notable trend has emerged within this cinematic realm, characterized by the portrayal of ghosts as pitiable and inherently good.

• This phenomenon, commonly referred to as the ‘Good Ghosts(s),’ marks a departure from traditional depictions of ghosts as malevolent entities, inviting audiences to empathize with these supernatural figures.

• The concept of the good-ghost trope challenges conventional notions of spectral beings as harbingers of terror and malevolence.

• Instead, it offers a nuanced portrayal of ghosts as entities worthy of sympathy and understanding.

• This thematic evolution reflects broader shifts in societal attitudes towards the supernatural, as well as a revaluation of moral binaries prevalent in traditional folklore.

Scholarly discourse surrounding this trope illuminates its cultural significance and narrative implications. Tabish Khair explores the thematic underpinnings of the trope, arguing that it serves as a vehicle for moral introspection and spiritual catharsis.

Moreover, the emergence of the new trend in Indian cinema has sparked dialogue about its cultural resonance and symbolic significance. Melissa Edmundson also delves into the cultural symbolism embedded within ghostly narratives. She suggests that ghosts, particularly those depicted as benevolent and sympathetic, embody a liminal space between the material and spiritual worlds, inviting viewers to confront existential questions and transcend mundane realities (Edmundson 98).

The trope also intersects with broader discourses surrounding identity, gender, and social justice. Centuries-old analysis of the belief of the ‘bhutas’ shed light on how ghostly narratives reflect and subvert societal norms. In “On the Belief in Bhutas-Devil and Ghost Worship in Western India” Wallhouse argues that by portraying ghosts as agents of empowerment and social change, filmmakers challenge entrenched patriarchal structures and offer alternative narratives of resistance and resilience (Wallhouse 412).

Furthermore, this trope serves as a lens through which to examine the evolving dynamics of storytelling in Indian cinema. Filmmakers draw upon folkloric traditions to craft narratives that resonate with contemporary audiences. By infusing ghostly narratives with elements of folklore, filmmakers not only pay homage to cultural heritage but also imbue their stories with a timeless quality that transcends temporal and spatial boundaries.

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